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The U.S. & Iran: How We Got to Where We Are

Updated: Feb 25, 2020

by Natalie Penry

There isn’t a teenager alive in Westfield who doesn’t know about World War III. Coming back from winter break, we were bombarded with TikToks and Tweets about the “impending” draft, all contributing to the national hysteria over tensions with Iran. While the immediate threat has passed, it would be prudent to take a look back and figure out exactly how we got here.


Iran’s Shah, Mohammad Razi Pahlavi, attempts to dismiss Iran’s Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddegh. This move is encouraged by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA); however, the Iranian people riot, forcing the Shah to withdraw from the country.

The Shah later returns with support from the CIA, and Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddegh is overthrown in August.


The Iranian Intelligence Agency SAVAK is set up by both U.S. and Irani intelligence officials. This agency will come under for fire for accusastions of torture, violence and executions in the future.


On Jan. 16, the Iranian Shah is forced out after a series of violent missteps. He flees to the United States, a move that enforced the Iranian ideology that “the Shah is a US puppet.” Pahlavi seeks cancer treatment while living in the US.

On Nov. 4, the United States Embassy in Tehran is stormed, and rioters take 52 American hostages in the Embassy. They refuse to release the hostages until the Shah is returned to Iran in order to face trial. This begins the US-Iran Hostage Crisis.


Diplomatic relations are severed between the United States and Iran as a result of the hostage crisis.

In July, the Shah dies in Egypt, after leaving the United States while living in exile.


The U.S. negotiates through Algeria to release the hostages after 444 days in captivity. President Ronald Reagan has just taken office when the release occurs.


Hezbollah is formed. The United States designates this as a terrorist group. The group is seen as an extension, or proxy, of Iran.

The Iran-Contra affair begins, lasting well into 1987. There are seven American hostages being held in Lebanon by Iranian-backed militias. President Reagan sells arms to a group of rebels in Nicaragua, the Contras, who were trying to overthrow the Nicaraguan government. This action becomes controversial because Reagan approves it despite Congress explicitly banning federal funds from the Contras.


In July, the United States shoots down an Iranian plane, killing all 290 passengers and crew aboard. They claim to have mistaken it for a military jet and agree to pay financial retribution for the civilian deaths.


The Clinton Administration imposes a complete oil and trade embargo on Iran due to alleged sponsorship of terrorism, human rights abuses and peace process sabotage.


President Bush labels Iran as one of the powers in the “Axis of Evil.” This comment is met with anger and criticism in Iran, with Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi calling the President “arrogant” and an “interference” in the country.


Iran admits to producing plutonium and agrees to be inspected by the UN authorities; however, they have not started to produce nuclear weapons yet.


The Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, contacts President Bush in a letter calling for reduced tensions concerning Iran’s nuclear program. Although he claims the program is only for civilian energy uses, Iran refuses to comply with UN deadlines.


President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits the United States.The United Nations (UN) imposes sanctions against Iran to impact the country’s military and nuclear program.

A report from U.S. National Intelligence claims that Iran stopped developing nuclear arms in 2003; however, the reports also claims the country still has the ability to develop those weapons in the future.


The Obama Administration breaks from the Bush Presidency and agrees to talks with Iran regarding the nuclear situation. This is the beginning of the Iran Nuclear Deal.


In June and July, many countries, including the United States, agree to impose sanctions on Iran to discourage the uranium enrichment Iran continues to develop.


On Sept. 13, the United States and Iran make the most direct contact since 1979. President Obama calls President Rouhani to discuss the nuclear program.


Members of the UN, the U.S., and Iran reach a comprehensive agreement regarding the nuclear plan in Iran. This limits Iran’s uranium production while allowing foreign inspectors to monitor production. Iran agrees with this to lift the sanctions the other countries had placed.


The U.S. and Europe follow through on their end of the deal and lift sanctions against Iran.


President Trump extends those waivers, keeping in line with the Obama Administration.


The Trump Administration withdraws from the Iran nuclear deal. The U.S. wants to renegotiate a new deal; Iran responds by exceeding the limit of enriched uranium produced. This reaction is confirmed by international watchdogs.


President Trump designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. This Irani group is considered part of the nation’s government.

Tensions between Iran and the U.S. increase through a series of oil tanker attacks that occur between the months of May and October.

An American airstrike kills members of an Iran-backed militia.

In response, on Dec. 31, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is attacked by Iraqi protestors and Iran-backed militia members.


General Soleimani is killed by American drone strike on Jan. 3. Solemani is the top general and an extremely popular figure in Iran.

On Jan. 8, Iran launches missiles to two American military bases in the Middle East. No casualties are reported.

The U.S. retaliates to the missile attacks by imposing sanctions on Jan. 9.

This is by no means the entire story; rather, it is a basic overview of how we got to where we are. There is no good guy or bad guy in this story--each country has a history of provocation and/or defending the underdog. We have to consider the facts: the U.S. was integral in the development of Iran as a country. The U.S. promised disproportionate responses to Iran if any casualties occurred after Iran lost an extremely important member of its government. There is no clear answer, but now you have some idea of the backstory, as well as some more information to consider the next time someone mentions the World War III draft.

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