TEHRAN, Iran – In a country that can be very isolated, people from all walks of life in Iran seem to know the ins and outs of the upcoming U.S. elections. Most are well informed about the candidates and their running mates and almost everyone has an opinion or a theory – some surprising, some far-fetched.
Some even want to claim Sen. Barack Obama as one of their own – with Persian lineage to boot.
"Obama has an international background, I understand his background is not totally American, he even has family ties with Iran, I hear Bushehr," said a university professor who asked only to be identified as Max. He was referring to the southwest port town of Bushehr, which coincidentally is the site of Iran's controversial nuclear facility.
|VIDEO: Iranians express low expectations for the next U.S. president|
Others seem to believe that the hard-line policies of Sen. John McCain may be exactly what are needed to deal with the current Iranian regime. "I think McCain should become president, America needs a strong experienced man to deal with this region," said a student who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
It's not surprising that Iranians opinions vary on the election, it has been extensively covered by the Iranian media; most of the daily newspapers and weekly political magazines have been dominated by coverage of the race for the White House.
There have been tables showing the results of the various polls and translations from a whole host of American newspapers and magazines. The newspapers have also published transcripts (in Persian) of all of the presidential and vice presidential debates, as well as in-depth profiles of the candidates and their running mates.
One weekly news magazine called "Sharvand" published an article titled "The Calm Obama versus the Fiery McCain." Another article argued that American was not ready for, and would not vote for, a black president.
The newspaper, "Iran," reported that Obama was ahead in the polls because of the failed policies of President Bush and that it would be a huge surprise for Iran and the rest of the world if Obama were not victorious.
Maryam Kamali, a secretary at a steel company who has been closely following the election, made parallels between the U.S. election and Iran's presidential election scheduled for next year. "It's funny that the most important issue in the U.S elections is the failing economy and the most important issue in our elections is also going to be the failing economy."
Outcome won't change U.S. foreign policy
Many people we spoke to were very skeptical about the outcome of the election. They didn't think it mattered who became the next president because they believe U.S foreign policy is predetermined in a negative way toward Iran and that America will do anything it needs to in order to keep Israel happy.
"The American people have no choice in these elections, the decision will be made by a powerful Jewish cartel," said Hamid Nagat, a businessman.
"If a presidential candidate does not stand behind Israel like a mountain, they will never get voted into office," said Salah Mohamadi, a student in his first year of university.
Majid, an accountant who gave only his first name, said that the difference of opinion between Iran and the U.S. over Israel was really at the heart of the differences between the two countries. "It does not matter if it's McCain or Obama because whoever becomes president, their first priority is going to be Israel – and we don't recognize Israel as a country, so we will always be at odds," he said.
But when I asked a very nationalistic right-wing journalist who he wanted to become president, he surprised me by saying he favored McCain. He explained that his viewpoint was based on fears about Iran's national security. "If McCain became president and wanted to attack Iran, the international community would not stand behind him, but if Obama became president and wanted to attack Iran, the international community would stand behind him," he said, but asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Iran's political circles are also watching closely. A government official who spoke to me on condition of anonymity said, "Of course we want Obama to become president, but we are also being very careful not to endorse him – as an Iranian endorsement might have an adverse effect on his campaign."
Regardless, whoever becomes the next U.S. president will have a profound effect on Iran.