- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 20, 2005

CHAIN OF COMMAND

By Caspar Weinberger and Peter Schweizer

Atria, $25.95, 360 pages

REVIEWED BY ROBERT M. SMALLEY



If the collaboration of Cap Weinberger and Peter Schweizer comes to produce another Washington-based book the likes of “Chain of Command,” one may believe they could equal or surpass the extraordinary successes of Nordhoff and Hall for their 1935 epic, “Mutiny on the Bounty” and other sea stories. As I finished reading “Chain of Command” I found myself toying with the question, which one of these two authors wrote the characters and their affairs, and which did the locations, and the car thefts, releasing along the way various victims of a bloodthirsty menace named Gonzales.

Somehow, I must admit, I cannot imagine Cap Weinberger dealing with car heists. Nor should I find it simple to ascribe any particular lawbreaking to Peter Schweizer, whose numerous words in print have carried their weight into various translations, as I expect this one will. And of the two men, I asked myself, which could possibly be more knowledgeable of the nomenclature and professional uses and consequences of uses of weaponry of all types and sizes and their various capabilities?

Having failed to identify either of them with particularly friendly and/or hostile characters, I assure the reader there are plenty of both, whose love of country or whose evil deeds dominate the pages. Thus it is I must assume that every twist, turn, stop and go of the entire book was carefully plotted by the two authors, suggesting mountains of e-mails back and forth, and middle-of-the night telephone calls between Maine and California, prompting the occasional question, “Where did we leave Agent Delaney yesterday?” Which might have led to an answer such as, “We must have left him in Mary’s bathroom, remember? He needed a shower.”

Then the other might respond, “Yes, but while she took her own shower, he collapsed on the bed, absolutely dead tired, exhausted, sound asleep in an instant.” “Well, then, let’s bring her out of the bathroom, wearing a light robe, and she looks at him with genuine affection, then with a deep breath she says something like wouldn’t you know it?” Then, “Does she read a book? Or fall asleep beside him? One feels he deserves the rest if nothing more.”

Mike Delaney is not just the two writers’ “good guy,” but he is, in fact, a highly decorated agent of the Secret Service, who knows Washington like the back of his hand (or one of the authors’ hands) and so he could not figure out, when awakening at Camp David one morning why he is so sluggish, when he knows he just didn’t have that much to drink the night before. Then he straps on his Beretta, and discovers to his horror that this gun was not his, whereas protecting one’s own gun is about the foremost agent responsibility.

Somebody had swapped weapons, but for what reason he could not imagine. His superior, Mark Greene, ordered him and another agent to “run the perimeter.” It was a snow-covered, frigid morning when suddenly they heard four sharp cracks of gunfire. They waded through the snow until they came to the putting green.

Three men were down on the blanket of snow. He quickly broke radio code and screamed into his radio, “POTUS is hit! The President is down!”

Thus the book immediately acquires a ring of adventurous truth, and this remains with it to the end. From that point, with the president shot, (subsequently he dies). Mr. Weinberger’s immense knowledge of the federal government and the people who make it work now comes into focus and the reader creates his own divisions of good guys and bad guys, and the story never drifts off into unbelievability.

With his life at stake, Mike Delaney must go out on his own, establish his own innocence in the face of allegations that transform him into the country’s number one fugitive, suspected by almost everyone because others have no answer to the question, “Why doesn’t he know what happened to his own gun?” (It was found in the snow beside the dead president.) Delaney must undertake the grueling task of finding old friends, men who will support his innocence, who will support his needs for cash, a car, and whatever else can keep him on the road, to track down anyone who might know the secrets of why his gun was swapped for someone else’s.

His travels unfold new groups of terrorists within America. Violence begins to erupt in major American cities. There is an explosion of a truckload of chlorine gas at a major intersection in Houston. The new president tells his people to say nothing about the terrorist attacks in major cities of the country. Meanwhile, Delaney is being identified on TV as the nation’s number one fugitive. The one-time vice-president, Morgan Boyd, now the new president, wants to feed the press as little information as possible.

Delaney slips back into Washington and tracks down an old friend, Winston Rogers, whose philosophy in life is, “Every bad thing that ever happened to me was somebody else’s fault.” Delaney asks for a couple of false ID’s, a U.S. passport, credit cards, some government badges and a Virginia driver’s license. Delaney gives him 500 bucks. At which Winston moans, “Oh, Man, come on.” Delaney comes out with a new name, Jay Fiedler, financial writer for Business Week Online.

Somewhere there is an old hard drive on the loose, with information as to who has given money to insurgent groups, how much and where did the money go? Are questions already being asked of innocent people with no reason to be questioned? With actions occurring as they are, the president wants Congress to produce a new “Freedom from Fear” Act, and a certain senator trips the White House into admitting that the bill could lead to the suspension of habeas corpus and other rights fundamental to American freedoms.

An eruption of verbal combat between the U.S. Senate and the White House breaks into heated controversy. Please do not figure that you can just scan the last 50 or so pages to catch up with all the political conclusions. Those 50 final pages are among the richest in the book. Keep your eye on every character, every word, every controversy, every sudden act, every shot fired. When you finish the book, after reading the last pages with their tremendous impact, suddenly tell yourself that it’s time to say thanks to Cap Weinberger and Peter Schweizer.

True, we may never know whether these two authors actually traveled or visited every country road, every house, garage, forgery palace or orther refuge before they put Mike Delaney on his way there. But then we don’t know whether Nordhoff and Hall ever followed the paths of Fletcher Christian, do we? But these two men have given us a great piece of work. “Chain of Command” is one heck of a great thriller.

Ambassador Robert M. Smalley (Ret.) was appointed by President Ronald Reagan.

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