CLASH OF THE GODS: A NOVEL
By Charles Sutherland and Jonathan Slevin
Abington House, $24.95, 465 pages
REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SCHEUER
“My ardent desire,” the greatest American explained in 1795, “is to keep the United States free from political connections with every other country, to see them independent of all and under the influence of none.” While tens of millions of Americans ignore this advice, and many more millions are unaware of it given the feel-good fantasy our schools teach in lieu of U.S. history, Charles Sutherland and Jonathan Slevin offer the readers of “Clash of the Gods” - who ought to be legion - a chilling, sobering reminder of the enormous price Americans are sure to pay in blood and treasure for the self-not-nation-serving foreign policies their bipartisan leaders have pursued for 30 years and more.
Set in the post-George W. Bush era, “Clash of the Gods” is a unique and marvelous combination of the spy/adventure novel - worthy of John Buchan, the craft’s master - and a morality tale like that of Christian’s painful-but-eye-opening journey to reality in John Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress.” Creating characters that are believable and multi-dimensional, the authors spin a page-turning tale that is at once riveting and distressingly realistic; theirs is a story that matters and one that induces justifiable pessimism about America’s future. In these pages, a Bible-toting, Israel-adoring U.S. president and his senior colleagues - especially the secretaries of defense and state and CIA’s chief - are well portrayed as they travel a harrowing path from self-deception and wishful thinking to a maddeningly impotent reality. Along the way, they incrementally learn just how powerless the sole superpower is because its anachronistic-but-sacrosanct foreign policy failed to defend national security by keeping options open.
Senior U.S. leaders in “Clash of the Gods” are left holding the bag for their predecessors’ feckless policies; one which, for example, finds Washington backing to the hilt Arabs and Israelis in a religious war-to-the-death where no U.S. interests are at stake. These men and women are cornered by America’s dependence on the foreign oil controlled by Arab tyrants and Russian oligarchs; they fight internal policymaking battles pitting those working for U.S. security against those willing to see America hurt as long as the imagined dictates of Bible and Torah are met; they are trumped at every turn by Israel’s successful purchase - via its U.S.-citizen surrogates in AIPAC - of Congress and its suborning of the Defense Department; and they watch helplessly as Israel trades U.S. technology and intelligence data to China and Russia for its own benefit. Quite appropriately, the book’s blindly pro-Israel and evangelical U.S. president and his Jewish defense secretary find at day’s end that Israel has played them for fools.
All but paralyzed by the comeuppances of prolonged foreign-policy failure, the most these U.S. leaders can do is grope for a bare understanding of an unfolding disaster. Fine CIA work nets information that allows the president and his advisers to simultaneously discern the nearing nuclear catastrophe and recognize they are powerless to affect, let alone stop, the tragedy. In the book’s searing denouement, readers learn why history will justly vilify the legacies of three unnamed but easily identified former presidents, each of whom knowingly and even willfully failed to secure the former Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal.
The book’s preventable calamity calls to mind John Buchan’s repeated warnings that there is but a thin, easily fractured veneer separating civilization and barbarism, and that only selflessness and moral courage in political leaders when defending national interests can keep the shield in place. In “Clash of the Gods,” Buchan’s veneer is thinner and more vulnerable than ever, and the reader is left wondering whether there are men and women willing to do hard, unpopular things in a timely manner for the sake of the country and its posterity, even at the cost of their political or bureaucratic posts.
“Clash of the Gods” should be read by all members of the next presidential administration. It truthfully details the hell for which America is bound because its leaders ignored George Washington’s above-noted advice and followed a politically expedient road that has put Americans and their economy in the thrall of several foreign countries and a flamboyantly traitorous domestic fifth column, each ready to manipulate and undermine the United States if it suits their interests. On taking their oaths, the new president and his Cabinet will find that they are - as are the novel’s U.S. protagonists - hamstrung and optionless because of Arab and Russian tyrants, oil, Middle East politics, American evangelicals, Israel, and AIPAC. They will face the choice of acquiescing in a failed foreign policy that regularly facilitates re-election and a bare-knuckled battle to regain U.S. independence of action; a choice, in other words, between assuring either self-interest or America’s viability as a well-defended nation-state.
I think Mr. Sutherland and Mr. Slevin would agree that another piece of the greatest American’s guidance is implicit in “Clash of the Gods” and ought to be central in the next administration’s deliberations. “It should be the highest ambition of every American,” George Washington said in 1789, “to extend his views beyond himself, and to bear in mind that his conduct will not only affect himself, his country, and his immediate posterity; but that its influence may be co-extensive with the world, and stamp political happiness or misery on ages yet unborn.” As “Clash of the Gods” unsparingly and even brutally shows, it is past time that current U.S. leaders adopt pro-American foreign policies and thereby begin to lessen the misery their self-serving predecessors have piled up for their countrymen yet unborn.
Michael Scheuer ran CIA operations against al-Qaeda, is a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation and an adjunct professor of security studies at Georgetown University. His latest book is “Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam After Iraq.”