‘Researcher dies in combat’

Hugh Wilford

  • America’s Dream Palace: Middle East Expertise and the Rise of the National Security State by Osamah F. Khalil
    Harvard, 426 pp, £25.95, October 2016, ISBN 978 0 674 97157 8

‘Argo fuck yourself.’ The line is repeated several times in Ben Affleck’s 2012 historical spy thriller, Argo. Based on the memoir by Tony Mendez, a CIA agent, the movie depicts the covert rescue of six US embassy workers caught up in the 1979-81 Iranian hostage crisis; the CIA used a fake film-shoot – of a schlocky sci-fi story called ‘Argo’ – as cover for spiriting the diplomats out of Tehran. American audiences seemed to enjoy the joke. Argo won three Oscars and earned a presidential stamp of approval when Michelle Obama presented the Best Picture award live from the Diplomatic Room of the White House. In Iran itself, however, the film was less well received. Despite an opening sequence that apologetically acknowledged CIA involvement in an earlier operation – the 1953 coup against the nationalist prime minister Mohammed Mossadegh, which many Iranians view as a direct cause of the 1979 revolution – Argo made surprisingly little effort to reflect Iranian perspectives: most of the Iranians in the movie were either bungling officials or members of violent mobs. Some critics felt that the pun on the movie’s title might as well as have been a message from Washington via Hollywood to Tehran.

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[*] Field Notes: The Making of Middle East Studies in the United States (Stanford, 392 pp., £24.99, March 2016, 978 0 8047 9906 5).