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Argo


A note on the daring of spies

This is the story of the man who went to Tehran during the last revolution there & returned safely to America about a half-dozen Americans who escaped the attack on the fateful embassy. We remember the 1979 revolution because it brought the Ayatollahs to power in Iran, which became a country where virtue was attended by terror; & because it humiliated America: The embassy was attacked & personnel there were held hostage for 444 days.

He is a spy. He works for the CIA. His professional pride is insulted by political appointees who think they can play at espionage & ask for his approval. – Then he has to solve the problem they cannot solve. They make it his problem, which ironically acknowledges his excellence. The spy chooses a disguise for himself & those he means to save: They are making a film. Armed with this lie, he enters the city.

There is something comic about this suggestion, that the new rulers in Iran are such barbarians that they cannot distinguish between the thing & its image. Then again, the embassy escapees, as well the sophisticated diplomatic & espionage appointees, suggest that there is no connection between object & image – there is only the image. The spy presumably agrees with neither, or both.

The spy does not merely lie in order to persuade people. He also tells the truth, for example to the escapees, both to tempt them to accept his plan, whereas their fear would lead them to inaction, which would doom them, & to scare them if they should think to abandon his plan. He seems to do whatever is useful for his friends & harmful to his enemies. Unbound by decency or other rules, he relies on his judgment. As chance would have it, he talks about responsibility, for he has no authority.

The Administration has the authority to act, but it lacks resolve. Important people behind the scene decide that the operation must be abandoned: It risks embarrassing America. They will live with the embarrassment at the embassy, apparently. The spy understands things: He implicitly threatens the Administration with the embarrassment they seek to avoid, & so forces them to help him help them. He strives to embody necessity.

The absence of Jimmy Carter, at that time president, forces us to compare him with this spy. It reminds us that secrecy, dispatch, & energy are requirements of the executive. When urgency & necessity fall upon the nation, action cannot simply issue from laws, nor do legislators have the ability to act. The way to confront the ugliness of war is best shown by a man who deceives his enemies & flatters them into helping him.

The only movie you’re likely to see where the CIA are the good guys. For what it’s worth, it really happened.