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Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Kill List

What better than a thriller to pass away a train ride?  A Frederick Forsyth would seem to fit the bill to perfection. As the sales and film adaptations prove, he has produced a core of engrossing page-turners, and some of these have certainly helped long flights zip by, for me.

Yet, I approached this book with caution. There have been times when his books have been deeply disappointing, and those, unfortunately, are the ones that I remember.  But, despite reservations, this was the book I chose for this particular journey -- not because of a resurgence of confidence, but because Forsyth is a man who intrigues me.

He is supposed to be ultra-conservative, but he is nevertheless outspoken in his criticism of those Conservatives who have disappointed him.  Right now, he is campaigning to have Tony Blair impeached for warmongering and telling blatant porkies.  You can read all about it on the Daily Express

"On March 18th 2003 Prime Minister Tony Blair entered the House of Commons, marched straight up to the Despatch Box and told a series of lies for which he has never been challenged by a cowardly House, let alone punished," he begins.

"That same house is waiting for Sir John Chilcot to do its job for it, but he too does not seem to have the bottle.

"Of course, the lies did not look like it at the time for Blair is probably the most plausible rogue to have entered British public life for at least a century.

"What he said was that he had proof positive that Saddam Hussain of Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction that were a menace to us all, that he could launch them in 45 minutes and that he had made no commitments to anyone but sought the say-so of the House to send our troops to intervene.

"A trusting or perhaps just gullible House, speaking in our name, gave that permission.

"Two days later our troops, massed in Kuwait, moved on the Al Faw peninsular, southern gateway to Iraq.

"One hundred and seventy-nine of those young men never came back, save in coffins."

Bravo!  Well said, say I.

Yet, in his books, Forsyth has no hesitation in demonizing Saddam, and his ilk.  It's an interesting contradiction.

Like The Afghan and The Fist of God, the premise of The Kill List relies on a savage depiction of evil plotting in the North Africa and the Middle East.  The Bad Guy in the story is a radical Moslem who posts videos on the internet urging the faithful to go out and slaughter the infidel, in silver-tongued "sermons" that are delivered in perfect English, and succeed all too well.  He is known as The Preacher, while the Good Guy is an elite soldier, known as The Tracker, who is given the job of hunting him down.  It is no spoiler if I tell you that after a lot of detective work and dashing about exotic parts of the world, he does manage to nail him (with the enthusiastic contribution of a squad of ultra-elite British soldiers) because its the unfolding of the hunt that keeps the pages turning.  Vintage Forsyth, it is so studded with acronyms that some of the pages look like alphabet soup, and is replete with well-researched facts; the characters (save, mystifying, one important fellow who is the hostage who must be saved at all costs) are described in such intricate detail that you almost get to know them, despite the utter lack of character development; it is topical and interesting, and taken altogether it is a bloody good read.

And, quite wonderfully, the author grabs the chance to have a stab at another conscienceless rightwing politician -- of the US variety, this time.  I quote from page 48.  (If you are as ignorant as I was when I started this book, you will appreciate me telling you that J-SOC is the Joint Special Ops Command.)

"The first transformer of J-SOC was Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.  This ruthless and power-hungry Washington insider was resentful of the power and privileges of the CIA.  Under its charter the Agency needed to be answerable only to the President, not Congress. With its SAD units it could conduct covert and lethal operations abroad on the Director's say-so. That was power, real power, and Secretary Rumsfeld was determined to have it.  But the Pentagon is very much subject to Congress and its limitless capacity for interference.

"Rumsfeld needed a weapon outside Congress's over-sight if he was ever to rival George Tenet, Director of the CIA. A completely transformed J-SOC became that weapon.

"With the agreement of President George W. Bush, J-SOC expanded and expanded, in size, budget and powers.  it absorbed all the Special Forces of the state.  They included Team Six of the SEALs (who would later kill Osama bin Laden), the DELTA Force or D-Boys drawn from the Green Berets, the 75th Ranger Regiment, the Air Force's Special Ops Aviation Regiment (the Night Stalkers, long-range helicopters) and others.  It also gobbled up TOSA."

Don't ask me what TOSA stands for.  But, according to Forsyth, it is "the very small department, based in Northern Virginia, tasked with hunting down those terrorists who seek to hide themselves from American retributive justice."

Does it exist?  I haven't a clue.  But I bet Forsyth has fun imagining it commissioning a Good Guy (who is an elite soldier, of course) to wreak "retributive justice" on a few well-chosen political figures.

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