word “diplomatic” is often used as an adjective for cautious and noncommittal. That
hardly describes Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor’s term of service in
post-Revolutionary Iran. He was the one played by Alias’s Victor Garber in Argo.
As Hollywood films go, it was pretty accurate, but there was considerably more
to the story. Co-producer-directors Drew Taylor (son of Miracle Mets pitcher
Ron Taylor) & Larry Weinstein tell the behind-the-scenes story of the
ambassador, his wife Pat, and his diplomatic staff, as fully as it can now be
told, in Our Man in Tehran (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
the Islamist students occupied the American Embassy with the Ayatollah’s
blessing, it constituted a direct act of war. It also sent a chill through
every other western mission. Somehow, six consular officers managed to slip out
the back alley, but they were cut off from the British Embassy, their
designated emergency refuge. It would be Ken Taylor and his colleague John
Sheardown who took in the Americans, literally hosting the six “Houseguests,”
as they came to be known, in their private residences.
there was a CIA agent named Tony Mendez who developed and implemented a daring
plan to extract the Houseguests. Perhaps you have heard about it. The cover story
involved a phony science fiction film titled Argo. If you haven’t, Mendez himself takes viewers through the operation
step-by-step. However, one of the greatest revelations in OMIT is the extent to which the Ambassador and embassy personnel
were gathering and relaying intel for the tragically ill-fated rescue attempt.
much as former “October Surprise” conspiracy theorist Gary Sick tries to cover
for his former boss, Jimmy Carter comes off looking like a bumbler out of his
depth dealing with the Iranian crisis. Yet, in retrospect, nobody looks worse
than Canadian opposition leader Pierre Trudeau, who tried to exploit the
situation asking combative questions he knew from confidential briefings with PM
Joe Clark that External Minister Flora MacDonald could not safely answer.
access to primary sources in OMIT is
rather remarkable, with (Drew) Taylor & Weinstein scoring extensive on-camera
interviews with both Ken and Pat Taylor, as well as Clark, MacDonald, Mendez, Sheardown’s
widow Zena, the Houseguests, and former Iranian hostage and CIA station officer
William Daughtery. Indeed, it is quite valuable to have the perspective of
Daughtery, who probably endured the worst torture meted out by the
Revolutionary Guard during the hostage crisis. However, it is a little awkward
seeing the discredited Sick pop up periodically, even though he avoids making
unsupported accusations this time around.
The accounts surrounding Argo and the Houseguests are absolutely fascinating and inspire
warm feelings of fellowship for all Canadians (except Trudeau). With co-writer
Robert Wright (author of the eponymous book on which OMIT is based), Taylor & Weinstein give the audience a detailed
understanding of the rituals of diplomacy and the secret inner workings of the
intelligence services. There are also real lessons to be learned from the
incidents it documents. First and foremost, wishful thinking is not a strategy.
Highly recommended, Our Man in Tehran opens
this Friday (5/15) in New York, at the Cinema Village.
Labels: Canadian Cinema, Documentary, Iran Hostage Crisis, Ken Taylor