- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 17, 2002

By Oliver North
With Joe Musser
Broadman & Holman, $24.99, 605 pages

The timing of Oliver North's novel, "Mission Compromised," couldn't be better. A more topical special-ops military adventure would be hard to imagine, but perhaps readers should expect such a timely book from someone who lived and worked deep "behind enemy lines" for so many years. During the mid-1980s, Lt.Col. North was the coordinator of U.S. counter-terrorism efforts for the Reagan administration, and he was involved with some of the most highly classified covert operations by the United States. The "Iran-Contra" hearings exposed much of what he did during that period, and now through fiction he tells the rest of the story.
If readers are overcome by a sense of deja vu while reading this book, it is no wonder. Many key events of the story are nearly identical to ones that have dominated the news in recent years. In the book American soldiers are killed and dragged through the streets of Mogadishu during a botched U.N. peacekeeping mission; a high-tech U.S. computer company allows highly-sensitive encryption technology to fall into the hands of America's enemies; and there is the likelihood that at least some of Russia's nuclear arsenal has found it's way into the hands of Saddam Hussein.
The story begins as Maj. Peter J. Newman is assigned to a top secret National Security Council position at the White House. (While Bill Clinton and Al Gore aren't explicitly identified, the reader is left with little doubt about whom the author has in his sights.) Newman soon learns that the portly, condescending national security advisor, Dr. Simon Harrod, is only one link in a chain of bosses that goes up to the U.N. Security Council's executive committee. Newman was chosen out of thousands of possible recruits for one specific reason: He lost a loved one to terrorists. Harrod gives him a chance for revenge.
Newman soon discovers that he will head a small group of elite soldiers assigned to "take out" international lawbreakers. After lecturing Newman about the administration's desire to work "multilaterally," and the president's vision of a "global village," Harrod explains that the U.N. executive order "has designated certain individuals who have refused to accede to international law and flaunt their lawlessness before the international community" to be "removed."
Newman reluctantly accepts. The opportunity to avenge his brother's murder at the hands of thugs is powerful enough to supercede his suspicion that this might not be legal. But his reservations are never fully quelled, and when the mission suddenly changes and his team is betrayed, questions of legality fly out the window.
Newman fights to survive, but it becomes evident that someone high up in the U.N. hierarchy wants him dead.
It is a compelling story, but also one with its flaws. Although the strong, commanding plot builds momentum until the last page, guaranteeing a few hours of frantic page-flipping, the book gets bogged down in a murky variety of not-so-well-hidden agendas. It is easy to read it as a scathing indictment of the anti-military Clinton administration and the United Nations, an apologetic for the author's involvement in Iran-Contra, or as a Christian tract. Because there are so many issues in play, one has a hard time answering the question of what Mr. North is trying to say.
Then there is the matter of Mr. North's odd choice of making himself a character in his fiction. When the author first does this in the novel, the reader undergoes one of what will be several deeply weird trans-dimensional experiences. The unspoken contract that authors will stay on their side of an invisible wall is broken time and again. In one instance, Harrod takes Newman to a posh office in the Old Executive Office Building and says, "Well, Newman, this is the scene of the crime this was North's office."
In another, Newman discovers a secret safe in the fireplace containing a passport and paperwork belonging to Oliver North. It's a modern take on the deus ex machina the author reaches in and hands the character information critical to the story. When Newman meets the North character of the book, he tries to give him the paperwork, but North refuses.
"But," Newman protests, "they prove that you were authorized to do all that you did when you ran the Special Projects Office."
"So?" North says, "That's all ancient history."
As a Christian apologetic, Mr. North is on even shakier ground. Readers are introduced to Rachel, Newman's long-suffering and estranged military wife, in an airport hotel with her pilot lover. In the hotel restaurant, she meets a colleague who takes advantage of Rachel's guilt in order to proselytize. One imagines that the author sees the friend as a character readers will find sympathetic, but the opposite turns out to be true. When Rachel incessantly spouts fundamentalist doctrine, one prays for a return to the novel's action.
The book is at its strongest in its portrayal of the U.S. military, specifically the Marine Corps. Refreshingly, these characters aren't cast as psychotic warmongers or sadistic baby-killers. They are good, likable men, (and there's even a begrudging nod to the courage and valor of the women who serve as well). Mr. North knows these people, and we get a glimpse inside this world of professional warriors. They are men who risk everything for their loved ones and their country.
In the end, "Mission Compromised" is saved by pace and patriotism, and Tom Clancy or Robert Ludlum fans will find much here to enjoy, despite the potholes.

Chris Jolma is production editor on the commentary pages of The Washington Times.

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