The Foreign Service Journal - October 2014 - page 68

What Goes Around
Comes Around
Sting of the Drone
Richard A. Clarke,
omas Dunne Books,
2014, $25.99, hardcover, 298 pages.
Unmanned aerial vehicles, more famil-
iarly known as drones, have become
so ubiquitous that it is hard for many
Americans to recall a time when they
were not a key component of our coun-
terterrorist strategy. In fact, the debut of
drones as a U.S. foreign policy tool dates
back to 1959, when the Air Force began
using planes to over y the Soviet Union.
e Department of Defense continues
to administer America’s “overt” drone
program, which for the most part is
noncontroversial. But in the aftermath
of the 9/11 attacks, the George W. Bush
administration authorized the Central
Intelligence Agency to run a “covert”
drone program that has killed thousands
of foreign militants—as well as many
noncombatants and some American
citizens. And that latter application is the
subject of Richard A. Clarke’s timely new
Sting of the Drone
Few people are better versed in this
subject than Clarke, whose 30 years in
federal service included a decade at
the White House as special assistant to
the president for global a airs, special
adviser for cyberspace, and national
coordinator for security, infrastructure
The novel’s resolution is not as pat as you might expect—
in keeping with the complexity of the moral and ethical
questions the author thoughtfully addresses throughout
the book.
protection and counterter-
Before retiring from
government service in 2003,
he also held various posi-
tions at State and Defense,
including assistant secre-
tary for political-military
a airs. (Full disclosure:
I worked for Clarke from
1990 to 1991 while serving as a third-tour
Foreign Service o cer in PM. His man-
agement style would never be described
as warm and fuzzy, but he was always on
top of his brief.)
Written in the style of a screenplay,
the plot cuts back and forth between
the White House Situation Room, where
targets are identi ed by an interagency
“Kill Committee,” and the Nevada air
base where hotshot pilots execute those
directives remotely.
We also travel from the mountains of
Afghanistan, where a group of extrem-
ists hatch a scheme to ght back against
the drones and teach America a lesson
it won’t soon forget, to several European
capitals and other locations.
As the clock ticks, Clarke weaves an
alarmingly realistic drama in which his
heroes scramble to thwart interlinked
plots they’re only vaguely aware of. Will
they be able to track down their anony-
mous enemies before it’s too late?
I wouldn’t dare risk a drone attack by
giving away the answer to that question
here, but I can say that the novel’s reso-
lution is not as pat as you
might expect—in keeping
with the complexity of the
moral and ethical ques-
tions the author thoughtfully
addresses throughout the
ough no one is likely to
mistake it for literature,
of the Drone
is a refreshingly
well-written page-turner (something
one cannot take for granted in this genre,
at said, the sex scenes seem
rather gratuitous, mainly calculated to
increase the novel’s marketability as a
lm rather than to advance the plot or
make the characters more sympathetic.
Most of the protagonists, both
Americans and foreigners, come across
as believable characters—not just one-
dimensional wonks, bureaucrats and
action gures, though we do meet some
of those along the way.
It is a particular pleasure to read
a novel in which State Department
employees are portrayed as profes-
sionals, rather than weenies. But I wish
Clarke had resisted the temptation to
settle scores by depicting journalists
and members of Congress as misguided
and naïve at best, if not self-serving and
Foreign Service readers are presum-
ably already keenly aware of the foreign
policy dilemmas Clarke explores in
Sting of the Drone
. But it is still useful to
be reminded of their intractability. As
several of his characters ruefully observe,
“ ere will always be bad guys out there.”
What matters is how we deal with them
as a nation and a society, and how well
we learn from the mistakes we will inevi-
tably make along the way.
Steven Alan Honley is
e Foreign Service
contributing editor.
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