Homeland Isn't Just Bad TV, It Peddles The Worst Lies About US Foreign Policy
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Like I said, fucking stupid.
But as ludicrous as the plot developments have been this season, Homeland's real crime is that it's peddling a dangerous set of lies about terrorism, American omnipotence and the very nature of international politics.
When Homeland first appeared it did something culturally unique. It provided viewers with a perspective rarely seen in the decade since 9/11 – that of the suicide bomber. Nicholas Brody didn't hate America because of its freedoms; he hated the nation that sent an unmanned drone to northern Iraq and killed the young son of the terrorist mastermind (Abu Nizar) who was holding him a prisoner. This season, Homeland eschewed such nuance, instead portraying al-Qaida and the Iranian government as being in actual cahoots – even though there is no love loss at all between these two Sunni-Shia rivals. Iran and its people are presented as a caricature of anti-American hatred – one that looks nothing like reality.
In addition, Homeland never bothered itself with the niceties of global diplomacy. It is a show that presents change – or the potential for it – as being most likely found at the end of a gun barrel. This season it doubled down.
In its make-believe world peace and rapprochement between long-time enemies is achieved not through the extension of an olive branch or even the application of political pressure, but rather a CIA assassination, which somehow melts away years of animosity between the US and Iran and transforms the Middle East.
This is a bit how children understand foreign policy – grand sweeping gestures crafted by well-meaning individuals (or in this case a psychopathic killer being blackmailed by the CIA) that somehow transform whole societies. Indeed, when Saul unveils this grand plan for peace to Carrie, he tells her that, if successful, "two countries who haven't communicated for 30 years, except through terrorist actions and threats, can sit down and talk." But, of course, for that to happen, someone has to die first.
The irony of all this fictional intrigue is that at practically the exact moment that Saul uttered these words, two countries that hadn't communicated for 30 years were sitting down and talking in Geneva – and reaching an agreement on limiting Iran's nuclear program.
Indeed, if there is anything we've learned about international relations this year, it's that the way countries often find agreement is through a series of very un-sexy activities: plodding diplomacy, laboriously constructed sanctions regimes, confidence-building measures and protracted negotiations. And even then there is hardly guarantee of success.
The recent breakthrough in Geneva between the US and Iran was not a result of CIA manipulation or American skullduggery, but rather the strategic decision-making of leaders in the United States and Iran (as well as France, the United Kingdom, China, Russia and Germany) to pursue normalization. Of course, on Homeland, the Magical Mystery Tour season ends with Saul Berenson being given sole credit for transforming the strategic calculus of the Iranian government – and the achievement of a nuclear deal in Geneva.
A show that labored (often successfully) in its first two seasons to offer nuance in its depiction of jihadist terrorists – and a sordid glimpse into the unintended consequences of American militarism – has become a paean to the supposed strategic brilliance of the CIA, the tactical efficacy of US special military operations and a dispiriting, black-and-white portrait of America's "Muslim" enemies.
Making bad television is sin enough, but Homeland does far worse: it not only misunderstands the Middle East, it fetishizes the worst elements of American power and misrepresents how and why international political change occurs.