This chart shows a crucial fact for understanding why Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is taking such a big risk with speech to Congress on Tuesday, when he will oppose President Obama's effort to reach a nuclear deal with Iran.
Americans, according to Gallup, just don't think Iran is as much of a threat as they used to. Just a few years ago, in 2011, 25 percent of Americans called Iran "the United States' greatest enemy today." In 2012, it was 32 percent. Now, it's nine percent. Iran does not scare Americans like it used to.
That means the American public, which is in part who Netanyahu is trying to reach with his case that the world cannot trust Iran with a nuclear deal, is much less sympathetic to Netanyahu's anti-Iran hawkishness than they would have been a couple of years ago.
This is just one of several interesting findings in the latest results from Gallup's poll asking Americans to name the one country that is the US's greatest threat today. Respondents were not given a list of countries to choose from, but rather allowed to pick any country they wished. Still, the answers have tended to cluster around the four listed above: Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran.
The decline in US fear of Iran probably reflects a few factors. The 2013 election of moderate President Hassan Rouhani, to replace anti-American hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, sent the message that Tehran was willing to compromise and perhaps take a softer line. Rouhani's September 2013 phone call with Obama further set Rouhani, rightly or wrongly, as the friendlier face of Iran.
At the same time, the sense of an impending war with Iran — which hit its heights in 2010 and 2011 — has been declining steadily ever sense. A 2012 poll found that Americans saw Iran as a threat on par with the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War. That hysteria has mostly gone away.
There are more interesting details in this chart. The number of Americans identifying China as America's greatest enemy has also declined significantly, perhaps as the trade disputes and hacking allegations of earlier years have faded from the news. US-China tensions hit a high in 2013 over Chinese cyber attacks, but were somewhat eased by that June's "shirtsleeves summit" between President Obama and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
North Korea, despite its ever-more-extreme efforts to pretend that it is a threat to America, has not converted many new Americans into identifying the Hermit Kingdom as their greatest enemy. Even after the 2013 threats of war and the 2014 Sony hacks, it has not convinced much of the US to fear it. That's good — North Korea is a threat to its citizens and to its neighbors, but not to the US, and Kim Jong Un's efforts to convince Americans otherwise are a deliberate, self-serving tactic:
Perhaps the most significant finding on the poll, though, is the one country whose standing has significantly worsened: Russia. In 2011, when the Obama administration's now-defunct "reset" with Russia was still going strong, only three percent of Americans saw Russia as the US's greatest enemy. Three percent! Today, that has grown to 18 percent. That's not too much more than North Korea (16 percent) but the fact that one in six Americans have changed their answer to Russia in just four years is awfully telling.