By Wojtek Góralczyk | Pajiba Storytellers | February 1, 2013 |
By Wojtek Góralczyk | Pajiba Storytellers | February 1, 2013 |
So, Argo. That Affleck, huh? With the Iran, and the fake thing… man. I enjoyed the hell out of that film, but let’s face it - we all know what it could have used more of. Say it with me: international intri… iiirts! Brown polo shirts! Exactly. Glad we’re on the same page.
Spectacular meat packaging aside though, I was bummed out that I didn’t get to see a bit more of what went into arranging the whole situation with the Canadians. All we got was a line about the embassy workers getting turned away by Kiwis. Now, I don’t meant to judge, but if you have a chance to film people being turned away by Kiwis, and you pass it up… why did you even get into directing in the first place? Surely, you could have salvaged several minutes from some other sequence, like - oh, I don’t know - that final bit at the airport? I’m not saying it wasn’t thrilling. I mean, when he dropped the key, and the nun slipped on it and unlatched that gate, and those elephants burst onto the tarmac and blocked them jeeps - I was on the edge of my seat for all five hours of that. But Kiwis, man. Kiwis pretending they’re not at home.
This is a sort of sequel to Argo. It takes place 30 years later, and concerns an attempt by the newly elected President Obama to finally mend fences with Tehran. And this one’s all about the stuff that goes into making a deal happen. Maybe that doesn’t sound like the most exciting thing ever, but trust me - and cherish these words, for you will mostly likely never again see them in this sequence - international negotiations can be forged into the most gripping tearjerker this side of Spielberg. Actually no, don’t trust me - instead watch the documentary The Island President (it’s available on Netflix):
If after seeing this film you can tell me with a straight face that you felt nothing… well, beware. Nature abhors a vacuum, so your head and/or heart might implode soon.
We begin with a bona fide prologue. It is May 2003. Several weeks ago, US troops have deposed Saddam Hussein’s regime. A man arrives in Washington D.C. by the name of Tim Guldimann. He is the Swiss Ambassador to Tehran - USA’s de facto representative in Iran (the US embassy has remained closed since the Argo events) and he brings an unprecedented proposal approved by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Iran finally wants to negotiate. And it has brought the whole enchilada to the table. Cutting support for Hamas, disarmament of Hezbollah, putting the Iranian nuclear program under international - nay, American - supervision, full cooperation in fighting all terrorist groups, with special emphasis on Al Quaeda, an offer of aid in stabilizing the situation in Iraq, and to top it off: recognition of - and peace with - Israel. You couldn’t dream up a wish list more comprehensive if you… had, like, a wish list factory, and kept crazy hours that gave you these… never mind, we’ll finesse it later.
The proposal triumphantly makes its way through the State Department, a certain Congressman, and is finally delivered by Karl Rove to the White House. Where it is categorically shut down by Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan have Iran encircled anyway. Mission Accomplished, read the banner. And the argument to rule them all: “We do not negotiate with evil.”
Roll title sequence.
Over the 30 years that have passed since the Iranian Hostage Crisis, Iranian-American enmity has become something of an institution, but things got even worse after 2003’s rebuke - mostly for the US. Threatened by American presence on its borders and Washington’s neocon rhetoric, Iran figured its best bet was deterrence, which gave additional momentum to its uranium enrichment program. Furthermore, the two biggest threats to Iran in the region were Saddam Hussein and the Taliban. Funny story… they were gone. Granted, replaced by American soldiers, but by the end of 2003, the insurgency in Iraq had started, and American resources began their arduous journey from “deployed” to “tied down”. Iran was now free to project its power into Afghanistan (where it had ties to numerous tribes) and - which is the real clincher here - Iraq.
Once things started going south, the world at large was introduced to terms such as “sectarian violence” and “Shia majority”. The thing is, Iran is the spiritual father of both. The defining moment in modern Sunni-Shia relations was the emergence of the Safavid dynasty, which created the modern Persian state in the 16th century. In order to avoid being absorbed by the ever-expanding (Sunni) Ottoman Empire, the Safavids promptly converted themselves and their country to Shia Islam, clothing Shiism in political muscle. Safavid Shahs then proceeded to flex said muscle all over the place, forcefully converting conquered territories, which ended centuries of relatively conflict-free coexistence between the two branches of Islam. Iran’s political borders have shrunk since, but it remains the preeminent bastion of Shiism, and holds significant sway over Shia Muslims in the region. Shia Muslims such as those who - thanks to 16th century Safavid conversion policies - now constitute the majority in Iraq.
The other side of the equation - the neocon paradigm in American foreign policy - obviously dates back to Neo the Con-Man, Trickster Messiah of Appallachia, who carved out the Unites States from the Cisamerican Viking Hegemony in the late 1300s. But we all know that story, so let’s just move on.
The main thing to take away from all of this is that had Iran not been a sworn enemy of the US, it could have made things much easier for America. Some presidential advisors and State Department workers realized that, but it took Obama’s election to make any actions in that regard a serious consideration. On the American side, this development signaled an end to the neoconservative doctrine, which made a conversation possible. On the Iranian side - the half-black son of a Kenyan Muslim, raised in Indonesia and Hawaii, was a much harder sell as the “White American Devil”, which in turn made a conversation more difficult to refuse. Obama’s inaugural address included an invitation to dialogue with the Muslim world based on mutual respect. Two days later the President received a congratulatory note from Ahmedinajad. Granted, the tone was still “you’re a misshapen lump of Satan’s smegma,” but it was a historic gesture - the first such occurrence since 1979. The stage was set for a rapprochement.
I’m sorry, I misspoke. The stage would have been set, were both Washington and Tehran utterly homogenous in their attitudes towards each other, and had they operated in a complete vacuum. Enter the US Congress and Iranian opposition. Enter Mohammed ElBaradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Enter Israel and Saudi Arabia. Russia, China, and France. Turkey, Japan, and Brazil. In other words: enter a pulsing beast of infinite variables caught in a perfect storm of imperfect communication.
Enter and start raging.
Wojtek lives in Poland, where rainbows get burnt. He’ll soon get to see Truth or Consequences, NM, and the adjacent Elephant Butte State Park, which makes him happier than it should.