America’s Limited Space for Iran Stories

Last week, much of the US seemed to wring its hands over the US government’s deal with Iran over their nuclear program. The hysterical reaction from potential 2016 candidates to a mixed, but fairly positive solution to this crisis – most of them came out against the deal before it was released – was entirely predictable, but still disturbing. Would-be cautious folks like Sen. Rand Paul appear to have gone full hawk in reaction to the terms. It’s grim.

However, even if mega-interventions like Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol or Iraq war architect Paul Wolfowitz are actually itching for war, most people aren’t this bad. They may just be afraid of an alien, foreign culture that they have heard is aggressive. They may just wish for an Iran that is robotically subservient to American interests without having to go to the trouble of an invasion or even a subtle coup. People want an Iran that they don’t have to understand or empathize with because it is just like us.

That could be swell. Just imagine an Iran that recognized human rights and individual freedoms as much as America tells itself it does when it goes to sleep at night. America tells itself other bedtime stories about Iran – scary ones about 1979, about Iran exporting terrorism, or about cries of “death to America.” But it has forgotten how other tales go. Namely, the one about the 1953 coup of a democratically-elected leader. One which lead Iran on a path towards its theocratic revolution – and the storming of the American embassy – in ‘79. Or the one about the Iranian passenger plane shot down by a US warship in 1988. America doesn’t remember how the US helped ally Saddam Hussein find Iranian troops, knowing full well they would be attacked with chemical weapons.

There is only limited RAM on America’s computer. There is room for fears of Iran going nuclear. Iran threatening Israel. Iran hating Jews. Not an Iran that – theocratic and unfree though it is as a nation – contains a Jewish population that is free to worship and to work most jobs. A population that was never forced to leave, as the Jews of US ally Egypt were in the 1950s.

And certainly not an Iran that has a real need for nuclear medicine, no matter how suspicious the US finds that fact. Nor an Iran whose nuclear program began in the 1950s, thanks to the American Atoms for Peace. Forget an Iran which, again, is quite unfree domestically, but does not oppress its women to the extent that US ally Saudi Arabia does.

Never mind that sanctions are supposed to be a way for America to get what it wants from Iran, or that sanctions themselves are an act of war. One which punishes the poorest people of any country. Did Cuba suddenly embrace human rights after five decades of US sulking? It did not. Why not then try a tactic of friendship, trade, and most frightening – actual trust?

Because most of all, America has no space to admit that Iran has a fantastically valid reason to distrust America and Israel. America overthrew their government in a coup. It shot down a passenger plane. It helped perpetuate chemical attacks on the country. Had any one of those things been done to America by another nationstate, that place would be overthrown and invaded at the very least.

You don’t need to trust everything about Iran. Certainly its government contains some worrisome, tough, theocratic people. You don’t need to wish to emulate anything about Iran’s policies. None of this is necessary – all you need is the nuance to admit that this is a country that has been burned by the west time and time again. That it exists in an area which contains countries overthrown, invaded, and dominated by America – or at least its drones. (Not to mention, Israel which has attacked Iranian scientists and bombed scientific faculties.) The one country that ever used nuclear weapons on other human beings considers itself morally pure enough to control who gets even low-grade uranium.

This is not to say that Iran with a nuclear weapon would be something to celebrate. Nuclear weapons are an unfortunate fact of the modern world. But they are not a weapon which can be used in self-defense or in any fashion that would not affect countless innocent civilians – and even the rest of the world. They are not a good thing. However, Iran’s likelihood of using such a weapon if they somehow got one is incredibly low. Israel has many more weapons, including subs with second strike capabilities. The US would turn Iran to glass if they attacked Israel with a bomb. And Iran may contain theocrats, but there is no reason to believe that the nation is some kind of 78-million-strong suicide cult. Why wouldn’t they understand the cost of actually using a nuke, and avoid it? Aren’t they people, relatively similar to those living in Israel and America?

America and Israel – or rather their most prominent speakers – seem unable to grasp the fact that Iranians mostly react logically to the situation in which they were placed. Iran is not perfect – certainly I prefer to live in the relative freedom of the US, yes the Holocaust definitely happened. But Iran is right to be skittish when interacting with the west. They have suffered more from the US than the US would ever tolerate in return. Admitting that would be a hell of a first step for critics of this deal.

Lucy Steigerwald is a contributing editor for and a columnist for She previously worked as an Associate Editor for Reason magazine. She is most angry about police, prisons, and wars. Steigerwald blogs at

Author: Lucy Steigerwald

Lucy Steigerwald is a contributing editor for and an editor for Young Voices. She has also written for VICE,, the Washington, The American Conservative, and other outlets. Her blog is Follow her on twitter @lucystag.