« Reading List: The Scandal of Money | Main | Reading List: TWA 800 »

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Reading List: Foreign Agent

Thor, Brad. Foreign Agent. New York: Atria Books, 2016. ISBN 978-1-4767-8935-4.
This is the sixteenth in the author's Scot Harvath series, which began with The Lions of Lucerne (October 2010). After the momentous events chronicled in Code of Conduct (July 2015) (which figure only very peripherally in this volume), Scot Harvath continues his work as a private operator for the Carlton Group, developing information and carrying out operations mostly against the moment's top-ranked existential threat to the imperium on the Potomac, ISIS. When a CIA base in Iraq is ambushed by a jihadi assault team, producing another coup for the ISIS social media operation, Harvath finds himself in the hot seat, since the team was operating on intelligence he had provided through one of his sources. When he goes to visit the informant, he finds him dead, the apparent victim of a professional hit. Harvath has found that never believing in coincidences is a key to survival in his line of work.

Aided by diminutive data miner Nicholas (known as The Troll before he became a good guy), Harvath begins to follow the trail from his murdered tipster back to those who might also be responsible for the ISIS attack in Iraq. Evidence begins to suggest that a more venerable adversary, the Russkies, might be involved. As the investigation proceeds, another high-profile hit is made, this time the assassination of a senior U.S. government official visiting a NATO ally. Once again, ISIS social media trumpets the attack with graphic video.

Meanwhile, back in the capital of the blundering empire, an ambitious senator with his eyes on the White House is embarrassing the CIA and executive branch with information he shouldn't have. Is there a mole in the intelligence community, and might that be connected to the terrorist attacks? Harvath follows the trail, using his innovative interrogation techniques and, in the process, encounters people whose trail he has crossed in earlier adventures.

This novel spans the genres of political intrigue, espionage procedural, and shoot-em-up thriller and does all of them well. In the end, the immediate problem is resolved, and the curtain opens for a dramatic new phase, driven by a president who is deadly serious about dealing with international terror, of U.S. strategy in the Near East and beyond. And that's where everything fell apart for this reader. In the epilogue, which occurs one month after the conclusion of the main story, the U.S. president orders a military operation which seems not only absurdly risky, but which I sincerely hope his senior military commanders, whose oath is to the U.S. Constitution, not the President, would refuse to carry out, as it would constitute an act of war against a sovereign state without either a congressional declaration of war or the post-constitutional “authorisation for the use of military force” which seems to have supplanted it. Further, the president threatens to unilaterally abrogate, without consultation with congress, a century-old treaty which is the foundation of the political structure of the Near East if Islam, its dominant religion, refuses to reform itself and renounce violence. This is backed up by a forged video blaming an airstrike on another nation.

In all of his adventures, Scot Harvath has come across as a good and moral man, trying to protect his country and do his job in a dangerous and deceptive world. After this experience, one wonders whether he's having any second thoughts about the people for whom he's working.

There are some serious issues underlying the story, in particular why players on the international stage who would, at first glance, appear to be natural adversaries, seem to be making common cause against the interests of the United States (to the extent anybody can figure out what those might be from its incoherent policy and fickle actions), and whether a clever but militarily weak actor might provoke the U.S. into doing its bidding by manipulating events and public opinion so as to send the bungling superpower stumbling toward the mastermind's adversary. These are well worth pondering in light of current events, but largely lost in the cartoon-like conclusion of the novel.

Posted at November 12, 2016 22:26