Richard Clarke Writes Mideast Thriller

Former National Security Adviser Richard Clarke's novel The Scorpion's Gate has written a novel about the Mideast. It begins with the overthrow of Saudi royals. Clarke and Steve Inskeep discuss the book.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

For the second straight morning, we're about to meet a writer who says he wants to use fiction to get at the truth about terrorism. Yesterday the novelist Salman Rushdie explained how he tried to get inside the mind of a terrorist. Today we're talking to Richard Clarke who wrote a novel of his own. Clarke is far better known as a national security official during Republican and Democratic administrations. His became a household name last year when he attacked the Bush administration's terrorism policies before September 11. In his novel, called "The Scorpion's Gate," Clarke turns his attention to the future. The book is set about five years from now, and in Clarke's vision, everything has gone wrong in the Persian Gulf region. When the story begins, Saudi Arabia's government has been replaced by a regime hostile to the United States, and though the story is fictional, Clarke intends it as a warning.

Mr. RICHARD CLARKE (Author): It's very hard to believe that five, six, eight years from now, the royal house in Saudi Arabia will be ruling that country quite the way it is now. Whether Saudi Arabia becomes a democracy or whether there is a fundamentalist coup that takes power, we can't say, but I don't think many people who know the Middle East would predict that Saudi Arabia would stay the way it is.

INSKEEP: What else is going wrong--and I guess this isn't exactly a prediction--Is it?--but it's a plausible forecast of what could go wrong.

Mr. CLARKE: One of the issues is Iran. Iran will have succeeded--It already has succeeded--in gaining almost all of its goals in Iraq. Iran fought for seven years a war in which a million people died, a war between Iran and Iraq in the 1980s. And now Iran has almost all of the goals it sought in that war accomplished, not by its forces but by ours, and it will have enormous influence over the new Iraq.

INSKEEP: Wait. When you say accomplished by our forces, you mean getting rid of Saddam Hussein, Iran's mortal enemy.

Mr. CLARKE: The Iranian goals were to get rid of Saddam Hussein, make sure Iraq didn't have weapons of mass destruction, put the Shia majority in Iraq in power and have influence over that government in Baghdad. They've already achieved all of that.

INSKEEP: You even say in this scenario five years from now that the United States has been kicked out of Iraq by the new Iraqi government.

Mr. CLARKE: Well, I think the Iraqi government will ask us to leave at some point, and at some point in the next three to four years, I think we'll be totally out.

INSKEEP: And the Saudis who are no longer our friends are the friends of China.

Mr. CLARKE: Well, the Chinese will do a deal with the Saudis, I'm sure. Even as they've now done a deal with Venezuela, with Sudan, with Kazakhstan, they will try to influence Saudi Arabia.

INSKEEP: I do want to pause for a moment and just ask, could it really get that bad? Could all of those things really go that wrong? Would an elected Iraqi government, for example, kick out the American military that seems to support that government, that seems to keep it in power in the first place? Could the Saudis, with their added money from increased oil revenues, not be able to keep control of their people?

Mr. CLARKE: Well, I think at any given point, if you go back in time five years as opposed to going ahead in time five years, you would not have thought, Steve, five years ago that we'd be in the terrible situation that we're in now. You certainly wouldn't have thought right after 9/11 that four years on, bin Laden would still be alive, al-Qaeda would have doubled the number of attacks it conducted around the world, that the United States would be mired down in a war in Iraq years after going in. None of that would have seemed obvious.

INSKEEP: Mr. Clarke, you made a lot of headlines last year by saying that the Bush administration did not take terrorism seriously before the September 11 attacks. Do you believe, as an outsider now, that they are taking terrorism seriously these days?

Mr. CLARKE: Well, I think they've blurred the war in Iraq with terrorism. Iraq had nothing to do with the al-Qaeda terrorism. The 9-11 Commission said that pretty clearly and corroborated what I had said. But now that we're in Iraq, the lines between the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq do blur, and we are unable to destroy al-Qaeda, not just because we can't find bin Laden and the others, but because al-Qaeda is breeding new people in Iraq.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about two of the parts of your scenario that seem particularly thorny. There's Saudi Arabia, which is an important ally of the United States, which may or may not be stable, depending on who you talk to. How would you assure US security interests if you were the president for the next few years?

Mr. CLARKE: The key, I think, for us right now with Saudi Arabia is to understand better what's going on in the country, and the government of Saudi Arabia has made it very difficult. They don't want us doing the kind of getting out and seeing the country and talking to the people that our embassies do around the world. And so we're very much in the situation that we were in with the shah of Iran. The shah of Iran fell. He was our great friend and ally. He was replaced by a government that was very anti-American, and that all took us by surprise, because we were relying on the shah's own intelligence agencies to tell us about what was going on in Iran.

INSKEEP: And then the other problem: How would you get out of Iraq?

Mr. CLARKE: The question is not how. The question is when. Donald Rumsfeld has said that Americans won't defeat the insurgency, that the insurgency will probably still be going on when we leave. The question really becomes how rapidly do we train up Iraqi troops and let them do the job? I suspect that the United States Army wants to do it pretty quickly.

INSKEEP: Why approach all of this through fiction?

Mr. CLARKE: I found when I was in the White House, the best way in which to get people's attention was to cause them to participate in visualization exercises where you say to them, `It's slightly in the future. You still have your roles and responsibility. Now this series of events has happened. What are you going to do to address this crisis?' That riveted them, and I think a novel can get the attention of the reader in a way that an analytical, non-fiction book really just doesn't.

INSKEEP: Having run through the scenarios yourself, well, are you a sound sleeper?

Mr. CLARKE: I'm a sound sleeper because I think there are ways of averting the really bad scenarios if we think about them in advance. If we know where the twists and turns are that take us to scenarios we don't want to happen, then maybe we can prevent them.

INSKEEP: Richard Clarke is the author of "The Scorpion's Gate."

Mr. Clarke, thanks very much.

Mr. CLARKE: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Tomorrow, we'll get a different view of the future from an adviser to the Defense Department who wants Western militaries to keep invading troubled countries.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE (Host): And I'm Renee Montagne.

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