Director/producer Ben Affleck accepts the award for best picture for "Argo" during at the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre on Sunday. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)
What was Michelle Obama thinking? If the card for "Zero Dark Thirty" had been lurking in that best picture envelope Sunday, the gushing first lady would have appeared to the 1 billion people watching to have endorsed the very torture policies that her husband has denounced, at least rhetorically, if not always in practice. Saved from that fate by the Academy's selection of "Argo," she tacitly condoned the CIA's subterfuge in pretending that its covert rescue operation was a genuine film project.
Not an insignificant matter, given the agency's lengthy history of subverting cultural, journalistic and human rights organizations for its not always admirable purposes. It is not much of a stretch to extend that example to journalists as presumed foreign agents, and that is the charge most often used to kill them. Or human rights workers, religious missionaries, medical personnel or any of the thousands of non-government workers who are daily threatened as they go about their work in dangerous lands, advancing their do-gooder notions.
This is the movie season to consider the CIA as a benign force, occasionally stumbling but in the end, driven by good intentions. The example of Iran, where the "Argo" caper is set, is instructive of the absurdity of that view. Iran for the past half century has been ravaged precisely by such CIA antics. To its credit, "Argo" acknowledges, in its opening minutes, that the U.S. government overthrew the last secular democratic leader of Iran and brought the despotic shah to power, and in his aftermath, the religious madness of the ayatollahs. But it is a point soon forgotten, as the film goes on to reveal an Iran populated by inhabitants so universally deranged that their dialogues in Farsi are not even worthy of subtitle translation.