Move over, mullahs, Americans have a new overseas enemy in their crosshairs. For the first time since 2006, the American public does not view Iran as the country’s “greatest enemy,” according to a recent Gallup poll. Instead, that (dis)honor is reserved for China.
But the new rankings have less to do with a rise in the number of people eyeing Bejing with distrust — a figure that has held fairly steady over the last decade — and more to do with the sharp decline in the percentage of people who consider Iran to be America’s top enemy.
In fact, since 2012, the Iran fearers have dropped by 50%.
That was the year Americans’ sense of rivalry with Iran peaked, with 32 percent of those polled saying they viewed the Persian country as the nation’s greatest enemy around the world. Since then, however, Iranians have given the boot to their fire-breathing, conspiracy-spouting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and elected the more moderate Hassan Rouhani in his stead last summer. Rouhani’s historic phone call with President Obama and the interim agreement Iran signed with the West to freeze its nuclear enrichment program in exchange for sanctions relief have ushered in a new era of diplomacy between Tehran and Washington, D.C.
Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have repeatedly warned the West that Rouhani is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and that the Obama White House is being conned by Iran’s softer rhetoric, even as the country continues to fund terrorism and attempts to build a nuclear bomb.
If that’s so, count the American people among the hoodwinked, because the Gallup poll, conducted last month, finds that just 16 percent now consider Iran the top U.S. foe, something Gallup’s analysts attributed to the ongoing nuclear talks.
Twenty percent of Americans polled said China is the country’s greatest enemy, putting Beijing atop the list. Another 16 percent said North Korea is enemy number one. Russia was fourth on the list, with 9 percent of those polled naming it as the top U.S. foe.
But given the developments in the Crimea over the past couple of weeks, the Russians aren’t likely to be holding there for long. All this talk of a new Cold War all but guarantees they’ll be racing up the rankings of America’s top nemeses the next time pollsters pose this question.
Why you should care
The shift in the way Americans view Iran could signal a softening in one of the United States’ defining global rivalries of the last three decades … or just a temporary détente.