In the Oscar spirit, Hendrick Hertzberg at the New Yorker reports on Jimmy’s Carter’s Argo review — “a rave with a caveat”:
… When I saw the movie, it occurred to me that if the “Argo” mission had crashed and burned—as the Desert One rescue mission crashed and burned, literally, three months later—it would have been a huge political catastrophe for Carter. He did what? He risked the reputation of the United States of America on a ludicrous Hollywood science-fiction slapstick scam that only an idiot would think might work? Typical Carter! What naïveté, what incompetence! If you think Dukakis in a tank looked silly, try Carter dressed up like a Klingon.
We can now see that the political risk Carter took wasn’t quite as great as the movie makes it appear. Yes, the idea for the caper was the C.I.A.’s. Agent Tony Mendez deserves his belated accolades. Carter deserves a few, too, for green-lighting the thing. On the ground, in Tehran, this was overwhelmingly a Canadian caper—the ultimate Worthwhile Canadian Initiative.
If it had turned out to be a public fiasco, Ottawa would have taken the fall—and the fall wouldn’t have been nearly as precipitous, the landing not nearly as hard, as it would have been if, as in the movie, Washington had played the starring role. Plucky little Canada, people would have thought. It didn’t work, but they tried. Good for them.
As it was, Canada got all the credit. Carter and the C.I.A. got almost none—certainly much less than they deserved. That was part of the plan, of course. But Carter and his top aides—Hamilton Jordan, Jody Powell, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Gary Sick, and many more—sat on this incredibly juicy story for nearly twenty years, long after there was any national-security reason to stay silent. There’s nary a word about it in the memoirs they published in the nineteen-eighties. I was there—I was Carter’s chief speechwriter at the time—and I had no idea. Say this for Carter and his confidants, Georgian and not: these guys knew how to keep a secret…
As it happens (I like cartoons, sci-fi, and Ben Affleck) Argo is the only one of the Best Film nominees I’ve seen, so I’m not in the best position to handicap tonight’s choices. Who wants to argue in favor of their choices — or against those of the Academy?