Fiction can often tell the truth better than nonfiction. And there is a lot of truth that needs to be told.
-Richard A. Clarke
From the noted counterterrorism expert and #1 bestselling author comes an astonishing fiction debut-a novel of terrorism, warring nations, and political treachery... that could happen tomorrow.
For three decades, Richard A. Clarke worked in the White House, State Department, and Pentagon. As adviser to four presidents, he traveled throughout the Middle East, visiting palaces, military bases, and intelligence centers, meeting rulers, soldiers, and spies. Some of what he found appeared in Against All Enemies. Much more of it appears here.
In an extraordinary geopolitical thriller filled with the kind of cutting-edge authenticity only someone on the inside could bring, Clarke takes readers just five years into the future, when forces both in the Middle East and the United States are at work to launch another war. But this time, it could be bigger. This time, it could be nuclear, and spread to Asia and beyond.
A coup has finally toppled the sheiks of Saudi Arabia, and put a determined but shaky Islamic government in its place. Everywhere, the scent of oil has begun to attract the scorpions, and among them are men in Washington and another capital ready to strike a devil's bargain to fundamentally realign the map of the Middle East. The plans are not the same, however-though some of the planners think they are. Hidden agendas, fierce ambition, conflicting loyalties, faulty intelligence, catastrophic miscalculation-soon the dominos will start to fall, and not even the efforts of a few dedicated men and women on the outside may be able to stop an unstoppable folly. . . .
Blending exceptional realism with intricate plotting, razor-sharp suspense, and a remarkable cast of characters, The Scorpion's Gate will be one of the most talked-about novels of the year.
From Publishers 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.
From The Washington Post's Book World /washingtonpost.com
Some of us have learned to listen when Richard A. Clarke has something to say. As the long-time White House counterterrorism chief, he warned the U.S. Commission on National Security for the 21st Century in 1999 that terrorists were coming. We listened, but when we passed the warning on to President Bush, he did not. Now Clarke comes with a novel that, even if you swallow only a portion of it, will keep you awake at night. It's basically about turmoil in the Middle East, threatening to lead to World War III between the United States and China involving -- guess what? -- oil.
Reading The Scorpion's Gate will require you to contemplate the consequences of the fall of the House of Saud, indigenous democracy on the Arabian Peninsula in a successor government of moderate Islamists, the profound fissure between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, possible Chinese military intervention in the Middle East, America's disastrous energy policy, the costs of the Iraq War, the simple-minded U.S. understanding of the Middle East, and the political complexities of that region.
The book's plot defies easy summary. A revolution in Saudi Arabia (now renamed Islamyah) leads the Qods Force -- the covert-action arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard -- to try to destabilize the Persian Gulf, attacking U.S. facilities in the guise of Iraqis, all in the interest of establishing Shiite hegemony in the region. Two Chinese carrier task groups deploy to the Persian Gulf to deliver nuclear warheads to the hard-line Shura Council that is running Islamyah and to secure China's oil supplies. Meanwhile, under the guise of massive military exercises, a corrupt U.S. secretary of defense conspires to usurp command over the military, divert U.S. forces to invade Islamyah and reinstate the Saudis.
Against this intricate backdrop, a senior American intelligence analyst named Russell "Rusty" MacIntyre makes contact with high-level dissident officials from Islamyah (former al Qaeda operatives converted to patriotic democrats -- don't ask); British intelligence's station chief in Bahrain, Brian Douglas, survives an assassination attempt and reactivates a source in the Iranian Foreign Ministry; and New York Journal reporter Kate Delmarco uncovers Defense Secretary Conrad's corrupt ties to the Saudis (for whom Clarke has little use).
Though Graham Greene and John le Carré are under no threat from Clarke, he does demonstrate a flair for action fiction. His almost three-decade background in intelligence and counterterrorism serves him exceptionally well when he narrates a hair-raising Special Ops assault to prevent Qods Forces from detonating a giant liquid natural gas tanker at a U.S. naval base in Bahrain. He is equally persuasive in his account of Douglas's clandestine meetings in Tehran and MacIntyre's penetration of the security center of the Islamyah government in Riyadh. And his description of a naval engagement between the U.S. and Chinese fleets reveals a professional understanding of modern weapons systems, forces and military operations.
Less successful is Clarke's handling of personal relations, particularly MacIntyre's superfluous marriage and his irrelevant affair with the reporter Delmarco. His dialogue also needs work. "Well, sir," says a young staffer to MacIntyre, "you told us at the off-site that intelligence analysis was 'literally looking for needles in haystacks. The trick is looking in the right haystack,' " and so forth. Too many discussions among the characters are didactic and stilted, used to provide historical background, political rhetoric and argumentation. "We will continue to be slaves of our own oil," says one 'good' Islamyah operative, "able to do nothing but watch as what Allah put in the ground comes out of it. And the money we get from it will continue to be wasted in supposedly 'religious' follies. We are not a country, we are an oil deposit! And if that is all we are, others will come, the scorpions will come for their food, their precious black liquid." Here Clarke could learn from the masters; Greene and le Carré's genius lies in subtlety of mood and context, as well as reliance on the reader's sophistication.
Clarke, by contrast, uses dialogue to settle some scores and register his political convictions. "The Americans!" spits Abdullah Rashid, the head of Islamyah's intelligence service. "The Americans think democracy solves everything. It took them over a hundred years to allow all their people to vote, the poor, women, the blacks. . . . They waste so much time and fortune in their elections. . . . We overthrew hereditary rule here. They still have it: fathers followed by sons, wives seeking to replace husbands." And Clarke lets us know where he stands on Iraq: "Everyone thought they had WMD," says MacIntyre. "But with us gone, it's still a mess. The Shi'a aren't going to be able to put down that Sunni insurgency. It's been going on for years and no sign of letting up."
The wise old chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee observes that the Saudi royals are now "throwing their money around, getting involved in American politics. Or should I say more involved? The Bushies were always in bed with the Sauds." And the commander of the U.S. Fifth Fleet tells a Marine general that "the Iraq occupation almost ruined the Army and Marines. It stretched them thin and it almost busted the National Guard and Reserves. Recruitment has never come back. We got seven thousand kids who are now veterans without legs or with missing eyes and we got nothin' for it."
Some readers of The Scorpion's Gate will happily settle for a rapid-deployment plot and political intrigue high and low. Airport sales should make it a success. But a more thoughtful audience will find itself required to give some thought to what the United States is and is not doing in the most volatile region in the world. If Clarke does nothing else but cause some readers to question our ludicrous reliance on unstable oil supplies, wonder whether we have even begun to understand Islamic culture, begin to demand a more subtle and layered approach to the Middle East, doubt our ability to export democracy at the point of a bayonet, or gain maturity in foreign affairs, he will have done a service.
On his book's jacket, the author says: "Fiction can often tell the truth better than nonfiction. And there is a lot of truth that needs to be told." As co-chair of the U.S. Commission on National Security for the 21st Century, I am often asked what caused us to predict terrorist attacks on the United States months before Sept. 11, 2001. More than any other factor, Clarke's chilling briefings of our commission persuaded us. Perhaps he is trying to persuade us of a truth yet again.
Reviewed by Gary Hart
In the Reagan administration, Clarke was the deputy assistant to the secretary of state for intelligence and served as the assistant secretary of state for politico-military affairs in the first Bush administration. He served for eight years as a special assistant to President Clinton and served as national coordinator of security and counter-terrorism for Clinton and for President George W. Bush. With that experience and probably counting on name recognition, Clarke has written his first novel, a geopolitical tale set five years into the future. It deals with a coup that overthrows a number of Saudi Arabian sheiks, the frantic need to procure oil, and the threat of nuclear war by both the U.S and countries in the Middle East. The large cast of characters includes members of British intelligence, the U.S. National Security Agency, the Secret Service, Navy SEALs, and Iranian Revolutionary Guards--an equal number of good guys and bad guys. With a large print-run planned, the publisher is expecting big sales; and librarians can expect high demand.
In 2010 in the Middle East events taking place may lead to another war. Clarke's novel draws heavily on his experience as government counterterrorism chief and is a thinly disguised account of the actual events preceding the war in Iraq. The challenge facing the narrator is to recount a complex story with a myriad of characters from many countries so that the listener can follow the action. Robertson Dean's deep voice is pleasant to listen to, and he is successful at modulating it to fit the dialogue and descriptions. Unfortunately, his accents are weak and inconsistent. Those problems and the minimal differentiation in voices result in a story that is impossible to follow. S.S.R.