‘Argo’ and the Continuing Iranian Crisis

Lloyd Billingsley is the author of Exceptional Depravity, a new crime book, and Hollywood Party: Stalinist Adventures in the American Movie Industry. He has written for City Journal California, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal and many other publications.


The way it came down at the time, six Americans had been smuggled out of Iran “disguised as Canadians.” After more than 30 years we learn the CIA was also involved. In Hollywood the CIA has been a three-letter code for evil, but not so in Argo, which lays out the backstory in documentary-style footage and wiki-style commentary.

Iran is part of a great Persian legacy, it says. Mohammed Mossadegh is elected and nationalizes the oil business. In 1953 the U.S. and Britain engineer a coup and install the Shah, an evil man who tortures the people. When the Shah falls ill and leaves Iran in 1979, the Ayatollah Khomeini returns. The film fails to provide much background on Khomeini and other key players, including Jimmy Carter, a weak president treated far too kindly here.

As Muslim mobs attack the U.S. embassy, one American explains “we did it to them first with Mossadegh.” The invaders take embassy staff hostage and piece together shredded documents. For the most part the detail is accurate and convincing. The casting is superb, especially the six Americans who escape the embassy and take refuge in the residence of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor.

The Iranians will torture and execute any Americans they catch, so the task is to get the six out of the country. Militants control the roads so they can’t drive. The State Department wants the Americans to pedal 300 miles on bicycles. Enter CIA exfiltration specialist Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) who crafts a plan to get the six out as members of a Canadian film crew. For this plan to work he must concoct a fake film.

Enter John Chambers (John Goodman) and Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), glib Hollywood insiders who put together Argo, a sci-fi fantasy picture, and deploy the press to promote the production. Washington big shots sign off on Argo as the best of many bad ideas for the escape, which is going to be tough. Iranian death squads are working three shifts and hanging people from construction cranes.

The Canadian ambassador’s Iranian housekeeper wonders why the six “guests” don’t go outside. They are convinced they are going to die in Tehran. Mendez must persuade them to adopt Canadian identities. More detail would have been played well here, especially the assistance from Ottawa.

The fake Canadians barely make it through an escorted trip through the Tehran bazaar. Now they must get on a Swissair flight to Zurich. Trouble is, Washington changes its mind about the escape plan, and the Muslim militants are getting wise. In a classic Hollywood narrow escape they give chase on the runway but the 747 lifts off, and when it clears Iranian airspace the champagne goes “pop.” It’s a feel-good moment but the story does not end there.

Mendez gets a secret award, the six escapees return to foreign service, and the audience is told that all the hostages are eventually released. Argo doesn’t explain that this only happened when Ronald Reagan took over the presidency. Reagan is absent from this story, and so is Canadian Prime Minister Joseph Clark, who readily signed on to the exfiltration.

Argo is not a message movie but lessons abound for all but the willfully blind. When an Islamic regime calls your country the “Great Satan,” you need to take them seriously. In times of crisis, U.S. leaders should pay special attention to their proven friends.

In Argo, the CIA men get most of the attention but they do recognize that “the Canadians are the good guys.” Without them, this “Canadian Caper,” as it was called, doesn’t happen. As the Canadian national anthem says, “Ton histoire est une épopée,
des plus brillants exploits.” Helping Americans escape from Iran was only one of those exploits. For a few more click on “World War II.”

Iranian tyrants dislike being deprived of torture subjects. Toward the end of Argo some Iranian official warns, “Canada will pay,” so the story continues. The Ayatollah Khomeini sent Iran to war against secularist Iraq but the regime’s real enemies are the United States and Israel, which it wants to eliminate entirely. That is why a genocidal Islamic theocracy is determined to develop nuclear weapons. That, and the regime’s sponsorship of terrorism, is why Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper calls Iran a “clear and present danger” and has broken off diplomatic relations.

Argo, meanwhile, is shaping up as a hit and certain to garner awards. That calls for a sequel, maybe something on the American hostages held by the Iranian regime for more than 400 days. That story might not be as exciting as the Canadian caper but it could render some strong tag lines. In San Diego a reporter asked a former hostage if he would ever return to Iran. He thought for a moment then said, “only in a B-52.”

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  • amused

    There have been SEVERAL movies about the hostages , infact Nightline was created due tyo he hostage crises from day one until beyond their return -to this day .
    Who exactly are you criticizing here ? Hollywod ? Or is this just another strawman , but directed at who ?

  • tagalog

    Ken Follett wrote On Wings of Eagles, about the H. Ross Perot-funded mission to rescue two Americans who escaped, another story that bears re-telling. There was a TV show (2-parts?) about the "Canadian Caper." It's also been written up in Guests of the Ayatollah by Mark Bowden, and there's a Canadian book about the six who got to the Canadian Embassy. Ben Affleck didn't suddenly get access to some obscure information that prompted him to make Argo; this story has been floating around Hollywood for 30 years.

  • PaulRevereNow

    Sounds like Argo is a movie worth seeing; despite the mistakes of omission. Nevertheless, one can't read the history of 20th Century Iran without concluding that the Shah was responsible, to a large degree, for Khomeini's return to Iran, in January 1979, and subsequent power grab. Mohammed Reza Pahlavi's courting of American companies, and his out-of-control military spending, and his ignoring the Iranian middle and lower classes, led to deep and widespread discontent; that gave Khomeini his opening. And some Americans living in North Tehran made the situation worse, by ignoring, and condescending to the Iranian people, and their customs and traditions. Their behavior gave America a bad name in some quarters.

    • SAM000

      In that time I was working with the Americans, Khomeini profited from the anti-Shah atmosphere and the eager of the youth and the students for democracy.

      Shah had smashed all kind of parties, I remember that on 1971 there was several parties who were not hostile to Kingdom, they were trying even to be more attractive to SHAH, even those parties were shut-down, The SHAT opened his own and UNIQUE PARTY "RASTAKHIZ" and he announced in a TV discourse that EITHER YOU REGISTER TO MY PARTY OR YOU LEAVE IRAN FOR EVER.

      At 1972's President NIXON came to IRAN, the day of his arrival Shah ordered the execution of 9 Political prisoners, the Students took this Gesture of Shah a welcoming Gift to American President, the hate of SHAH was inflamed and correlated with the HATE of UNCLE SAM.

      I was a young Graduated at that time.

      I had a high ranked technical situation and I was lecturing at Engineering university.
      In Iran, contrary to the rest of the world, UPRISING and radicalizing starts always from Engineering Universities, and then it is followed by the science, the literature or philosophy or history participated very few in the riots, the religious and theological institutions and universities never interfered in the political activities.

      Entering of Khomeini and the Mullahs in 1979's rise up was due to the Communists mistakes, the Iranian Communist party "TOUDEH" was the symbol of Treason in IRAN from 1952.
      The Iranian Communists paved the road of the Islamist to power.

    • K Schubert

      You are a moron. Anything to hurt the USA you go for it.

  • seaspout

    The movie is short on facts. The true story is the Canadians played the major role not the minor and the CIA was of some help but certainly not to the degree portrayed in ARGO. A case in point was that the Canadians spotted an obvious error in the passports provided by the CIA. The movie is fine but the true story of the extent of the Canadians' heroism is totally missing.

    • sdfsdfsdf

      The passports were real, provided by the Canadian Government. This was stated by the Canadian Minister of External Affairs at the time Flora McDonald.

      • seaspout

        Yes, that is quite but they were blank passports and the CIA agent filled them in and in doing so he made an error which was caught by the Canadians. The former Canadian Ambassador now resides in NY and the actual story is easy to learn.

        • seaspout

          oops, typo – should read 'that is quite true'

  • amused

    Paul Revere Now , BRAVO ! If nothing lse atleast there's one person here who know what he's talking about . You left out a bit of pertinent information though . Khomeni was in France were he spouted revolution .The Shah visa -vis SAVAK [Irans Intell Agency ] was torturing hundreds if not thousands of it's citizens .France did nothing to curtail Khomeni 's activities against the Shah from the safety within it's borders . For several years Iranians would complain to anyone who would listen about the activities of SAVAK , even several segments on 60 minutes . Finally the revolution , and although the US was cast in a dim light for supporting the Shah , the embassy takeover occurred after Carter refused to turn over the Shah ,which was the correct thing to do .However after that everything went downhill from there for Carter , from the lack of any strong action to have the hostages freed , to the tragic failed attempt and disaster in the desert which was not the result of poor planning but of terrible bad luck and not so good execution .

    • SAM000

      Amused;
      11 days after the Shah's scape the Regime was collapsed, the Prisons were opened by the people, Khomeini took the power, the students very soon understood that Khomeini is far from to be the Democrat as he was claiming before the revolution, the anti religion and anti cleric demonstrations started, Khomeini was using the same SAVAK AGENTS and executioners in the prisons.

      Khomeini nedded a pretext to show that he is anti AMERICAN, Everybody knew that CARTER had brought Khomeini to power, read the Giscard D'Estaing's book.
      Carter sent 250 Millions U$D to Khomeini when he was in Paris and a message VIA FRENCH PRESIDENT of that time.
      Giscard D'Estaing writes it clearly in his book.
      Khomeini needed the Embassy takeover to face the STUDENTS WAKE-UP.
      The Communists were extremely happy by this US embassy TAKEOVER.
      It was the Party TOUDEH who announced the formation of the POPULAR HEZBOLLAH & IMAM PARTY of 20 Millions.

      Embassy take over was not enough, Khomeini attached Turkemanistan of Iran, and then Khouzistan and then he attached Kurdistan, and then 8 years of war with IRAQ.

      Khomeini was saying that the war with the KAFARS is a gift of GOD.
      The Americans (EVEN CARTER), Kurds, Turkemans, and UNIVERSITY were the Infidels for Khomeini.

      Attacking US EMBASSY was not a revolutionary ACT of the STUDENTS, it was done by the THUGS and it was orchestrated by the Mullahs and advised by the Communists.

      • amused

        Regardless of whose idea it was , it occured due to Carter's refusal to turnover the Shah .Which as I said , was the right course of action by Carter , unfortunately one of the only things Carter got right .

        • SAM000

          I don't get your argument,
          Look at this please; http://www.fouman.com/history/Iranian_History_197

          The Guadeloupe Conference attended by heads of four Western powers; U.S., UK, France and West Germany, was held in the first week of January 1979 on the island of Guadeloupe. Their agenda concerned world issues and the political crisis in Iran, where a popular revolutionary upsurge was about to topple the Mohammad Reza Shah; the monarch brought back to power by a coup organized by CIA and MI6 in 1953. The dimensions of the agreements achieved before and after the conference have been kept secret.
          French President Giscard d'Estaing hosted the Guadeloupe Conference which convened between Jan, 4 and Jan, 7 1979. US President Jimmy Carter, British Prime Minister James Callaghan, and German chancellor Helmut Schmidt attended the 4 day meeting.
          These leaders had reached the conclusion that Shah could no more stay in power and his stay would only raise tensions. In a press conference, the US secretary of state Cyrus Vance announced that Shah was getting ready for holidays outside Iran adding that Shah's political role on shaping Iran's future had come to an end. (Updated: Feb, 1, 2010).

          • amused

            We are talking about the Embassy takeover and subsequent hostage crisis , are we not SAM000

  • amused

    So , enjoy the movie , it's a good one ….and it is just THAT ….a movie , entertainment .If it fills the boxoffice and makes a profit , then it has accopmplished its purpose and goal ….right ?
    Besides –
    No one in the USA needs a movie to be informed regarding the good and loyal ally we have to the North which is Canada .

  • PAthena

    Did President Carter organize the overthrow of the Shah? I recall that the Shah refused to allow President Carter's brother to do some kind of business deal in Iran which was illegal under Iranian law, and that President Carter vowed that he would get even with the Shah and oust him.

    • SAM000

      Shah would never dared to oppose even an American Sergent.

  • amused

    PAthena atleast go to wikipedia to get the story on the Iranian revolution .

  • Omar

    Of course, most of the people who took part in the film's production do not know the facts about Mossadegh and the fact that he was not popularly elected, but chosen by the Iranian parliament to become prime minister. The Shah was already in power (he was the head of state), and he ratified the choice that the parliament made. It is important to note that how Mossadegh became prime minister was similar to how U.S. Senators were chosen prior to the 17th Amendment (which authorized elections for the U.S. Senate), when Senators were chosen by the state legislatures. Anyway, Mossadegh got into a power struggle with the Shah and the rest of the government (Mossadegh was a Stalinist/Maoist). Time magazine even had an article from 1952 that quoted Mossadegh saying "Call me dictator". It was obvious to everyone that Mossadegh wanted to transform Iran into a Communist totalitarian country allied with the Soviet Union and China. At that point, the coup was engineered not to "bring back the Shah" (the Shah was already the head of state), but to prevent the government from being destabilized any more. It is also important to note that the Ayatollah Khomeini welcomed the ouster of Mossadegh. The Ayatollah viewed Mossadegh as too secular and a socialist (the Ayatollah even preached a sermon thanking Allah that Mossadegh was no longer in power). You can't make the argument that Mossadegh and the Ayatollah were buddies with one another. That was not the case at all. For more information on the truth, check Dinesh D'Souza's article on Townhall: http://townhall.com/columnists/dineshdsouza/2007/… and Benyamin Solomon's 17-page article on Socy Berty: http://socyberty.com/history/six-anti-american-my