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Why Iranians like America again

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It was a time when Iranians of all ages and backgrounds united in their pique against the US, turning their backs on its traditions and culture. But on a recent trip to Iran, I found a shift in sentiment.

The most interesting aspect of the revival of warm feelings today is that the US has done so little to earn them. Instead, Iranians' renewed pro-American sentiments reflect the depth of their alienation from their own rulers. As a family friend put it: "It's a matter of being drawn to the opposite of what you can't stand."

I lived in Iran until last summer and experienced all the reasons why Mr. Ahmadinejad has replaced the US as Iranians' top object of vexation. Under his leadership, inflation has spiked at least 20 percent, according to nongovernment analysts – thanks to Ahmadinejad's expansionary fiscal policies, which inject vast amounts of cash into the economy.

Inflation has hit the real estate market particularly hard. Housing prices have surged by nearly 150 percent, according to real estate agents. For most Iranians, previously manageable rents have become tremendous burdens.

I watched Ahmadinejad on television as he addressed Iranians from the holy city of Qom. He blamed everyone – the hostile West, a domestic "cigarette mafia" – for the economic downturn, just as he had previously claimed that a "housing mafia" was driving up real estate prices.

Many Iranians who initially believed this kind of conspiracy talk now admit that the president's policies and obstinacy are actually at fault. In a sign that even the regime is growing impatient, one of Ahmadinejad's chief rivals – former top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani – was elected speaker of Iran's parliament last week by an overwhelming majority.

To add to Iranians' weariness, there are the interminable lines that have accompanied the government's new gas-rationing scheme. Ahmadinejad has insinuated that the unpopular plan was a precaution against possible Western sanctions, but most people I spoke with considered it another instance of his administration's mismanagement.

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