The Scorpion’s Gate by Richard A. Clarke

G. P. Putnam’s Sons 2005  305 pp. 24.95

Copyright © Steven E. Alford


Richard Clark, advisor to four presidents and head of counterterrorism under Clinton and Bush for three years, exposed the incompetence and duplicity of the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq in Against All Enemies.  He has now written a novel about the Middle East, The Scorpion’s Gate.  Is he trying to extend his fifteen minutes, garnering tuition money for the grandkids?  Warning us of increasing international dangers in a post-Hussein world?  I review; you decide.

Five years in the future, the house of Saud has been overthrown and replaced with an Islamic “republic,” Islamyah.  Sitting on its fabulous oil reserves, the shaky government finds its prized resources the object of competition among several heavily armed nation-states: Iran, Britain, the U.S., and, ominously, China.  Whoever controls the oil wield enormous influence over the world economy.

Within this dangerous cauldron are operatives from the competing nations, including Russell MacIntyre, deputy director of the (fictional) US Intelligence Analysis Center; Brian Douglas, Bahrain station chief of SIS, British Intelligence; and New York Journal reporter Kate Delmarco.  The book opens with the terrorist bombing of a luxury hotel in Manama, Bahrain.  The search for the perpetrators fuels the engine of a complex plot involving multiple international locales.

Iran’s Qods Force, behind a number of other international terrorist actions, could be the culprits. The Iraqis succeeded in tossing out their American occupiers.  Delighted with the American’s decision to do their work for them by toppling Hussein, the Iranians have now gained indirect control of the Iraqi government and could be making a move on Islamyah to solidify their hold over much of the Middle East.  Or China, with ships on the move and troops stationed in the Arabian desert, could be setting up a diversion prior to an invasion.  British and American intelligence, as well as an intrepid American reporter, make contact with operatives inside the Islamyah government, seeking an answer.

Along the way they discover that the deeply evil U.S. Secretary of Defense Henry Conrad has his own ideas on how to gain American control over the oil reserves.  Armed with “National Command Authority,” the power to order the use of American military force, it seems that Conrad may be using U.S. troops to further his private internationalist agenda.  As bombs explode, bullets fly, and voices rise in anger at secret, underground meetings, the future of the world is at stake.

If this sounds Clancyesque, you would not be wrong.  Short chapters headed by names of exotic locales: “Aboard the USS Jimmy Carter, SSN-23, Off Malaysian coast, South China Sea,” or “U.S. Navy, Administrative Support Unit, Juffair, Bahrain,” lend a certain pulpiness to Clarke’s tale.  The characters fare no better than Clancy’s Jack Ryan: other than their age and job, they remain personal ciphers, although the women are invariably younger and “attractive.”

So, we’re dealing with an airplane book, a narrative to take your mind off your grumbling stomach and a wallet made empty by five-dollar drinks.  While it lacks the forward propulsiveness of one of Clancy’s tales, it’s worthy of our attention because of the extensive experience of its author.  While Clancy’s bona fides consist of having been a bookish insurance agent, Clarke’s extensive international experience gives us some confidence that his projections into the near future have some legitimacy. 

Not a partisan screed, The Scorpion’s Gate sets up a series of talking heads who exchange views on oil, Islam, American culpability for the chaos in the Middle East and so forth.  Those of the left and the right who are untroubled by such literary quibbles as the lack of characterization, wooden style and uncertain pacing will find the ideas in this book stimulating.