Michelle Obama, Argo, and Iran

PONARS Eurasia
27 Feb 2013

Q:  Recently, Michelle Obama announced the Academy Award for Argo, a movie about the rescue of Americans in Iran. Some Russian analysts interpreted it as a political move against Iran. What is your view?

A:  "I hadn't realized it was being construed that way.  That's very amusing.  Suffice to say that the White House has no role in the voting. The votes are cast by members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and are tallied by PriceWaterhouseCoopers.  No political official has any role in it at any point.  (I'm told, however, that the votes are counted on a grassy knoll.)

Argo starts out with a ridiculous leftwing trope about US-Iranian relations that's full of glaring mistakes (e.g., it clams that Mossadeq was popularly elected, which of course he never was; he was appointed by the Majlis) and gives a ludicrously distorted capsule summary of the shah's regime. The shah had his faults, but he was a far better and far more humane ruler than the barbaric Khomeini-ite tyrants who ousted all the moderates after the revolution and have subjugated Iran ever since.

After that absurd opening trope, the film is well made, but it's so inaccurate on so many key points that I was left in amazement. Filmmakers of course enjoy leeway to dramatize historical events as they see fit, but Affleck thoroughly distorted things.

The rescue of the six Americans was carried out primarily by the Canadian embassy and intelligence service, not by the CIA, which played only a relatively minor role.  The scenes of menacing crowds and confrontations were all contrivances; no such confrontations actually occurred because the Americans never traveled to the bazaar.  There was no interrogation at the airport (indeed, the cover story of making a fake film played almost no role in the escape), and the scene toward the end with the Iranian police frantically chasing the Swiss Air plane is a complete fabrication. No such chase occurred.  The Swiss Air flight was delayed somewhat by a mechanical glitch, but after that it took off without any problem.

The only accurate thing in the film is that six American diplomats who escaped to the Canadian embassy after the U.S. embassy was overrun were able to get out on a Swiss Air flight.  Anyone who wants to understand how the escape was carried out should avoid watching the film."

- Mark Kramer