The Scorpion's Gate

I'm a little late to the party on this novel. It was published in 2005 and is very much a testament to the times in which it was written. Unfortunately the times haven't changed much in the past two years so the insight within the pages is just as much valid now as it was then.

The author, Richard A. Clarke, has been in upper level government service since 1973 when he was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence. He served in the Reagan, GHW Bush, Clinton and GW Bush administrations. Now he's chairman of Good Harbor Consulting and no longer in federal service, no doubt due to his well publicized differences of opinion with the neocon politics at the heart of the GW Bush Administration.

That said, it should be no surprise that in Mr Clarke's book there's a lot of politics. There's also a lot of political action and cloak and dagger spy work. In many ways this reads like a trimmed down Tom Clancy novel--the part that was trimmed is the troop level action--Clarke is mostly interested in how events play out on the national level.

Here's a plot summary from Publisher's Weekly:

It's 2010, and the newly established Republic of Islamyah;the former Saudi Arabia;is trying to destabilize Bahrain: the Diplomat Hotel has been bombed, and, as the first chapter of this intense debut thriller closes, the Crowne Plaza is "pancaking." Meanwhile, the deposed House of Saud is holed up in Houston; the Chinese are providing arms and training to Islamyah; the Iranians have the bomb. Secretary of Defense Henry Conrad thinks the time is ripe to invade Islamyah and seize its oil, for which the U.S. is locked in deadly competition with China. Cooler heads in the U.S. (and British) hierarchies are very, very alarmed. Sound familiar? Clarke's Against All Enemies delivered an apostate critique of the Bush administration's counterterrorism efforts, along with a vision of the future very much like today. The writing's nothing special; what is special is Clarke's passionate and deftly detailed version of the present, albeit one told in terms of its consequences. It's a brilliant conceit, and though it's sometimes drowned out by the din of various axes being ground ("It''s 68 degrees [in Washington]on January 28 and the White House still claims that global warming isn't a problem?"), the story is crowded with terrific double crosses, defections and deceptions. They're icing, though: Clarke's dramatic micro explanations of how things "really" work;from a hand who served Nixon, Reagan, Clinton and both Bushes;are the true story. This is the first novel to shift all the way from Clancy's Cold War to the present war on terror.

I enjoyed this novel and would recommend it but it does have some problems. When I picked up the book I assumed it was probably at least partially ghost written--but now I doubt that very much. While the central protagonist, Rusty MacIntyre, deputy director of the new Intelligence Analysis Center, is well fleshed out most of the other characters seem a little thin. Not real. Still, the spy action undertaken by Brian Douglas, Bahrain station chief of SIS (British Intelligence), is quite compelling and really adds background to the story.

The main difficulty is that at times the novel gets somewhat preachy as Clarke uses his characters to address critiques, well deserved as they are, at the reader. For example, on page 134:

"I served there [referring to Iraq]. So did you. I had buddies killed, and for what? Because we had a SECDEF [secretary of defense] then who didn't think it out, had no plan, put in too few troops. You think the American people are going to stand for that again? No way."

Or this quote on page287 voiced by Brad Adams, a vice admiral:

"Look, I believe in civilian control of the military. It's what has kept us from having coups and the kind of chaos other nations have had. But when the civilians' decisions aren't subject to checks and balances, when they distort information, when they cow the media into going along with their shit, I dunno"

This all is a very obvious condemnation of former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, as well as his fellow neo-con Paul D. Wolfowitz, former deputy secretary of defense, and their "fellow travelers." I would suspect Mr Clarke put this in novel form to reach a larger audience. While the novel is stiff at times, it's well worth wading through the occasional political preaching because the politics here are very real and written by one of the big players in Washington.

This is a good follow up to Clarke's 2004 nonfiction bestseller "Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror." In that book Clarke criticized the GW Bush administration's handling of the war on terror and its willful determination to go to war against Iraq. In this book Clarke explores what the future might bring to the Middle East if current US and Chinese trends aren't reined in. Fodder for thought...


I'm not one for political thrillers, so this isn't something I'd pick up on my own.

Still, it's neat to hear about.

Here from Michele, of course.
Like Sysan above me there----I'm not a reader of Political Thrillers...In guess it is partly because we are living in a NIGHTMARE of 'political thrills'...OY! But I love reading about it and feel that now I know what it's about I don't have to read it...! (lol).

About Annie...How bizarre that she looks so much like your Ex...She is a WONDERFUL actress and is still working, Betty, though she is not as old as Betty....What is so great about "acting" is, you never are retired out of the stystem if you have a certain cache, which she does...Not just in the theatre where she works all the time, but in films and television, too....So sorry she scared you, my dear Dave.(lol)
Anonymous said…
MMMM good books!
hanulf said…
Sounds very interesting... always looking for a good book, so thanks for the recommendation!

Michele says hi :)
kenju said…
Clarke was the speaker at my daughter's law school commencement several years back. He was fascinating then, but I don't know if I'd like the book.
craziequeen said…
Like OOL and Susan, I'm not really into politicsal thrillers.

But I am glad people find books out there that they appreciate, whatever the subject.

Michele sent me to say hi, Utenzi.

craziequeen said…
Michele sent me back, and I realised I have never complimented you on the beautiful hummingbird on your header.

Very nice picture, my dear - always makes me smile when I come to visit.

Yaeli said…
It sounds rather interesting! You always manage to chatch my interest with something Dave. ;o)
Will have to see if I can find a copy over here in Vanners... not too sure of my chances though!
kenju said…
Michele sent me back, Dave. I hope you had a good Memorial Day celebration. We went out to a friend's home for dinner, and enjoyed a balmy evening on their deck. We were graced by a visit from a neighbor's kitty!
tiff said…
is there any kind of book you WON'T read????

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