Argo, or "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the CIA"

by C. Clark Kissinger | October 28, 2012 | Revolution Newspaper |


We received this contribution from a correspondent, and are sharing it with readers.

It is a sad trajectory from the antiwar classic Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb to the latest output of Hollywood’s liberal establishment, Argo. What would make the likes of Ben Affleck, George Clooney, Alan Arkin, and John Goodman turn out a hymn of praise to the CIA?

Yes, that CIA. The one that overthrew the Mossadegh government in Iran, the Arbenz government in Guatemala, the Sukarno government in Indonesia, the Goulart government in Brazil, the Allende government in Chile, and so on, killing hundreds of thousands in the process—the covert keepers of the empire.

The fact that Argo is such a well-made movie makes it all the more insidious. Viewers are drawn step by step through this fast-paced thriller that eventually has the audience on the edge of their seats... cheering for the bad guys: "Go CIA, Beat Iran!" The whole jingoist atmosphere in the U.S. at that time is lovingly recreated with yellow ribbons around the trees and Iranians attacked on the streets.

The 1979 Embassy Crisis

The background for the film is the 1979 Iranian revolution and overthrow of the reactionary Shah of Iran. When the Shah fled Iran, he eventually took refuge in the U.S. This led to the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by a large crowd with the demand that the Shah be returned to Iran to stand trial for his many crimes. The situation had been exacerbated by the earlier ostentatious show of support for the hated Shah by U.S. president Jimmy Carter.

The situation was complicated by the fact that the impetus to seize the embassy came from supporters of the Ayatollah Khomeini, who wanted to embarrass and drive out of office the remaining pro-U.S. figures in Iran’s interim government. It took place on the eve of a referendum on the new reactionary constitution for an Islamic republic. But the seizure of the embassy and the demand to return the Shah were wildly popular among the people of Iran.

Further, shortly after the embassy seizure, the Soviet Union invaded neighboring Afghanistan in a power move of its own in the area. And as the crisis dragged on, the Ronald Reagan team, which soon after defeated Carter in the 1980 election, began its own dealings with Khomeini behind the back of the Carter administration, eventually leading to the Iran-Contra scandal. All this made for a cauldron of contradictions that fueled the creation of a whole "America Under Siege" atmosphere.

"It’s Not Our Embassy"

Ignoring most of this, the film Argo turns reality on its head. First of all, as the RCP said at the time, "It’s not our embassy!" The embassy in Tehran did not represent the U.S. people, it represented the interests of the U.S. ruling class, and the demand to return the Shah for trial was fully justified. The embassy was in fact a "nest of spies," as the Iranians charged. This was fully borne out by the thousands of pages of documents seized from the embassy, some of which were painstakingly reconstructed from shredded originals. As for the 52 "diplomats" held captive after the seizure, 21 were subsequently identified as members of the U.S. military and an undisclosed number were CIA agents. This small cadre of agents seeking to destabilize the new Iranian regime was the residue of an embassy staff of 1,000 before the overthrow of the Shah.

The plot of Argo ignores all this and deals instead with the smuggling out of Iran of six "diplomats" who had ducked out the back door when the embassy was seized and had taken refuge in the Canadian embassy.

Throughout the film, the Iranians are portrayed as either incompetent dimwits or as a bloodthirsty mob out to kill every American they could lay their hands on. This, of course, was not the reality. I know because I was in Tehran in December of 1979 leading a delegation from the U.S. supporting the demand that the Shah be returned for trial. I walked through what is portrayed in the film as a howling mob outside the embassy and was well received everywhere I went. The truth of the matter was that the Iranian people were very careful to draw the distinction between the U.S. government, which they did hate for very good reason, and the people of the U.S., who were not perceived as their enemies.

Where U.S. Chauvinism Will Take You

The objective role of this film is to soften up progressive people to accept any crime that the U.S. ruling class may deem necessary with regard to Iran today.

Here we see the relevance and importance of the ruling class playing the "Black President" card. Were a white Bush in office, Hollywood might actually be producing real oppositional films and there might be demonstrations in the streets. With Obama at the head, people who should know better are de-fanged. Progressive politics is restricted to an occasional whimper about single-payer health care or slightly higher taxes on the ultra-rich. Meanwhile, crimes against the people of the world are swept under the rug or outright accepted as the price for the life we enjoy in this country.

The solution to continually being dragged to the right is not to be found in taking sides with either the reactionary Islamic fundamentalists in power in Iran or with the reactionary rulers of the U.S. empire. What is needed now is for people to increasingly oppose the threats and crimes of this government, no matter who is in office, and bring forth another way for the people of the world.

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