The Devil’s Alternative
by Frederick Forsyth
Viking, 432 pp., $12.95
The Fifth Horseman
by Larry Collins, by Dominique Lapierre
Simon and Schuster, 478 pp., $13.95
by Arnaud de Borchgrave, by Robert Moss
Crown, 374 pp., $12.95
The White House is going to be a crowded place for the next couple of years, if these three novels—laboriously positioned on the borders between fiction and “real life”—are any guide to what lies ahead. At one end of the Oval Office, in Frederick Forsyth’s vision of 1982, we have President William Matthews, a decent sort of fellow with “down-home personal tastes in clothing, food, and creature comforts.” At the other, in the Collins/Lapierre scenario which seems to be taking place in December, 1981, we have someone austerely described as “The President,” who is clearly a re-elected Jimmy Carter. And running between them is the Borchgrave/Moss version of the commander-in-chief, a populist type from Mississippi called “Billy Connor.”
Office space will be in short supply in the West Wing too, since Matthews’s Assistant for National Security Affairs is Stanislaw Poklewski, “variously referred to…as ‘the Doctor’ or ‘that damned Polack.”’ Poklewski will presumably be on friendly terms with Connors’s NSC director, another hawkish chap by the name of Professor Milorad Yankovich. I suspect that neither of them will care much for the director designated by Collins/Lapierre, Jack Eastman. He is “a former Air Force major general who had taken the place of Zbigniew Brzezinski in the corner office of the White House’s West Wing made famous by Henry Kissinger.” Compared to the two Eastern Europeans, Eastman is a pallid functionary, devoid of geo-political vision, and we may safely conclude that at least by the end of 1983 Poklewski and Yankovich will have engineered his downfall.
Eastman had better hang on through 1982 all the same, if only to monitor paper flow in the frightful crises that lie in store. Gazing into their crystal ball, Collins and Lapierre envision the following: on December 13 of next year the president will get a letter from Muammar Qaddafi, president of Libya, announcing that unless the Israelis withdraw from the West Bank and from east Jerusalem he will detonate an H-bomb hidden in Manhattan in forty-eight hours. Within twelve months of this emergency, Forsyth’s man in the Oval Office will be apprised that a faction in the Kremlin is proposing to overrun Western Europe and that a consequent thermonuclear exchange seems entirely probable.
Connors, Borchgrave and Moss’s version of the president, will have problems too numerous for concise iteration. His vice president, CIA director, and varying advisers are all victims, witting or unwitting, of Soviet penetration. These same Soviets have accomplished a takeover of Saudi Arabia and terminal Finlandization seems just around the corner.
None of the three novels seems to suggest that Ronald Reagan will be in charge. Perhaps, since we may assume that they were completed and sent to the publishers before the New Hampshire primary, all five authors thought that such a possibility transcended the bounds of plausible forecast. Borchgrave and Moss are indeed so distraught at the decline of the West that Carter has, in their view, already been …