President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the first leader from the "axis of evil club", and its affiliates, to congratulate Barack Hussein Obama on his November 4th victory. Ahmadinejad's unprecedented congratulation letter might be interpreted as an olive branch from Tehran.
But, in essence, it is the recognition of this new image of the United States, which has strong potential to restore the American reputation that was injured in Muslim countries during the two wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, the forefront of war against terrorism.
It is a significant symbolic step that, in a long run, can turn to a dramatic shift in the U.S. foreign policy toward its major issues in the region.
The Shiite Iran has garnered attention from the international community during the past few years for its persistent effort to obtain nuclear energy, support of groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine and ambiguous, disturbing role in Iraq.
But more than all of the above, Iran is the ideological and political engine for Shiite Muslims around the world. From the streets of the Al Hasa region in Saudi Arabia, where much of Saudi Arabia's minority Shiite population and, coincidentally, most of its oil is situated, to Lebanon, Kuwait, Syria, Pakistan, Bahrain, Yemen and even India, the Islamic Revolution has been an inspiration for the minority Shiites, especially those in Iraq where the population majority is Shiite.
Shiite is among the few sects on the Islamic faith that strongly believes in ruling nations under the Islamic law, or Shria, a belief that has given birth to political Islam. The founder of Islamic Republic of Iran named the United States the 'Great Satan'; since then anti-Americanism has become part of Iran's identity and fuel for Shiite movements in the entire Middles East.
But now, Iran's anti-American image is in a paradoxical situation. President-elect Barack Obama, who ran a campaign based on ideals like government for people, justice, equality and the other populist social slogans that have also been centerpieces of the Ayatollahs' premise to change the world and pave the way to heaven for their people.
Early this year, Ahmadinejad said that the, "U.S. Establishment will not let Obama win the Presidential election." Ironically, in none of the Muslim countries, including Iran, does a man of a minority ethnicity like Obama have a slim chance of getting a position in a high office. But it was American democracy that made it happen and allowed a man of minority ethnicity end eight years of a Bush administration that has been damaging for America's moral authority in the world.
Obama's victory disarms leaders like Ahmadinejad, who for decades have used inefficient American policies as excuses to justify their failures, mismanagement and corruption. His election makes the American dream real for many in Islamic countries, including Iran.
Paradoxically, Obama's middle name, Hussein, is the name third Imam of Shiites, a sacred symbol of freedom and dignity and a star of oppressed people against tyranny and slavery. No single other moral symbol in Shiite history is more important than Hussein in fights against enemies and infidels. The name Hussein is mixed with respect, honor and glory, a man who lost his life tragically in fight with infidels in an unequal and brutal battle on the October 10th, 680 AD. Fourteen centuries after the event, Shiites mourn his death and discuss it mixed in their literature, art, folklore, and daily life.
Obama's name and his unique stories from childhood, to his time as a community organizer, to his campaign against John McCain, which is read as a fight against the infamous George W. Bush, resonates strongly with millions of Shiites. Thus, Obama's victory fits into their mythology and prompts them to celebrate it.
Barack Obama's situation and reception in many Islamic countries, including Iran, now is similar to President Bush's place in the world after the 9/11 tragedy, which created a high level of international sympathy for the United States.
He is in a unique position to solve the United States' dilemma, not only with Shiite Iranians but also with the other troubling groups and countries in the Middle East, if and only if he does not ignore this opportunity like President Bush did after 9/11.
While anti-Americanism has become the Islamic Republic's identity, talking to Iran will diminish the Ayatollah's revolutionary image and force the Iranian government to play a more responsible role and end mischief in the Middle East. Obama's response to Ahmadinejad's letter could be the first step toward drawing a new foreign policy framework in order to bring the United States on the right track.