From the Publisher
“Both a fantastic thriller and a revealing glimpse into government. Read it for the excitement, but then pause and think about what we should learn from the tale.” Walter Isaacson, New York Times bestselling author of Einstein on Blink of an Eye
“William Cohen's finest work yet…riveting, chilling, and an all too real premise. From its engrossing start to his extraordinary climax, this is one book where the pages seem to turn themselves.” Richard North Patterson, New York Times bestselling author of In the Name of Honor on Blink of an Eye
“Masterful. Cohen knows all the secrets. This is a story that lays out the detail and the stakes for what President Obama said would be a genuine game changer.” Bob Woodward, New York Times bestselling author of Obama's Wars on Blink of an Eye
“A riveting, intense story told by a man who understands this potential threat better than anyone else in America! Guaranteed to make you think twice about just how safe we are!” H. Hugh Shelton, General (Ret.), 14th Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff and author of Without Hesitation on Blink of an Eye
“William S. Cohen leaves the competition far behind with his insider's command of detail and grasp of how flesh-and-blood leaders make fateful decisions. Sharp and knowing, Blink of an Eye pre-empts tomorrow's most frightening headlines.” Ralph Peters, New York Times bestselling author of The War After Armageddon
“This is a great read from a man who knows a thing or two about national security. As secretary of defense, Bill Cohen helped lead our military into the 21st century. Now he's drawn upon his extensive experience to write a gripping tale of excitement and intrigue.” President Bill Clinton on Dragon Fire
“A riveting thriller played out on a world stage for the highest stakes imaginable… Dragon Fire forcefully engages us with spellbinding personal and professional intrigue set within a framework of international power politics that feels as authentic as it is exhilarating.” Senator John McCain
Former defense secretary Cohen (Dragon Fire) brings his insider experience to this exciting, acronym-filled thriller about a nuclear attack on Savannah, Ga. National security adviser Sean Falcone must get to the bottom of this horrific act, apparently perpetrated by Iranian-backed terrorists. Complicating the picture is the upcoming presidential election whose candidates are moderate incumbent Blake Oxley, who’s perceived as soft on terrorism, and Texas senator Mark Stanfield. Stanfield’s running mate, Rep. Gregory Nolan, has murky ties to a fundamentalist sect—and to Gen. George William Parker, who leads the charge against the president for not authorizing an all-out attack on Iran. Needless to say, not all things are as they appear. Even though Savannah is a major port supplier to Afghanistan, why, of all cities, was it a target? While Cohen knows his way around D.C., he’s less surefooted in painting an on-the-ground picture or rendering a larger-world sense of pandemonium. Some readers may wonder, for example, what impact the Savannah attack had on the stock market. (Nov.)
Set in the near future during an election year, Cohen's second political thriller (after Dragon Fire) deals with the U.S. government's response to a nuclear explosion that destroys a major Southern city. Weeks before the blast, during the final withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, terrorists, apparently Iranian, attacked an American amphibious transport. At the same time, a secret group of U.S. military and political figures conspired to bring about Armageddon by pressuring the President to wage war against Iran despite lack of proof of its involvement. Tasked with tracking down the culprits, national security adviser Sean Falcone must race against time to avoid catastrophe. VERDICT The effort to provide not only realistic but accurate detail about government bureaucracy, as might be expected by a former secretary of defense, bogs down and overwhelms Cohen's plot. So many new characters are sketchily introduced that the reader needs a scorecard to keep them and the plot straight. The villains are a pale bunch, and the only real tension occurs near the conclusion. Still, this may appeal to those interested in how our government works. [See Prepub Alert, 6/13/11.]—Ron Terpening, Univ. of Arizona, Tucson
The latest from Cohen (Dragon Fire, 2006, etc.), a former Republican senator and congressman who also served as President Clinton's secretary of defense. Both the plot and the author's insider's perspective should attract readers of international thrillers, but the awkward pacing, cardboard characters and clichéd writing slow the novel's momentum. When Cohen warns of an America in which "the center was no longer holding because centrists were treated as traitors to their political party," it's plain that he feels that statesmanship and compromise have fallen victim to political polarization. Among the familiar elements in Cohen's latest are aftershocks of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, as an American port city becomes obliterated by what is first described as a tsunami that results in a massive power outage, but soon seems to bear the imprint of a terrorist attack. President Blake Oxley not only has familiar initials, but also has a gift of oratory that seems increasingly powerless in the face of brass-knuckle politics and uncompromising demagoguery. His national security advisor, Sean Falcone, has a legislative background remarkably similar to the author's, while the president's chief of staff has the bluster of a Karl Rove. When a Washington Post journalist known for his insider access and his string of bestselling books (sound familiar?) writes about a clandestine cadre of Christian conservatives, a mini-military-industrial complex that can't wait for Armageddon to arrive, there's a suggestion that the enemy within is more dangerous than any foreign threat, particularly after the journalist shares what he knows (but hasn't published) with Falcone. Spoiler alert: The planet avoids annihilation and America (somehow) prevails. A novel that attempts to mine the post-9/11 era of unease as Seven Days in May and Fail Safe did the Cold War's.
Read an Excerpt
NED WINSLOW, Google News Network’s best-known correspondent, stood at the edge of a dusty parade ground in his familiar pose—white shirt, sleeves rolled up, hair mussed, one hand clutching a microphone, the other one pointing. Viewers were used to seeing him grimly pointing toward the wreckage produced by another suicide bombing. But today he was smiling and pointing to arrays of soldiers, Americans in ranks on one side, Iraqis lined up on the other side. Between them was a tall pole with an American flag snapping in the breeze.
The camera swung away from Winslow to the flagpole. The American flag came briskly down to the waiting hands of two American soldiers. Two Iraqi soldiers stepped forward to raise their flag as GNN SPECIAL REPORT: GOODBYE, IRAQ ran across the bottom of the screen.
“Yes, the last of the troops are going. As you know, the combat troops left little more than a year ago, leaving behind fifty thousand soldiers who were designated as noncombat and given “advisory and assistance” missions. These are those soldiers, hauling down the flag, handing Iraq over to the Iraqis.”
* * *
AMONG the millions of screens showing GNN’s “Goodbye, Iraq” coverage was a large screen on a wall in the library of a mansion on a hill that rose from the Connecticut shore of Long Island Sound. The owner of the mansion watched from the depth of a gray leather chair. He was alone in the room.
“Yes, goodbye,” he whispered. “Goodbye to America.” He walked to a long mahogany table that served as his desk, opened the drawer, and reached for a cell phone. He hesitated for a moment, put down the phone, and resumed looking at the screen.
* * *
LIVE appeared on the upper right of the screen. The view changed to a seascape of docks, small boats, and landing craft.
Winslow now stood in one of the landing craft. “Within minutes of the flag-raising ceremony earlier today,” he said, “American troops here in Basra began boarding landing craft like this one. Now all the ceremonies are over and we are bringing you the final act. They have handed over responsibility to the Iraqi Army and we are on our way out.”
The camera panned to the grinning soldiers surrounding Winslow. They wore their usual camouflage combat uniforms and caps instead of helmets. They did not carry weapons or backpacks. Piled around the craft were duffel bags bearing soldiers’ stenciled names.
“We’re leaving via the port of Basra and heading for the USS Elkton, an amphibious transport,” Winslow said as the camera aimed toward the gray silhouette of a ship, about half a mile offshore.
Winslow’s British accent sometimes strayed toward donnish. But he always leavened it with a sardonic air that reached out to his audience, as if urging them to connive with him in telling the story. He had the confident look of a correspondent who knows he is trusted.
“In her enormous hold, the Elkton can accommodate a fleet of amphibious vessels like this one, along with about four hundred troops—a small percentage of the thousands of U.S. combat troops leaving Iraq. Others have been flying out of Kuwait in transport planes or leaving by sea, as we are—in the last wave. The boats around us are U.S. landing craft like this one and local port lighters, slim little boats carrying supplies to the Elkton.
“Welcome to Goodbye Day,” Winslow continued. “Yes, it’s Goodbye Day for U.S. forces in Iraq. A personal note. I was here—here in Basra—for the start, in March 2003, when it all began.” A few moments of taped battle scenes appeared behind Winslow, fading as he said, “And now, on this momentous day, I am here again.”
The landing craft was close to the Elkton when the camera suddenly shifted from Winslow, drawn to the image of a boat that was pulling away from the others, its frothy wake spreading into a broad V.
Winslow kept speaking: “In this ship, and in many more, the last American soldiers are leaving this war-torn land that the United States invaded in March 2003. And today—” Noticing the speeding boat, Winslow turned his head and interrupted himself. “That boat … What’s happening?”
The camera focused on the speeding boat, now within one hundred yards of the Elkton. The camera switched to a telescopic lens that zoomed down on the boat. A new image filled the screen: a green-hulled boat, a bearded man, black-hooded, crouched over the steering wheel in the bow; another man at the stern, clutching a weapon.
“Jesus!” Winslow, off-camera, exclaimed. “He’s got an RPG! Looks like he’s aiming it to us!” A billow of smoke erupted from the rocket launcher.
In a blurring whirl, the image of the boat vanished from the screen. The horizon tilted, as the helmsman sharply swung the landing craft away from the speeding boat. “Get it!” Winslow yelled at the cameraman. “Get the boat!”
The camera turned back to the boat, which was alongside the Elkton. In the image, the ship’s gray hull loomed large. The boat veered, striking the hull, near the Elkton’s bow.
On camera, the roar of an explosion. A cloud of smoke. A jagged hole in the hull. The sea rushing in. Bodies in blue shirts and dungarees bobbing in the sea.
* * *
IN the Connecticut mansion, the man stood and picked up the phone again, his eyes never leaving the screen.
“They will pay for this,” he said aloud. He punched a number, waited a moment, and spoke rapidly, his voice gruff and angry.
He lived amid one of the great private art collections in America. The paintings in the library, his favorite room, reflected his eclectic taste: On one wall, a Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, his colors merging sea and sunset and hinting at the impressionists to come. On another wall, a tranquil seated nude by Henri Matisse, known not so much for its soft beauty as for its price at a Sotheby’s auction: $41 million, topping the bid of the Museum of Modern Art.
The library’s south wall was a window on the Sound, framing an ever-changing view of sea and sky—“the greatest art in this room,” he inevitably said to his rare visitor. At the moment, the clouds were darkening.
* * *
ON screen, the camera was focused on the Elkton. Sailors jumped into the sea to recover the dead and wounded. Helmeted, shouting men appeared along the deck, waving weapons.
Winslow’s landing craft swung around, as did all the other boats and landing craft. “We’re heading back to shore,” Winslow said “The RPG missed us. We’re all okay.” The camera swept around the craft, showing the soldiers’ faces as they tried to take in what they had just seen.
Winslow hated disseminating to the world the sight of America’s soldiers at their most vulnerable and desperate moments, but he had no choice. He was a professional journalist, one of the very best in the business, and for him, there were no holidays from tragedy or history. As he and his crew headed back toward shore, he continued to describe the attack and the desperate effort being made by those aboard the Elkton to save their comrades and their ship.
Suddenly, the on-screen image changed. The unfamiliar face of a young, frazzled-looking woman appeared at a newsroom desk. GNN REPORT: TERROR AT SEA scrolled across the bottom of the screen, as it would for many days to come. “GNN has just learned that the suicide boat that struck the Elkton is of Iranian origin,” the woman said, her voice quivering. “It’s a kind of boat called a Bladerunner. The original, British-built Bladerunner has a top speed of sixty-five knots per hour and can carry one or two Russian-made supertorpedoes.” She looked down at the sheet of paper in her hand. “The source of this information is said to be highly reliable.”
Copyright © 2011 by William S. Cohen