I finally slipped out with my beautiful wife and went to see the Movie Argo last night, and I wanted to share some thoughts about the movie with you.
For those that may have not seen it, Argo is a film based on a true story about the escape of 6 American Embassy employees that hide in the Canadian Ambassador’s house in Tehran while 52 other embassy employees were taken hostage. They finally escape from Tehran pretending to be employees of a film production company – a scheme developed and coordinated by the CIA.
It was a thrilling at time intense movie directed by Ben Affleck. Starring Ben Affleck in the prime role as Tony Mendez a CIA operative charged with bringing these employees home. There are notable bits of comedy laced in provided by two old time cast members Alan Arkin and John Goodman playing off telephone narratives that end with a line “Argo F**k Yourself”. Overall it was quality entertainment tied in with some real much needed foreign policy education that American audiences will appreciate. Right now it’s looking like it may make a few Oscar nomination lists, and is a healthy #2 on box office revenue tables for these past few weeks.
As an Iranian-American, I found many aspects of the movie intriguing and worthy of comment.
First of all the movie begins with an opening sequence using animated storyboards to provide a prologue educational background to the movie. It says, the U.S. engineered a coup to oust Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister (Mossadegh) who had nationalized British and American assets in Iran. This clearly is wrong. The only assets nationalized were the assets of the British-Iranian oil company (Now BP), and in effect it by passes the question of why the U.S. got leveraged by Britain to protect British Assets (not for the first time -check out who owns and operates Iraq’s largest oil fields today, after over a Trillion dollars spent by the U.S. and over 4000 American deaths – based on false intelligence by the Brits).
And in this opening sequence it positions the Shah as a torturer – which is a truism only to the extent that he was carrying out U.S. policy inside the country and in the region. I mean his secret police (SAVAK) and military was trained, developed and guided by U.S. personnel on how to behave, and who to look for. I mean, Iran, was at the center of the cold war against the Soviet Union and communism. The Shah did not act alone. And the film did not really broach on all that. If there was torture or lack of democracy in Iran, it is because successive administrations in the U.S. wanted it so. My point is, the film starts off by insulating Iran from the U.S. The shah did this, the shah did that … it should have said, and that the U.S. trained and guided the Shah to do this and that for us. I think it would have been important to more effectively explain how and why Iran got so polarized.
But, then, no one seems to ask why the U.S. even maintained an embassy in Tehran while all this was going on. No one wants to even go into no man’s land to explain that Khomeini was actually America’s man. That he was plucked out from hiding, brought to Paris by the CIA; and that the U.S. embassy hostages became tools in a spat between Khomeini and his American handlers. Khomeini basically lost trust (or faith) that the U.S. would maintain its support for his new regime when Carter let the Shah into the U.S. for treatment; and hence the use of the U.S. embassy hostages as pawns in this negotiation. The film does not even go there…or imply it effectively.
But also just as critically, by the 90th day of captivity, while Khomeini and Carter were fighting it out, Ronald Reagan’s re-election team had made secret contact with the Khomeini regime and had already schemed a plan to humiliate Carter with keeping the Hostages inside Iran through the election cycle to humiliate Carter. There is no mention or even suggestion of all that.
The film has a sequence where the CIA was basically told by the Whitehouse to cancel the rescue mission because there is another rescue mission in the works. But it does not really explain what is going on precisely. I suppose it does not really need to. But I think it is important for people to know that Jimmy Carter’s team had planned a military style rescue of the ALL the hostages by bringing Delta Force commandos and helicopters into Tehran and raiding the U.S. embassy and pulling all the hostages out of there. The 6 American employees at the Canadian Embassy were supposed to be driven to a meeting point only days after they actually left Iran to rendezvous with the Delta Force commandos and be placed in a helicopter with the other hostages.
By the time, Carter had schemed up a plan to rescue all of the embassy hostages (the 52), via the aborted Delta force rescue mission (in April 1980) that resulted in the near cancelation of the escape plan for these 6 embassy employees, the Republican Party had already established their links with the regime in Tehran and provided them with all the guarantees they needed …long before the end of the Democratic primaries!! And, I am sure the CIA leadership that tried so hard to keep the escape plan alive and fought so hard to stop the cancellation of this escape plan knew full well that the Delta Force Mission would be aborted!!
Republican Party operatives had pre-ordained the failure of the Delta force mission with implementation of stupid elements in the plan that in the end caused the whole thing to blow up in Carter’s face. Many, I am told, of the key members of Ronald Reagan’s campaign staff were recently let go CIA employees due to Jimmy Carter’s downsizing of the agency.
(For those that do not know, the Delta Force rescue plan was a plan to bring in a military force into the embassy in Tehran and rescue the hostages via helicopter. The mission was aborted during a refueling staging point in the Iranian dessert on an airfield in Tabas (Iran) when a few large aircraft tanker planes caught fire after helicopter blades struck them. Over a dozen American service men died during the blaze. The mission was poorly planned with too few helicopters assigned to it. Because of the shortage of helicopters, mechanical failure in just a few would have meant that the whole plan would need to be aborted. And this is precisely what happened. A few helicopters developed mechanical failure and upon take off one of them hit the fuel tankers. I am sure some key operatives in the Military and the CIA knew that this plan would fail. Jimmy Carter had cut their budgets by too much!!)
In any case the film does not even go here. And it’s a shame, because Americans need to know what happened to their democracy in 1980.
Another aspect of the movie that left me dumbfounded was how exactly Iranians are portrayed. In general, I think Ben Affleck tries NOT to stereotype Iranians unduly, but the plot never really works if some Iranians, at least, are not portrayed as the bad guys and the Americans always as the good guys. But, I found the Persian dialogue many times sounding like Afghans talking; and the crowds chanting in strange accents. Affleck brilliantly moves his camera from scenes in the U.S. to scenes in Iran – as if we are all one human race trying to make sense of all this nonsense struggling with the same issues – human issues. But Iranians are all portrayed as darker in this human scale; and less worthy of a decent outcome. Iranians are always bearded and unshaven. And above else, the situation inside Iran is portrayed as an Iranian ordeal, when in fact –in truth – it was all schemed up by Republican Party operatives. If there had not been an election in the U.S. at the time, the U.S. embassy hostages and the 6 Employees at the Canadian embassy would have been freed earlier. Iranians, my friends, were pawns in an American game. Iranians are the true victims – not the 6 employees.
There are some really great scenes in the movie, and some real truth shines out – mainly in the Alan Arkin and John Goodman scenes. One of my very favorites is a sequence where they say “if you want a lie to become a truth, have the media tell it for you” and they proceed to throw a giant news conference in Hollywood to make the production of the film (Argo) seem real enough for the Iranian regime to buy into it. And then there are other scenes where they are buying the rights to the screenplay and in the process of negotiating with a Hollywood executive there is a lying contest that is hilarious to witness.
And this brings me to my final point. There was one other movie about this time in Iran, called “Not Without My Daughter” starring Sally Fields. It was a humiliating movie from an Iranian perspective about revolutionary Iran and the escape of an American woman and her daughter from Iran. It too portrays Iranians in a negative light. Surprise, surprise Sally Fields is cast in Argo as one of the 52 American embassy hostages in the early scenes of the film. I want to know what Sally Fields has against Iranians? I almost want to say Sally Fields go F**k yourself, but I really prefer the on-going narrative in Argo with constant reference to “Argo F**k Yourself”.
Hopefully, one day, Iranian directors will have an opportunity to set the story properly and better explain how democracy in Iran and the U.S. was stolen in 1980. There is an election going on today in America, you have to ask yourself who was really behind the killing of the U.S. ambassador in Benghazi, Libya? Is it not amazing that the people that raided the Consulate in Benghazi, somehow knew that the Ambassador that is based in Tripoli (the capital), some 2 hours flight from Benghazi, was visiting that day, and that he was hiding in the back of the embassy! And that Benghazi was the nerve center of the opposition to Ghaddafi i.e. there simply could NOT have been anti-American militia in that city at all. These killers appeared from no-where and have so far disappeared. Photos show them with Israeli made RP7 Rocket Propelled Grenades!! Incredible, isn’t it? And then you hear Romney on his campaign stops and during the Presidential debates constantly referring to the killing of the Ambassador! Who was behind it, I wonder?? It’s a god-damn shame that people outside the U.S. have to be sacrificed for America’s domestic power plays and budgets.
Oh, and there is one other thing here that should have been explained. Jimmy Carter’s NSC staff, when they realized that the hostage taking had been engineered by the Republicans, gave Saddam Hussein the Green light to invade Iran on September 22nd, 1980; and this started the Iran-Iraq War that ended in over 1 million casualties. The hostage taking became a much bigger deal – then anyone can imagine. This may have been too much to explain in the movie, but one day, I pray that this truth too will be on the big screen!