TEHRAN, Iran (AFP) — For hardliners in Iran, running down the United States has become a lot easier during the US election campaign — it’s just a matter of turning on the television.
From the flurry of sexual assault allegations against Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton’s leaked emails, the unsavory campaign has been lapped up in Iran, particularly by those who remain staunchly opposed to closer ties with the West.
For the first time, Iranian authorities allowed the last head-to-head debate between the two candidates to be aired live on television.
Perhaps not without coincidence, state TV has also been playing a dubbed version of hit US show “House of Cards” (renamed “Khaneh Poushaly” or “House of Straw”), which depicts the Washington beltway as a den of greed, scheming and murder.
The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, even joined the Twitter conversation during the third debate, writing: “US presidential race and issues two candidates raised is a typical result of lack of spirituality and faith among those in power.”
It is all music to the ears of conservatives in Iran, who fear last year’s nuclear accord with world powers may open the door to Western influences and undermine the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Relations between Iran and the United States have been deeply troubled since diplomatic ties were broken after the revolution, and Iranian conservatives have defined the country primarily in opposition to Washington, which they call “The Great Satan.”
‘Weakness of US democracy’
Hamidreza Taraghi, a leading member of the conservative Islamic Coalition Party, said this year’s election campaign has “ridiculed” US politics.
“That this process can produce candidates who are so corrupt and unbalanced, mentally and intellectually, shows the weakness of American democracy,” he told AFP.
Taraghi said it proved the value of Iran’s Guardian Council which disqualifies thousands of candidates before elections, although Iranian reformists complain the Council’s decisions are skewed against them.
For those on the more moderate and liberal side of Iran’s political spectrum, the campaign to replace US President Barack Obama has been a source of dismay.
Having maintained a studied silence through most of the campaign, even President Hassan Rouhani — a moderate who has pushed for greater cooperation with the West — could no longer hold his tongue this week.
“You saw the presidential candidates’ debate, the way they speak?” he asked incredulously on TV on Sunday.
“At the UN, the leader of a country asked me which of the candidates I preferred. I responded: ‘Do I prefer the bad over the worse, or the worse over the bad?”
Many reformists share Rouhani’s jaded view.
“I wrote in support of Obama the last two times because it was in the interests of Iran and the world, but this time it’s difficult to take a position,” said Abbas Abdi, an analyst and journalist close to the reformist camp.
While he said a Trump presidency was clearly not in the interests of the world, there were also great anxieties about Clinton.
“She will exacerbate crises in the region. Her penchant for countries like Saudi Arabia and Israel — that are at the heart of the region’s crises — is not in Iran’s interests,” he said.
Fate of nuclear deal
The issue that most concerns Iranians is the fate of last year’s nuclear deal, which lifted some sanctions and raised hopes that their moribund economy might finally get a jump-start.
Trump has called it “one of the worst deals ever” and vowed to “tear it up” if he becomes president.
But he is not taken too seriously in Iran.
“What’s important for Iran or any other country is not candidates’ remarks during the campaign but what they actually do in practice once they’re in the White House and these two things are not necessarily the same,” said Abdi.
Conservative analyst Foad Izadi said many Iranians recalled the hawkish position taken by Clinton in the past, when she called for even tougher sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program.
“While Trump and Clinton are both enemies of Iran, I think Mrs. Clinton could create an even bigger consensus against us than Obama,” he told the Sobh No weekly.
But in any case, conservatives have been pleased by the tawdry nature of the US campaign.
“Both (the candidates) are positive for us because with this attitude and manners they will degrade the status of the superpower,” said Taraghi.
“They will cause America’s hegemony in the world to decline completely.”