This behind-the-scenes account of the political morass in which Oliver North and his cronies operated reads at times like the best of the spy novels--and seems just as incredible. Former national-security correspondent for Newsday, Gutman weaves an intricate story of the intrigue, deception, blundering, and ideological fanaticism that went into the making of US policy toward the Sandinistas. Gutman argues that Pres. Reagan's negligent ""management style"" succeeded in botching policy from the day he stepped into the White House. Through his failure to delineate clear directives, or set up a chain of command, Reagan created a ""free for all"" among his subordinates in the Pentagon, State Department, National Security Council, and the CIA. Within months, one hand didn't know what the other was doing. As State Department delegate Thomas O. Enders initiated negotiations with the newly installed Sandinista government, unauthorized army and CIA staffers were guaranteeing US support to Honduras for the overthrow of the Sandinistas. When Jeane Kirkpatrick made her hasty tour of war-torn Central America at the President's behest, she never bothered to meet with the top US military commander in the region. In this updated version of the wild, wild west, ""cowboys"" and ""unguided missiles"" join other zealots from the ""war party"" (high-level hawks) or their ""pygmies"" (assistants) in setting themselves above the law to carry out their self-appointed missions. The unifying obsession throughout is, of course, the contras, lassoed into service by those who eventually diverted funds from Iranian arms sales. Nothing less than fascinating.