United States and Iran: Tracking the Tension and Preparing for the Future

Lesson Objectives:

Students will:

Materials Needed:

Time Needed:


Step 1: Opening the Lesson -- "Iran is Rising" (optional)

  1. Students will watch a clip from the first chapter of Showdown with Iran at www.pbs.org/frontline/showdown/view/either as a homework assignment the night before this lesson, or at the beginning of the lesson. The relevant segment runs for four minutes and 12 seconds.

    [The clip begins at 2:22 with "America has dominated these waters for 50 years..." and ends at approximately 6:34 with "It's a conspiracy theory Iran's current hard-line government seems to encourage."]
  2. Direct the students to reflect in their notebooks about the relationship between Iran and the United States. Pose the following questions to guide their writing:

    • How would you characterize the current relationship between the U.S. and Iran?
    • Reflect on your emotional reaction to watching this clip about the U.S./Iranian relationship.

Step 2: What Happened and Why?

  1. Divide students into pairs or groups of three to four students. Distribute Student Handout I: "What Happened and Why"?
  2. Either provide the chronology of U.S./Iranian relations from FRONTLINE's program, Terror and Tehran, or access it at: www.pbs.org/frontline/shows/tehran/etc/cron.html
  3. Give students time to examine the history of the relationship between Iran and the United States. Discuss key moments in this history, and to complete Student Handout I "What Happened and Why?"

Step 3: Where Do We Go From Here?

  1. Reconvene as a group. If the class has not watched Showdown with Iran, highlight that the most pressing concern for the United States and our allies is how to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear capability.
  2. Ask the students the following question and record their answer on the chalkboard:
    What options should the United States consider to prevent Iran from going nuclear?

    Teachers might suggest and elaborate on the following policy options:

    • Negotiate with Iran (challenge the students to consider which nations should be part of such negotiations or whether the United States should impose preconditions on Iran before sitting down to talk with them)
    • Economic sanctions (challenge students to consider whether such sanctions should be multilateral or if the U.S. alone should impose sanctions)

      • Notes on Sanctions:
      • On October 25, 2007 the Bush Administration announced its plan to designate the Quds division of Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. Sanctions will be imposed to block the Guard's financial assets. (Source: New York Times)
      • The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1747 in March of 2007. "This resolution placed further sanctions on Iran, preventing the export of arms from Iran and freezing the assets of organizations and individuals involved in nuclear and missile efforts." (Source: Council on Foreign Relations)
    • Attempt a regime change in Iran
    • Preemptive military action
    • Acceptance of Iran into the world's nuclear club (Note: Acknowledged members include the United States, Russia, Britain, France, China, India and Pakistan. It is widely believed that Israel has nuclear capability although this is not an acknowledged fact.)
  3. Distribute Student Handout II: "Best/Worst Case Scenarios" and divide students into groups of three to four. In these groups, students will discuss the potential consequences of each policy option. Invite students to also consider which of the options involve diplomatic versus military actions.
  4. After students complete their discussion concerning the consequences of different policy options, reconvene as a class and solicit some of the groups' responses as to which policy option they believe the U.S. should pursue and why.
  5. Place the following quote on an overhead projector or on the chalkboard and ask the students to a) paraphrase the quote and b) interpret what they think it means:

         "If I were to predict today, I would bet diplomacy would be going on right up until noon on January 20, 2009..."
         U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton

    [Explain that January 20th, 2009 will be the inauguration for the new administration and that concern about the future of Iran will be a dominant theme in the 2008 presidential campaigns.]

    (Note: If doing this activity after the 2008 presidential election, direct students to research what the new president's preferred policy option was during the election and compare it with how the U.S. attempt to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear capabilities has actually played out.)
  6. Either provide copies of the Council of Foreign Relations' "Issues Tracker" or direct students to: http://www.cfr.org/publication/13421/

    In small discussion groups or for homework, direct students to identify which policy options are favored by 2008 presidential candidates. Compare/contrast their preferred policy option to candidatesŐ positions.

Optional extension assignment:

Students will reflect on the following question and write clear and well-supported responses. Encourage students to include specific evidence to support their position. They can post their pieces to the "Share Your Thoughts" sectionof FRONTLINE's Web site: www.pbs.org/frontline/showdown/talk/share.html

"In the long, ongoing clash between Iran and the U.S., what do you think the future holds?"

Methods for Assessment

  1. Quality of student participation during class and group discussions and completion of "What Happened and Why?" and "Best/Worst Cast Scenarios" handouts.
  2. Evaluate the students' participation in the background and context discussion.
  3. If assigned, evaluate student submissions on the "Join the Discussion" question for clarity and syntax.