Debut fiction, set in the near future, from Nye (The Paradox of American Power, 2002, etc.), Clinton’s Assistant Secretary of Defense: a bland mix of turf wars, marriage wars, and the threat of religious war.
At the start, protagonist Peter Cutler hears he’s been fired as Undersecretary for Security Affairs at State; this is also the story’s climax, so there’s no suspense about his destiny. Thereafter, the chronology is straightforward. We get a quick look at Peter’s childhood in Maine, then it’s on to grad school at Princeton, where Peter studies political science and makes a couple of enduring friendships: with Jim Childress, aspiring politician, and Ali Aziz, a Pakistani studying nuclear engineering. Peter will also fall in love with Alexa, a stunning blond who’s not looking to commit; power is her thing. So Peter marries another looker, Kate Ling Chen, who will work for the university press while he becomes a Princeton prof (his field is nuclear proliferation). Raising two kids, they’re a happy family—until Peter gets Potomac fever. By then, Jim is managing the presidential campaign of Senator Wayne Kent, charismatic westerner. Peter joins the effort without consulting Kate and, after Kent’s election, accepts that plum job at State. Meanwhile in Pakistan, where Ali is running a nuclear research lab, Musharaff has been ousted by another general with radical Islamist sympathies. In DC, Peter scores some victories in the furious bureaucratic infighting but allows himself to be seduced by Alexa, also a big-time Washington player. Personal and political crises erupt simultaneously, and glibly: Kate, tipped off to Peter’s adultery, insists on a temporary separation, while Pakistan decides to transfer nukes to Iran. A CIA covert operation to pre-empt the transfer goes awry, Ali is among the victims, and Peter is made the fall guy.
Another superficial treatment of Washington as a sinkhole for careers and marriages. Meanwhile, the moral issue of pre-emption is obscured by operational details.