“This is the best bad idea we have sir, by far.” – Ben Affleck in ARGO, playing C.I.A. agent Tony Mendez
November 4th, 1979. As the Iranian revolution reaches a boiling point, a CIA exfiltration specialist concocts a risky plan to free six American hostages.
SOMETIMES A FILM meets with an event in history and the fusing becomes a moment meant to teach. Ben Affleck’s spectacularly entertaining ARGO is that film, coming in the aftermath of the Benghazi terrorist attack. The suspense collides with darkly hilarious moments helping you survive the drama on a sled of emotions, the larger plot some of us remember all too well. The Oscar buzz is worthy, especially for Affleck, as is the 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But like all important films it excavates history on the wings of great entertainment.
It wasn’t anticipated that Affleck’s film would land in the middle of the furor over a terrorist attack on another 9/11 in a country we are trying to help begin anew. Such is the sweet nod of serendipity to artistic bravery, as surely this was for Affleck, whose direction from The Town takes another skyward blast in ARGO.
For people like me, artists trained, with a degree in fine arts, and the professional credentials to match. Growing up as a political activist, my mentor a politician who is also my brother. I can’t see a brilliant film like ARGO in any way other than through the lens of history. So, that’s the way I have to review it.
Fast forward from Iran 1979 to Benghazi 2012 for a moment. An ambassador assassinated, the people trying to protect him murdered, all sent to a ravaged land with no leader with the far flung purpose that a difference can be made and the country transformed.
It’s what can happen when we choose to get involved and things go south. Date check history for the proof.
Affleck’s ARGO, however, doesn’t end badly, except for President Jimmy Carter, who lost reelection.
Like the events that make up the storyline, which is very loosely based on the real life bravery of C.I.A.’s Tony Mendez, who received the highest honor the Agency can offer, the Iranian hostage crisis didn’t happen in a blink.
Benghazi didn’t either. Instead, it unfolded as Libya puked up the facade of stability made possible by the biggest powers backing a thug.
Iran during the history that led to ARGO, the United States performed a coup to install their puppet, the Shah.
Iran or Benghazi, both play out in the same prism of political witlessness, outsiders playing savior of people we helped imprison in the first place through our policy of propping up dictators who had our best interests in mind at the expense of their own people (which made me a foreign policy realist).
The Arab Spring is the result. And Republicans wonder why it’s violently turbulent, with America now feeling the blowback? As if the birth of a nation is ever peaceful, our own country an example of the convulsions on the way to freedom.
However, what’s truly obscene is that the entire Republican Party and their supporters are caterwauling today about President Obama and the administration allegedly “lying” and worse. Allegations that there is a “cover up,” while holding circus hearings with partisan motivations in a presidential election year.
Did any of these same people give President Ronald Reagan a pass for the impeachable crime of Iran-Contra?
Did you say that re Reagan on Iran-Contra? MT @rupertmurdoch White House lying about Benghazi. HAD to know truth. CIA under bus, now State!
— Taylor Marsh (@taylormarsh) October 13, 2012
Fox News Channel spewing the most insanely hyperbolic theories behind the terrorist tragedy, which when compared to the Reagan era can be seen for what they are in a political age for what it is.
President Reagan was allowed to skate on a feeble mea culpa from the Oval Office, which illustrates the difference between the politics then and now, but especially the stark contrast of the media in the ’80s and today’s 24/7, new-media, cable infotainment stream of non-stop speculation, political hacks, off the wall charges, and juvenile journalism.
Imagine President Obama delivering this speech today, just weeks after the Benghazi attack.
“… For the past 3 months I’ve been silent on the revelations about Iran. You must have been thinking, well, why doesn’t he tell us what’s happening. Why doesn’t he just speak to us as he has in the past when we’ve faced troubles or tragedy? Others of you, I guess, were thinking, what’s he doing hiding out in the White House? Well, the reason I haven’t spoken to you before now is this. You deserve the truth. And as frustrating as the waiting has been, I felt it was improper to come to you with sketchy reports or possibly even erroneous statements, which would then have to be corrected, creating even more doubt and confusion. There’s been enough of that. I’ve paid a price for my silence in terms of your trust and confidence. But I’ve had to wait as you have for the complete story…”- President Ronald Reagan, March 4, 1987
In contrast, today’s political climate is best represented by Edward Klein, who is hawking hyperbole and sheer lunacy against the Clintons, which is how the man makes his money. Tucker Carlson’s now published so much swiftboating squeals from the guts of his ideological desperation to defeat Barack Obama that it comes as no surprise he’s got another whopper from Klein today. The Clintons are “furious!” Bill’s corraling the lawyers! All from Tucker Carlson’s new media station on bullshit mountain (h/t to Jon Stewart for the adjective).
Forget offering a Reagan type speech from the Oval Office. If President Obama came out to speak the truth Secretary Clinton did yesterday he’d be run from office.
“I think the attack by — and what has largely been a political attack by Republicans, in this case by Congressman Ryan, was to try to suggest that the president and the White House was responsible for assessing security in a diplomatic facility in Benghazi,” said Carney. “The lack of understanding about how this works may explain why Congressman Ryan consistently supported and authored budgets that slashed spending for diplomatic security, and he now takes a different position on these matters in the aftermath, which is clearly part of an effort to politicize what should not be politicized.”
[...] “There is much we still don’t know, and I am the first to say that,” she said. “There is nobody in the administration motivated by anything other than trying to understand what happened,” said Clinton. “We are doing all we can to prevent it from ever happening again anywhere.”
[...] “To this day we do not have a complete picture, we do not have all the answers,” she said. “No one in this administration has ever claimed otherwise. Every one of us have made clear that we are providing the best information we have at that time. And that information continues to be updated. It also continues to be put into context and more deeply understood.”
[...] “Ambassador Rice had the same information from the intelligence community that every other senior official did,” said Clinton. “We can only tell you what we know based on our most current understanding of the attack and what led up to it.”
That Obama wouldn’t dare to deliver remarks like Clinton’s, looking through the prism of Reagan, as he explained away an impeachable offense and gets away with the ploy, illustrates what we’ve lost as a nation. Though if impeachment were saved for serious events like Iran-Contra or Richard Nixon’s crimes, for which he never should have been pardoned, perhaps we would have had a real standard for holding president’s accountable, instead of fellatio being the bar.
Through our hyper-partisan, microwaveable media stories we allow no leadership to rise amid disastrous mistakes made through human ego and election self-interest, which produce events that overtake our presidents, diplomats and political leaders, all of whom are now reduced to expectations that no mere mortal could meet.
If Republicans keep the House, you’ve got to wonder if Darrel Issa will rev up his oversight circus on the way to impeachment hearings, just as the House did during the Clinton era over a consensual sex act that any married man would have lied about if caught with his pants on the floor. The public proved the silliness of this action when they unloaded on Republicans in the election of ’98, which even disgusted Grover Norquist, who warned of what would happen, before Republican zeal turned into Democratic favor and victory.
President Obama being blamed for an obviously botched communication response is one thing, though I have always argued that it was the initial policy on Libya and the bombing through NATO that unfolded only as it could in a country that never had a government beyond Gaddafi and his mafia, compliments of U.S. policy.
Looking back decades to Iran-Contra and the Republican hero Ronald Reagan, who can’t wonder what would have happened if the Gipper had been subjected to the same 24/7, new-media, cable infotainment scrutiny? The assassination attempt on his life wouldn’t have saved him today.
Obama’s crime, his “lie,” according to the screechers like Hannity and the wingnut noise machine, is far greater than Reagan’s, though they never have to explain why. It’s a preposterous assertion. But if Obama had been in charge at the time of the Marine bombing and Beirut, Iran-Contra, or William Casey’s private war across the border of Afghanistan (as reported by Bob Woodward in “Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1984″ when he used to write brilliant works not threaded through his ideological prism), he’d have been tarred and feathered and run out of Washington.
We need to be in dangerous countries, but we cannot protect our diplomatic foreign service soldiers from all manner of harm. They know what they’re doing and they’re not victims. They are heroes on a mission, which ARGO reveals through theatrical license. Soldiers without rifles for which they deserve our gratitude and respect, instead of being vilified by Republicans, and not adequately funded and supported. People willing to give their lives to move the world forward, which the harrowing drama in ARGO demonstrates beautifully.
Remember Ambassador Joseph Wilson in Iraq, the last US diplomat to meet Saddam before the first Gulf War, a noose around his neck in a press conference where he told Saddam Hussein to basically go screw himself?
“If the choice is to allow American citizens to be taken hostage or to be executed, I will bring my own [expletive] rope.” – Ambassador Joseph Wilson
Ambassador Kennedy tried to make this very case again and again in Darrell Issa’s oversight hearing, that the foreign service is required, but in dangerous land where they can’t always be protected fully. But Issa, Chaffetz and the Republican chorus were too busy performing for cameras to listen to the message.
As former President Jimmy Carter’s narration plays at the conclusion of ARGO, scenes of history placed on the screen against movie shots from Affleck’s film roll by. Carter’s voice a haunting memory of actions that were secreted away until now, which brings to mind the quickness through which we now view history. Kathryn Bigelow’s upcoming film Zero Dark Thirty debuting in December, not even two years after the killing of Osama bin Laden a good example.
ARGO now takes the place among these films. A story of death defying cunning that allowed the few to escape, because of the brilliance of one CIA agent, Tony Mendez, played with great humanity and solemnity by Ben Affleck. We are reminded through art what once couldn’t be known for decades, until the history makes the knowledge safe, even if it meant a president losing his office, because he couldn’t tell the story to rebut an image of weakness in the public.
That Republicans are trying to use the Carter model for Barack Obama hasn’t succeeded nearly so well in the aftermath of George W. Bush’s national security incompetence, from ignoring the warnings of attacks before 9/11 to taking our country to war on a lie. It helps that Obama’s wickedness has been seen through his drone policy, as well as the order to kill Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan, without them knowing.
Today, the daring plan in ARGO would have been investigated by Congress and the heroes turned into the accused, whether they succeeded or not. The scrutiny is needed, Congress once an equal branch to the Executive, though it is now just a marketing arm of the party who holds the presidency, but it’s the atmosphere in which a hearing takes place that matters. The chance for honest excavation of truths in the light of transparency drowned in the toxic bile of partisanship, which Darrel Issa proved this past week and the U.S. media illustrates every day.
The Administration screwed up the explanation of Benghazi. But people didn’t die because of that. Christopher Stevens and the others trying to save him and the mission died because they believed Libya was worth saving.
Affleck’s ARGO is a rare piece of film that resurrects history at a moment in modern time where an international crisis has developed around a President’s mission in Libya. In the shadow of Christopher Stevens’s assassination it should remind us all that the foreign service risk their lives by choice and in volatile, unsafe and unstable lands where you can’t predict the next day, or protect these brave diplomatic soldiers from everything. Again, something Ambassador Kennedy said in the Issa hearing, though no one could hear him over the din of their chest-thumping.
Republicans are always saying they want America to lead. They just don’t want to pay for what that costs during our well-meaning misadventurism that never ends well, which includes the missions of foreign service officers who deserve the same budget as war tools made possible through Pentagon bloat.
Democrats by no means innocent in their duplicity on diplomacy and military spending, but also in their cowardice to stand up for war instead of a smarter policy that puts American interests first.
Under Affleck’s direction we see the humor needed to traverse perilously dangerous missions that make death one foot away.
We are reminded that it all comes at a cost.
And sometimes it’s everyone’s fault, including a hypnotized public too ignorant to know what they’re talking about but uninterested in educating themselves beyond their favorite infotainment cable barker. And a president needs to be given the space to learn all the facts before partisan hacks start asking for his head. Call it the Ronald Reagan standard: If the Gipper can get a pass for waiting 3 months to speak about Iran-Contra, surely Barack Obama deserves a month to do the same.
Democrats and Republicans chose to support President Obama taking our nation to war in Libya, backing the NATO mission.
Democrats and Republicans unseated the elected leader of Iran, then put in our guy, which is what caused the hostage crisis. ARGO dramatizes part of this tale, which jettisoned me into a time machine, a walk through my own political life the result.
People want Obama’s head, and now even Joe Biden in the debate with Paul Ryan said he and the President hadn’t been told about the security requests, to which Murdoch’s tweet above refers.
It’s every man for himself.
And we wonder why we’re still making the same mistakes?
ARGO tells one story, while throwing a spotlight on our policies, politics and media culture that won’t allow President Obama to mimic what Ronald Reagan did to escape impeachment over a far more serious leadership failure than Benghazi.
Everyone today wants someone’s head on a spike for Benghazi, when it may be as simple as Christopher Stevens died doing the job he loved and was committed do doing, at a time when one political party no longer believes in diplomacy and proves it daily. Meanwhile, heroes continue to do their jobs with no guarantees in the wild west of Libya, a country caught in the contagion that started as the Arab Spring, but has now grown frigidly cold.
To the partisan witch hunters who say these people aren’t heroes and don’t deserve the same as our soldiers dispatched with duties out of the Pentagon that come backed by big defense budget bucks, in the words of Ben Affleck and as a tribute to the shout from history he unleashed in this great film, to the small minded and short-sighted I say, “AR GO f#*! yourself.”