|(C) 1996 G.P. Putnam's Sons|
In Iran, Ayatollah Mahmoud Haji Daryaei (one of the opponents of the Fowler Peace Plan in The Sum of All Fears) broods in his office and begins to set in motion a series of crises that will tie up America's already over-extended military and intelligence services. Daryaei enlists not only his own operatives in Iran and abroad, but also the leaders of two other nations with global ambitions of their own. By creating a series of seemingly unrelated crises all at once, including an Iranian "merger" with Iraq and renewed tensions between the People's Republic of China and Taiwan, Daryaei hopes to distract American attention and pave the way for a savage attack on both President Ryan and millions of American citizens.
But Ryan has made many enemies at home, too, including the former Vice-President, Edward Kealty, who had been forced to resign in the wake of a personal scandal. With the skills and connections he has made during his many years in Washington, Kealty begins a campaign to
remove the still-untried Ryan from the Presidency.
Clancy's huge novel is both compelling and complex, taking the reader from the ruins of the Capitol to the jungles of Africa and into the crowded streets of Tehran as President Ryan begins the awesome task of rebuilding a government decimated by a terrible act of revenge...and facing a loose confederacy of enemies bent on destroying his country, his family, and his life.
(Spoiler alert: Readers who haven't yet read Executive Orders and don't want to see any more plot details should stop reading now. The analysis of the novel seen from a post-9/11 perspective requires discussion of various important concepts Clancy explores within this book's storyline.)
Executive Orders was, and I think still is, Clancy's most ambitious novel since 1986's Red Storm Rising. In retrospect, it was the high point in the Jack Ryan series, almost literally lifting the character from a West Wing office (National Security Adviser) to the Oval Office in a series of events which leads to a cataclysmic act that wipes out, for all intents and purposes, the top ranks of the Executive, Judicial, and Legislative branches of the Federal government in the aftermath of Debt of Honor.
Indeed, Executive Orders is basically an extension of the earlier novel, picking up the narrative -- from the characters' point of view -- a few minutes after Jack Ryan is sworn in as President of the United States and, on live television, utters what amounts to be his first executive order, "Let's get to work."
Clancy, for all his faults as a writer of prose, has never been one to shrink from telling an eye-opening story that explores the strengths of our democratic form of government while pointing out the chinks in our defenses, particularly when it comes to the dangers of cutting the Pentagon's budget after the end of the Cold War and especially how vulnerable our nation was, and in some ways still is, to terrorist attacks.
Patriot Games and, even more spectacularly, The Sum of All Fears dealt with the threat from external terrorists; Ryan and his family had been targeted by a vicious band of members of the extremist Ulster Liberation Army in the former, while part of Denver is, in the Ryanverse, now a radioactive hole in the ground. Both books clearly point out that the "bad guys" were driven by the darkest of all motives, revenge. (In fact, most of the Clancy canon seems to delve into revenge as a motivating factor not only for the "villains," but for the "heroes" as well. The difference is in how each side channels it or deals with it.)
Here, various enemies, foreign and domestic, are going to make life miserable not only for the new POTUS (the acronym for Ryan's new title) as the story unfolds.
The prime mover of the hydra-headed assault on the United States is Ayatollah Mahmoud Haji Daryaei, Iran's head honcho and the "hidden hand" in the Denver nuke attack. He was, ironically enough, spared a mushroom cloud-shrouded death himself when then Deputy Director of Central Intelligence Ryan stopped President Fowler from launching a nuclear-tipped missile at Daryaei's home town of Qom, but ever since their one face-to-face encounter in Saudi Arabia this "holy man" has nursed a grudge against both Ryan and the United States.
Eager to destroy the United States in the worst way imaginable short of a nuclear attack, Daryaei approves a complex scheme that involves:
1. A "hostile takeover" of Iraq, starting with the assassination of the unnamed Saddam Hussein-like leader during one of "the Mustache's" vainglorious rallies.
2. An alliance of sorts with Zhan Han San, a mysterious and ambitious minister in the Chinese government and the unnamed Prime Minister of India. Their job: to create crises in their neighborhoods to divert American intelligence and military assets while Iran consolidates its union with Iraq.
3. The main attack: A Patriot Games-like attack on Jack Ryan's family and, hopefully, on POTUS himself, while at the same time launching the most horrifying attack against the United States population -- using the dreaded Ebola virus in a devastating and frightening biological warfare attack.
Inadvertently assisting Daryaei are two very different domestic threats meant to cripple the government and/or topple the new President of the United States.
In Washington, Edward J. Kealty, the former Vice President of the United States, mobilizes his network of staffers and like-minded associates to get rid of any evidence of his resignation and to take over as President of the United States. Taking advantage of the confusion -- and employing tricks from the Nixon play book -- Kealty claims that he never resigned from the Vice Presidency and that he's the legal President of the United States.
In the meantime, a pair of self-styled militiamen, eager to do away with what they believe to be an oppressive Federal Government, begins a cross-country trek on a mission that, if successful, will rival the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing in its scope and prominence.
Once again, Clancy uses his sense of creating a cohesive narrative by linking Executive Orders not only with Debt of Honor but to all the previous Jack Ryan novels; there are references to events that were chronicled in The Hunt for Red October ("the business with the submarine"), Clear and Present Danger (Ryan meets with the Colombian ambassador), The Cardinal of the Kremlin (an old adversary pops up out of seclusion to make trouble for Ryan), and of course The Sum of All Fears; Daryaei's grudge stems from the failure to get the U.S. and Soviet Union to destroy each other, and Ryan's Secret Service codename SWORDSMAN is another reference to that earlier novel.
Despite Clancy's well-known limitations as a writer (his style has improved, but some of his proteges in the "techno thriller" genre are better prose writers...Harold Coyle, for one, is really worth checking out), his ability to come up with a big and convincing scenario is -- at least up to this novel -- still unmatched. His "bad guys" are always cunning and formidable, and Ryan -- in the novels -- doesn't pull off a last-minute James Bond-style caper that stops the Ebola attacks or prevents a shooting war in the Persian Gulf. On the contrary, the enemy forces hit America hard -- this is one Clancy novel that readers traumatized by 9/11 should read with caution -- even though, in the end, President John Patrick Ryan and the nation persevere, bloodied but unbowed.