The Iran Crisis is Not a Zero Sum Game

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“IMG_0129 Iran” by Ninara is licensed under CC BY 2.0

After the assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani last week, tensions across the Middle East have risen exponentially.

When the US eliminated the second most powerful member of the Iranian government, it was inevitable that Iran would retaliate.

Anyone who has watched international relations over the past 50 years is aware of the fact that every attack must be met with a “proportional response.” The ongoing “tit for tat” approach means that no country (or its leaders) can allow itself to look weak.

So the Iranians bombed military bases housing Iraqi and American troops. No one died because the governments warned each other in advance, but the attacks were step two in the ramp-up to possible war.

The war posturing was in set in place.

As the whole world waited to see if there would be a third step, another attack by the Americans against Iran, a passenger plane was shot down over Teheran.


At first, no one would take any responsibility for the deaths of 176 innocent passengers onboard the Ukrainian flight. Maybe it was just a poorly timed mechanical failure, we were told.

But within days the flimsy story unraveled, as videos of the crash surfaced across the globe.

Iran was forced to admit that it had shot down the jetliner in a moment of heightened fear about an American attack. Children died on that flight. Moms, Dads, students, professors, doctors, all innocents, died on that flight.

A lot of people with a left-leaning view of American politics immediately placed the blame for the horror on Donald J. Trump and his cronies. I, for one, posted on social media to claim that the blood of these lost families was on Trump’s hands.

If the US President hadn’t made the decision to assassinate the Iranian General, Iran wouldn’t have struck back at our bases. Which means that they wouldn’t have been waiting for another US hit and wouldn’t have had trigger fingers.

David Frum of The Atlantic agreed with me. He wrote:

“No American paid a price for President Donald Trump’s decision to kill Iran’s Qassem Soleimani. But it looks like 176 other people did, including 63 Canadian citizens and many more Iranian nationals en route to Canada,”

But many Iranian Americans took the side of Trump’s supporters, claiming that on Trump Derangement Syndrome could account for anyone blaming the President for the killings.

By blaming Trump, these people claim, we are ignoring the fact that Iran’s government is opposed by millions of its people both in and outside of its borders. By pointing the finger at the US government, we were told, we were allowing Iran to appear blameless.

But that is absolutely untrue.

Assessing the situation in Iran and Iraq does not require anyone to think in terms of a zero-sum game.

It’s possible to believe as I do, that the government in Iran is despotic, tyrannical and completely undemocratic. At the same time, it’s also possible to believe that no country has the right to assassinate the leader of another.

It’s possible to believe that Trump is responsible for the deaths of all those good people. He started this whole crisis. He did it. That makes him accountable.

But at the same time, we know who had the jittery, untrained guy at the controls. We know that Iran continued to let flights fly in and out of its airport while waiting for a US attack. That makes them accountable.

I have an Iranian friend who travels back and forth to visit family. She despises the Iranian government.

She despises Trump, too.

The events of the past week have shown us with absolute clarity that the world has plenty of huge egos sitting in seats of power, with fingers poised over plenty of deadly weapons. The world has plenty of bad guys, plenty of leaders who lie, plenty of chances for war.

It is not a zero-sum game. And we don’t have to pick a team.

Written by

A Mother, a grandmother, a progressive voter. I write because it’s getting harder to march and because words are my only weapon. I blog at

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