There are two Mahmoud Ahmadinejads. One of them took a victory lap last week through southern Lebanon, where adoring crowds mobbed him as a symbol of resistance to the West. “The entire world should know the Zionists will disappear!” he shouted to listeners at an organized rally, as hundreds of admirers screamed and cheered. Afifa Noureddin, a 19-year-old university student clutching a large yellow-and-green Hizbullah flag, said, “When I see him onstage, I feel like my heart will stop.”
The other Ahmadinejad is faced with big problems in Iran, where he receives no such rapturous welcomes. Which was exactly the point of his foreign jaunt: Ahmadinejad desperately wants to project an image of strength despite his serious challenges back home. The latest round of economic sanctions has begun to bite, and Iranians complain about the difficulty of finding basic goods in the market. The country’s currency took a dive two weeks ago and is still shaky, and businesspeople have been spooked by a recent clampdown on hawala—unofficial cash transfers—from Dubai. Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad’s conservative political rivals smell blood in the water. It’s easy to be a rock star abroad. Back home, it’s a different tune.