Argo, Iran, Benghazi and the Boomerang of History

Argo is the story of Antonio (Tony) Mendez, a CIA technical operations officer. In a way, he was the Intelligence version of a graphic designer. He was a forger, disguise maker and anything else that needed a crafty hand.

The movie is about the escape crafted by Mendez to ‘exfil‘ a small group of embassy workers that escaped the Iranian student overtaking in 1979.

Argo is a stellar movie. It is also very relevant for the obvious reason of what occurred in Benghazi.

The comparative distinction is probably not lost on many; attacks on our U.S. embassies. At the outset, I should be clear that the comparison is an apple to an orange. They are not exact.

To the extent that Benghazi has been called a terrorist attack, the implication of al Qaeda carries with it a Sunni affiliation. The Iranian students were followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and largely Shia.

What drives these events can largely be categorized in different ways.

The Iranians of the 1970′s are much less like the picture of the middle east we now know. The Shah of Iran, though an ally of the U.S., was not particularly benevolent to his people with claims of human rights violations.

As a juxtaposition to this, the Shah was trying to lead a westernization of Iran. A westernization that started with his father, Reza Shah Pahlavi, decades earlier. The son, Pahlavi, was a secular Muslim and his interest in oil led him to a closer relationship to western nations. This did not wash with the otherwise conservative, devout element of Iranian society. To be clear, this is still not universal in today’s Iran but the Shia element of Iran is the stronghold.

Still, the greater part of the protesting students in late 70′s Iran had more to do with oppression under the Shah and the disdain for the west, particularly the United States, as a  confederate in the changing middle eastern nation.

This was the setting for the real life plot depicted in Argo.

The history of the Benghazi attackers is much different, to the extent that we know who led the embassy raid.

If the assumption of the attackers being al Qaeda in AQIM, it should be known that prominent AQIM members are salafists. A believer in the ancestral ways back to the earliest Muslims.

I’d suggest that the motivations on the Libyan Embassy attack were, like Iran, targeted at the modern West. Key to understanding, in my opinion, is that the AQIM element was largely ideological. Not from oppression, per se, as would have been the case in 1979 Iran.

This is where the attacks are very different. The intent in Benghazi, by its premeditation, were to kill. Attack. The Iranian hostage crisis was to make a point to the west. While Benghazi was to make some sort of point, it was not in seeking an end result but more so, a battle on the field of theocratical ideology.

Jimmy Carter, in the movie, is not portrayed much at all. What there is referenced to about him, is at a distance. Still, as pointed out in the movie, he made the right decision at the right time.

I think it’s fair to say that I am no fan club member of James Earl Carter. I am, perhaps, a rarity amongst Conservatives, I respect Carter and have long said that Conservatives overlook what Carter did accomplish internationally with China and with the Israeli-Egyptian peace accord. An accord that set the future of Israel for three plus decades.

As much as the Republican in me wishes to believe that the mere specter of Ronald Reagan was enough to bring home the hostages, it is too fantastical and easy to really think this is true.

It will never be clear the truth of what occurred to release the hostages but it would have to be factored that the tireless work of Jimmy Carter played a key factor. Carter left little on the table after all the options at his disposal had been used.

This is key to understanding the difference in the attacks.

While much more complex than this simple statement; Iran was about national sovereignty of Iranians for themselves. After the attack, Carter was negotiating with a government. The ideological basis for Benghazi was about acting against the west and particularly the U.S..

The Libyan attackers were emboldened to attack and seized the opportunity. Whether long planned or a spontaneous, though organized attack, the ideology that drives this is the same.

There is no negotiating with an ideology bent on destruction of the west. This is the great divergence of Carter and Obama.

Whereas Carter put all options on the table, Obama did not. Sure, Obama couldn’t know the attack would happen that day but it was clear that the area was not safe. It was neither before nor after the attack, that the President offered much in the way of true international leadership.

More pointedly, Carter was willing to lose his Presidency for the sake of bringing hostages home. Obama avoided risking his if it meant that his falsely vaunted international cred were to have been damaged.

Returning to Argo, all parties in the U.S. government understood the value of ensuring the lives of our people were not lost and went to great lengths to ensure their safe return. There appeared to be a willingness to try anything in an impossible situation.

Even, and perhaps rightly, allowing Canada to take the lion share of the credit for the rescue of the escaped six.

Carter was willing to give away credit that would have otherwise been a key political point during an election year. This is not Obama. Indeed, all decisions since the Libyan attack are wrapped in a political wrapper.

The great geopolitical boomerang is our inability to lead when situations call for United States leadership. For as much as I suggest that Carter was tireless in his will to return the hostages, it was his lack of will to address the underlying cause prior to the overtaking. That is to pressure an erstwhile ally in the Shah that had turned on his people.

Leading from behind not only did not work but left Libya unstable and a broader target for terror.

To watch Argo, you sense action is being taken. To watch the current Administration, you would assume nothing is occurring. To judge what is said public and the willingness of the current Administration to publicize international, though otherwise classified, victories; if this were currently the case, we would know what went right in Benghazi.

The Administration has yet to answer if they are taking any action. They are still in ‘make-it-go-away’ mode. A very big difference.

Cross posted at The Rightward Journal