Drury (What Price Glory?, 1990, etc.) returns with a novel as didactic as a '60s Pravdaall about limp foreign policy and the wane of US status and influence at century's end. The kingdoms of Greater and Lesser LolÛm are your basic hellholes, both ruled by tribal despots. The Lesser has oil, and so naturally the Greater, ruled by Sidi bin Sidi bin Sidi, a leader with all the endearing qualities of Qaddafi, Hussein, and Idi Amin, has designs on it. Moreover, Sidi has been given atomic weapons by an unnamed troublemaker. A slippery, ironic US president, a patrician, honorable, secretary of state, a feisty (black) assistant secretary, plus a trio of practically pacifist talk-show hosts are the main characters, abetted by gelded military chiefs. News of Sidi's new toys reaches the State Department, and the president telephones Sidi to warn him against adventurism. Sidi is defiant, of course, and follows up by having a brave, young CIA agent killed and then delivered to the embassy in a bag. Meanwhile, the president dithers, the secretary calls for measured diplomacy, the assistant calls for a strong condemnation, the UN obfuscates, the Joint Chiefs quail, the media rail, and Sidi plays them all like a violin because American opinion polls are against foreign entanglements and no recent president has had the courage to do what's right rather than what's popular. Eventually, a resolution of conflicting eventsand potential eventswill be arrived at, of a kind that will be taken differently by different readers, while, at very end, a sinister tramp-ship carrying more than meets the eye will come into dock in New York harbor. The plot resonates with recent events in the Middle East and with America's loss of will and increased vulnerability to atomic blackmaila valid topic for a political novelbut Drury's cardboard characters and continuous bombast make for hard going.