Exit Plan by Larry Bond
When I was growing up in the aftermath of World War II, my peers and I were heavily into military thrillers where the more frequent exhortations from our brave boys as sten guns blazed was, “Die, you Kraut bastard!” Having missed out on the real fighting, we all wanted a sense of what it felt like to be on the winning side in the war — not that you would have known we’d won from the wreckage around us. We then moved on to US campaigns in Korea and later Vietnam where the cake recipe was, “Spread raw agent orange thinly and apply heat.” British books looked sideways as our boys shouted, “Die, you Mau Mau terrorist (or colonial upstart if that makes you feel better)!” More recently, I’ve dipped into military SF where we’ve regressed to ray guns blazing and, “Die, you alien bastard!” Today sees me picking up an American contemporary military thriller (actually set in 2013 but this is irrelevant as to genre) where we see, “Die you Islamic motherfucker so I can piss on your body and hold Koran-burning clambake sessions without having to fear retaliation.” Or, to translate this into English, the majority of books about war are jingoistic and show the virtues of an aggressive foreign policy backed up by victorious military force. Since the victorious party in this novel favours the doctrine of American exceptionalism, it seems its mission in the world is to lead it into the ways of democracy. If this does not work by example, the country is allowed to export its own brand of democratic republicanism by the threat or exercise of its military superiority. In this, it’s not bound by any national or international laws. By virtue of its exalted status, it’s allowed to intervene simply because it always upholds “good” against “evil” in the practical and not the abstract senses of these words.
This rumination is provoked by Exit Plan by Larry Bond and Chris Carlson (Tor, 2012) which is the third book featuring Jerry Mitchell after Dangerous Ground and Cold Choices. It takes us into the difficult political situation surrounding Iran’s alleged attempts to develop atomic weapons. At this point I have to slightly backtrack on the tone of the opening paragraph. Although we readers all know the Americans will emerge from the different types of combat situation with maximum casualties among the enemy and minimal wounds shared among the SEALs and naval personnel driving the submarine, this is actually a rather more interesting book than I was expecting. OK so I admit I started reading this with zero expectations, so something even vaguely readable was going to make me feel better. But there’s actually something rather more politically acute going on here.
Let’s very briefly canvass a scenario. Despite the best efforts of the British and American governments to find evidence of WMD in Iraq after their successful demolition of Saddam Hussein’s armies, they were eventually forced to admit none had been found. In other words, Saddam Hussein was shown to have been lying about his scientists’ ability to build a bomb. Now suppose instead of putting troops on the ground, the Americans had simply bombed the suspected sites. This gives Iraq a casus belli. Under international law, it could legitimately launch retaliatory attacks. Saddam Hussein could also claim Iraq had developed the bomb and there would be no evidence to show he was lying. As the victim of American aggression, Iraq also becomes a lightning rod attracting other allies who want to attack the infidels. Now let’s transfer this to the current Iranian situation. With America overextended, there’s no way it would commit ground troops in a war against the larger and better organised military forces of Iran. But if Iran was to pretend it had developed a nuclear deice, Israel might be provoked into an air assault and that might be the way to unite Arab forces into an assault on Israeli territory.
So this all comes down to the credibility of the evidence Iran can produce and whether Israel will act. The plot to fabricate that evidence actually turns out to be reasonably convincing. There are only two problems. The first is that, for years, the Western and Israeli intelligence services have been saying Iran cannot solve the centrifuge problem and so cannot make a bomb in the foreseeable future. For the experts to suddenly change their minds is going to require a big push. The second is that there’s an Iranian who does not want to see the country plunged into a war. The question is whether the relevant evidence can be transmitted to America. This triggers what should be a reasonably routine extraction by a US submarine and a team of navy SEALs except, as is always the case in these high pressure situations, the minisub malfunctions dumping the survivors on Iranian soil. Now they have to keep the very pregnant lady and her husband safe as the Iranian secret service slowly realise they may be losing control of the plot.
We now need to be completely honest. There’s not an incident described here that I have not seen in a film or read in a book. Yet there’s a wealth of information about the different equipment used and tactics employed, and this did make events more interesting. The way the odds keep building against the Americans is done well and there’s tension as the different options for escape are explored and then discarded. While the SEALs are fighting on the ground, the political situation also grows more complicated and there’s quite a surprising development which I will not spoil for you. I’m not sure it would ever come to this but, if it did, it would be a major step forward in international relations, producing a very pragmatic outcome and saying something hopeful about morality in policy-making.
This is very professionally put together package. The politics and military elements feel credible and it’s useful to see the situation develop from both US and Iranian perspectives. Even though you know they are going to lose, the Iranians actually do well — just not quite well enough. Indeed, it’s remarkable that Larry Bond, an American author (and his co-writer), should be prepared to show some of the “enemy” in a relatively sympathetic light — they are not mere cannon fodder. So I find myself actually recommending a military thriller. I have not read any other recent military thrillers so cannot say whether this is typical of the standard but, taken on its own, Exit Plan is worth reading.
For a review of another book by Larry Bond, see
Red Dragon Rising: Blood of War (with Jim DeFelice)
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.