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The American Mission [Format Kindle]

Matthew Palmer
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Descriptions du produit

Extrait

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***

Copyright © 2014 by Matthew Palmer 

Prologue

May 7, 2006

Darfur

 

Death came on horseback.

From the air-conditioned comfort of the brigadier’s trailer, Alex Baines could just make out the black smudge clinging to the horizon like a storm cloud. Through binoculars, the picture was clearer. Ranks of horsemen clustered together, their iron lances glinting in the sun. Except for the AK-47 assault rifles slung over their shoulders, it was a scene straight out of the fourteenth century.

The Janjaweed militiamen were massing for what Alex could only assume was an imminent assault on the Riad refugee camp. He focused his attention on the one man with the power to prevent a massacre.

“General, I beg you, please defend this camp. Your peacekeepers are the only thing standing between these people and mass slaughter.”

Arush Singh of the Indian Army’s First Gorkha Rifles looked at Alex with heavy, owlish eyes and sipped his omnipresent cup of tea. As always, the creases on his khaki uniform were sharp and crisp.

“Quite out of the question, I’m afraid,” Singh said, his upper-crust accent betraying his years of schooling at Cambridge and Sandhurst. “My mandate is limited to self-defense. I don’t have the authority to shoot at the Janjaweed unless they start shooting at my men, something I very much doubt they will do.”

“That is an extremely narrow reading of your authorities. There are half a dozen UN Security Council resolutions that identify Camp Riad by name as a designated safe area. We have the responsibility to protect the people who came here on that basis and with our explicit guarantee of security.”

“Riad is officially a safe area. Unfortunately, however, the one resolution that specifically established my command provides a much more limited mandate. We are authorized to use lethal force only in self- defense. You know the resolution, Mr. Baines, and the reason for it. It is not an oversight or an accident. The mandate was carefully negotiated among the members of the Security Council. It’s high politics, and there’s nothing a simple military man can do about it.”

The problem, Alex knew, was China. Beijing was allied to the Sudanese government in Khartoum and skeptical of the UN mission in Darfur. The Chinese were hungry for access to Sudan’s vast oil reserves. Rather than veto the resolution that created UNFIS—the UN deployment in Sudan—and face international outrage, Beijing had quietly neutered the mission in tedious negotiations in New York over the scope of the mandate. That was the way things worked in the UN sys- tem, and it was why, despite deploying a six-hundred-man force of Bangladeshi and Uruguayan infantry, UNFIS was something of a paper tiger.

“We’ve checked this carefully with the lawyers in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations back at headquarters,” Singh continued. “They are quite clear on this point.”

“The lawyers aren’t here,” Alex insisted. “We are. What happens next is on us, and we can’t pass that responsibility back to New York.” There was a sharp edge to his voice. Dark tendrils of anger and fear clawed at his heart. He knew that he was losing the argument, and the consequences of losing were too terrible to contemplate.

“Our first priority now has to be the safety of the international staff,” Singh said. “We are here to help deliver aid and assistance, not to fight a war with the Janjaweed. The situation has grown too dangerous. We need to prepare for evacuation.”

“We have a responsibility to the refugees who put their faith in us.

The Zaghawa could have f led to the mountains when reports of a Janjaweed attack first surfaced two weeks ago. They stayed because I asked them to, because I promised that we could protect them.”

“You really shouldn’t have done that,” Singh sighed, sipping his tea.

 

When Alex opened the door to the trailer, the blast of heat hit him with an almost physical force. The cloud on the horizon had grown larger. Pulling the binoculars from his pocket, he surveyed the scene. A large man on a white horse rode across the front of the Janjaweed ranks. It was too far for Alex to see the rider’s face clearly, but he would have bet a sizable sum that it was Muhammed Al-Nour. Even by the standards of the Janjaweed, Al-Nour was a murdering thug with a well-deserved reputation for brutality.

Most of the camp’s ten thousand residents were members of the Zaghawa tribe. Arab Janjaweed militia had been battling the African Zaghawa for the better part of two decades. It was an unequal struggle teetering on the edge of genocide.

Pocketing the binoculars, Alex knew what he had to do next. He had to tell the Zaghawa elders that they were going to die.

As much as he would have liked to deny his own responsibility for what was about to happen, he knew that he could not. Washington had been afraid that a mass exodus from the camp would undermine the credibility of international efforts in Darfur and lead to a growing drumbeat of support for military intervention in Sudan. Moreover, the intelligence community was flatly contradicting the desert nomads’ predictions of a Janjaweed attack. The government’s multibillion-dollar reconnaissance satellites saw nothing that would substantiate their story. The CIA’s best analysts dismissed the reports as groundless.

The State Department had instructed Alex to persuade the Zaghawa leadership to keep their people in Camp Riad. In Alex’s six months in the camp, the elders had come to trust him. And when he advised them to stay, they listened to him.

Alex made his way through the squalid encampment toward the makeshift shelter where the tribal council met.

The elders were waiting.

Daoud Tirijani, de facto head of all of the Zaghawa tribesmen in the camp, stepped forward to greet him. He was a tall, thin man who looked to be in his late sixties. His sun-wrinkled skin served as testament to a harsh life in the desert. His robes were caked with the thick yellow dust that blew ceaselessly through the camp and settled in a gritty film over everything and everyone. A cloth shesh was wrapped around his head and neck, leaving only Daoud’s face exposed to the elements. Fatima, the tribesman’s principal wife, stood behind him holding one of his fifteen grandchildren. A girl. Alex bowed his head briefly in wordless apology but then looked the Zaghawa elder straight in the eye.

“I’m sorry, Daoud.”

The tribesman nodded. His expression did not change.

“The Janjaweed are going to come,” Alex continued. “General Singh will not fight. There may still be time for you to lead your people to the hills.”

Daoud shook his head. “It is too late for that.”

In a gesture of extraordinary generosity, Daoud reached out and clasped his forearm. Alex reciprocated, locking eyes with the Chief. For the Zaghawa, this was a mark of respect. Daoud was acknowledging that Alex had done all that he could. Somehow, this made him feel even worse.

“You are a great man, Daoud, a true leader. It has been a privilege to be your friend.”

The ground began to rumble under their feet. The Janjaweed were coming.

Daoud turned and barked orders in Zaghawa too quickly for Alex to follow. The small knot of elders dispersed, returning to the subclans they were charged with leading through this crisis.

Fatima walked up to Alex and handed her granddaughter to him. For a moment, he resisted the responsibility, overwhelmed by what it was Fatima was asking of him and ashamed of his reluctance to accept it. Then he took the girl. He did not know what else he could do.

“Her name is Anah,” she said.

Daoud’s granddaughter was stick thin. She could not have been more than six years old. She clung fiercely to Alex and did not cry. Anah was a brave girl.

Wordlessly, Fatima turned away and walked to stand beside her husband.

 

A Janjaweed charge is a fearsome thing to see. The militiamen preferred the intimacy of the spear and sword to the impersonal killing power of automatic rifles. Nearly a hundred riders on stout horses rode through the center of the camp like an armored fist. Their leveled lances cut down scores of camp residents as they tried to f lee. Alex saw one of the elders, a man he knew well, decapitated by a strike from a machete. There was nowhere to hide. The only hope for the camp residents was to stay alive long enough for the Janjaweed to sate their bloodlust.

A few peacekeepers in powder blue helmets stood and watched the slaughter. They carried their rifles slung harmlessly over their shoulders. The Janjaweed gave them a wide berth.

A few of the Zaghawa men tried to fight back, but they lacked training, experience, and weapons. Some tried to hide. Most tried to flee.

Alex saw two Janjaweed ride in parallel through the center of the camp with a chain suspended between their saddles, catching refugees around the knees and ankles, and sending them crashing to the ground. From behind a stack of crates stenciled with Australian f lags, Daoud stepped out in front of one of the riders, holding a length of iron pipe. Dodging the tip of the Janjaweed’s lance, he swung the heavy pipe in an arc that caught the rider on the shoulder and dumped him from the saddle. The militiaman fell hard and Daoud raised the pipe like a spear. Before he could deliver the blow, an Arab riding a white horse and wearing a black Bedouin-style headdress rode up behind him and stabbed Daoud in the neck with a curved sword. Alex recognized him from his picture in the CIA bio. It was Al-Nour.

The horse reared. The animal was so white that it seemed almost translucent in the desert sun. The muscles and veins under its skin were clearly visible. Alex recalled the passage from Revelation: I looked and there before me was a pale horse. Its rider was named death, and hell was following close behind.

With a speed and grace that belied his size, Al-Nour jumped from his horse and wrapped a length of cord around Daoud’s ankles. Re- mounting, the Janjaweed leader dragged Daoud’s body down the main road of the camp. As he rode past, Al-Nour looked at Alex and Anah with a sneer playing on his lips. He pointed his bloody blade at Alex’s head but did not lift it to strike.

Alex held on tightly to Anah. He did not dare put her down. Even as he kept her safe, however, he drew strength from her. Anah had been entrusted to him. Here in the shadow of death, the survival of this one small creature was his sole responsibility.

Slowly and carefully, Alex made his way through the maze of crude shelters, moving in the direction of the trailers that housed the international staff. He whispered reassurances to Anah in English. It did not matter if she understood the words.

The killing became less efficient as the riders broke up into smaller groups and spread out through the vast camp. A few stopped murdering long enough to rape.

Alex was light-headed and dizzy. His vision narrowed to the point where he felt he was looking at the world through a long tube. Anah grew heavy in his arms as she clung to him with her face pressed tightly against his shoulder.

He had nearly reached the trailers when the cavalry arrived. A small armada of helicopters appeared in the sky over Camp Riad, and for a moment Alex dared to hope that the Janjaweed would be pushed back. The deadly Cobra gunships stayed silent, however, and circled above in lazy figure eights as four massive U.S. Marine Corps Sea Knights set down near the trailers. The blast from the Sea Knights’ twin rotors sent sand and shelter material f lying in every direction. Even be- fore the helicopters had settled on their landing gear, efficient Marine rifle squads had dismounted and secured the perimeter. They did nothing to challenge the Janjaweed.

Alex assessed that the one Marine carrying a BlackBerry rather than a rifle was the mission commander. When he got closer, Alex could see the oak-leaf insignia of a lieutenant colonel and a name tag over his breast pocket that read Harrow.

“Colonel Harrow, I’m Alex Baines with the State Department. This is a UN safe area, and the Janjaweed militia are in violation of multiple Security Council resolutions. Between your Marines and the UN peace- keeping contingent, there’s more than enough strength to push the Janjaweed back and save what’s left of this camp.”

“I reckon you might be right about that, sir,” the colonel replied in a soft Georgian drawl. “But it’s not in my orders. This is a NEO, a non- combatant evacuation. My orders are to get you and the UN civilian staff out of here.”

“The international staff will all fit on one Sea Knight,” Alex insisted. “You can evacuate at least a hundred Zaghawa on the other helicopters. We should start with the sick, the injured, and the children.”

“No can do, sir. Not in my orders. Besides, we can’t have refugees swarming the helos looking for a way out. It’s too dangerous. I need to ask you to get on board now, please.”

Alex felt the blood pounding in his temples. He fought to control his anger and failed. Without thought, he lashed out with a fist, catching the Marine colonel on the jaw and knocking him to the ground. Two young Marines stepped in quickly to defend their commander. One grunt grabbed Alex’s free arm and twisted it behind his back. The other reached for Anah but stopped short when he saw the savage look in Alex’s eyes.

Harrow rose from the ground and held up his hand. “It’s okay. Let him go. In truth, I don’t really blame him. But get this man on one of the birds. If he resists, you can restrain him . . . gently.” A trickle of blood ran down Harrow’s chin from his newly split lip.

“Get your shoulder into it next time,” he said, before turning to greet General Singh.

Alex’s guards escorted him to the door of one of the helicopters. A Marine sergeant supervising the boarding stopped him. He looked at Anah and then at Alex. “I’m sorry, sir. No locals on the helos. Colonel’s orders. Internationals only, sir.”

“She’s my daughter,” Alex replied, shouting over the noise. Even as he said it, he realized it was true.

The Marine clearly did not believe that the underfed African girl in the dirty gray shawl was Alex’s child.

“Uh, do you have any identification papers for her, sir, a passport or something?”

“Her passport is in my travel bag in my trailer on the other side of the camp. Do you think we should stop there on the way out and pick it up?”

The Marine shook his head. He had real problems to deal with. Refugee paperwork was not his concern. He gestured for Alex and Anah to board.

When all of the international staff was on board, the Sea Knights rose with surprising agility from the desert surface. Two of the helicopters were f lying empty.

Through the window, Alex had a perfect view of the chaos and carnage in the camp. A line of shiny white UN vehicles was pulling out onto the main road to El Genaina, carrying the well-armed peacekeepers to safety.

 

Three Years Later

1

June 12, 2009

Conakry

 

Check this one out. Twenty-two years old. Absolutely stunning. Says she wants to go to Disney World, but she has a one-way ticket to New York. Why do they always say that they’re going to Disney World? You’d think they’d just won the Super Bowl or something.”

Hamilton Scott, Alex’s partner on the visa line at the U.S. Embassy in Conakry, Guinea, leaned around the narrow partition that separated their interview booths, dangling an application for a tourist visa. The woman in the visa photo clipped to the upper corner bore a striking resemblance to the supermodel Naomi Campbell.

It was admittedly unprofessional, but Alex understood what Ham was doing. Visa-line work could be excruciatingly monotonous, and in a third-world hellhole like Conakry, the applicants would say or do just about anything to gain entrance to the United States. The vice consuls often resorted to black humor or informal games like Visa Applicant Bingo as a way to keep themselves sane.

“Do you think she’d sleep with me for a visa?” Ham asked with mock seriousness.

“Twenty-two? Isn’t she a little old for you, Ham?”

“Ordinarily, yes. But this girl’s exceptional. And there’s no way she qualifies as a tourist.”

“Qualify” was a kind of code word in visa work. The law said that anyone applying for a visa to the United States had to prove that he or she was not secretly intending to emigrate. The challenge for the applicants was demonstrating that they had strong and compelling reasons to come back after visiting the U.S. In practice, this meant money. Rich people were “qualified” for visas. Poor people struggled to overcome the supposition that they were economic migrants. In the euphemistic language of government, they were “unqualified.”

Ham turned back to the applicant and explained to Ms. Hadja Malabo that, sadly, she lacked the qualifications for an American visa and should consider reapplying when her “situation” had changed. Ham’s French was f lawless, a consequence of four years at a boarding school in Switzerland. He was polite but, Alex thought, somewhat brusque in rejecting Ms. Malabo’s application.

Ham leaned back around the partition.

“I’m almost through my stack, only four or five left. How you doing?”

Alex looked at the pile of application packages still in front of him.

There were at least twenty left. He and Ham were the only two inter- viewing officers at post, which meant about fifty nonimmigrant visa interviews a day for each of them. Ham made his decisions with a brutal efficiency. Alex took more time with each applicant. Most would come away empty-handed, but he wanted to give each person who came into his interview booth the sense that they had had a chance to make their case and that the consul had at least given them a fair shot. For most Guineans, their brief moment with a consular officer was as close as they were going to get to the United States.

“I still have a few to go,” Alex admitted.

“Give me some of yours.” Ham reached over and took nearly half of the stack out of Alex’s in-box. “If we can finish in less than an hour, we can grab a sandwich and a beer at Harry’s bar. My treat. Gotta meet with the Ambassador after lunch to talk over the report on human trafficking I did for him last week.” Ham paused for a moment. “I’m sorry, Alex,” he said carefully. “You know I don’t mean to rub that in.”

The Ambassador had been giving Ham increasingly significant reporting responsibilities, something relatively rare for a first-tour Vice Consul but understandable given that Ham’s full name was Hamilton Wendell Scott III and that both I and II had been ambassadors in half a dozen countries. Ham was just punching his consular ticket in a hard- ship post, something all junior officers had to do, before heading off for the salons and soirees of Western Europe and a diplomatic career with an unlimited upside. No doubt, Ham’s father considered his son’s stint in Conakry a “character-building” experience. He could bore future generations of American diplomats with war stories about life on the visa line in Guinea when he was ambassador to Sweden or Hungary or some such place.

For Alex, however, stamping passports looked like a permanent fixture of the next thirty years of his career. There wasn’t much else a Foreign Service Officer who had lost his security clearances was good for. The contrast between Ham’s upward trajectory and the flat, featureless plain that represented Alex’s career prospects could not have been any starker. Both knew it, and both generally avoided talking about it.

Having crossed the invisible line, however, Ham seemed deter- mined to charge forward.

“Have you given any more thought to the Centrex offer, Alex?” he asked with characteristic directness.

“I’ve written two letters,” Alex replied, setting the passport he had picked up back on top of the pile. “One accepting the job and one turning it down. I’ve almost sent each one of them at least five times.”

“It’s a good job. Centrex Resources is a top-f light firm with global reach. Oil and gas is a big business in Africa now, and you’d be doing real policy work for them.”

“It’s a great opportunity,” Alex agreed. “In truth, I’m not quite certain why they reached out to me like that. I didn’t apply. It’s tempting. But my appeal is pending with Diplomatic Security, and I’m hoping that they’ll agree to restore my clearances.” After a brief pause, he added, “This time.”

“Alex, DS is like the Gestapo. They don’t own up to their mistakes. And without clearances, processing visa applications is about all you’ll be able to do in the Service. Head of government relations for the Africa division at a company like Centrex is just another kind of diplomacy. I think you should jump at it.”

Ham’s assessment of the odds DS would restore Alex’s clearances was unsparing but almost certainly accurate.

Alex remembered vividly the look of satisfaction on the face of the low-level agent who had informed him that the Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security had decided that—as a result of both his evident issues of mental instability and his failure to seek treatment through authorized channels—Alex’s access to information would be restricted to “Sensitive But Unclassified.” In other words, he could use the depart- mental phone book and read the press guidance, but that was about it. For an ambitious young political officer, it was a professional death sentence.

What had really burned Alex was that the sanctimonious prick with an army-regulation haircut had been reading to him from Alex’s medical file, including notes from his therapy sessions with Dr. Branch. The agent refused to explain how he had acquired the confidential records. Alex had told no one that he was seeing a shrink, and he had paid his bills in cash to avoid leaving a paper trail with the insurance company. Going to the State Department’s doctors wasn’t really an option either. Foreign Service Officers with Top Secret security clearances knew that their access to information could be “suspended indefinitely” if they sought counseling for mental or emotional trauma.

“February fifth,” the agent read, “patient presents with nightmares, headaches, and trouble concentrating. Occasional panic attacks and difficulty with emotional control. Preliminary diagnosis of post- traumatic stress disorder related to service in Darfur. Prescribed Lexapro at thirty milligrams daily.”

There were things that Alex had told Dr. Branch that he had never told anyone else. That this officious little martinet was somehow privy to this private information was infuriating.

“March thirteenth,” the agent continued, “patient reports that the nightmares are increasing in both frequency and intensity. Vivid images of violence in Darfur coupled with feelings of inadequacy and guilt. Maybe a side effect of current medication; possible root issues with patient’s loss of his father at an impressionable age. Recommend switching to Zoloft, beginning with twenty milligrams daily and step- ping up to fifty depending on patient response.”

The agent had read a few more entries, but it was cruelty without purpose. The judgment had already been delivered from on high. Diplomatic Security had decreed Alex Baines a dangerous risk to the safe- guarding of classified information. The interview was just checking a box. At the end, the agent had handed Alex a form for him to sign, acknowledging that he had been informed that he was no longer allowed to either access or produce classified information. He instructed Alex to keep a copy for his personal files.

Maybe they were right not to trust him, Alex reasoned. Sometimes he didn’t even trust himself. It had been nearly three years since the sack of Camp Riad, but not a day went by that he didn’t think about it. Closing his eyes, he could see Janjaweed militia on horseback riding at full tilt through the crowded refugee camp, automatic rifles slung over their backs and polished black lances in their hands. He could hear the wet smack of a spearhead being driven clean through a human body, the incessant buzzing of f lies, and, above all, the rhythmic cadence of helicopter blades beating the dry desert air.

“Alex, you still with me?” Ham asked. “You looked like you went to Bermuda for a moment there.”

“No, not Bermuda.” Not by a long shot. “Just thinking about what you said. It makes a lot of sense, but it’s still a damn difficult thing to do. I know it’s a bit corny, but this is an honorable profession. It’s about ideas and ideals. Centrex is about maximizing shareholder profit.”

Rather than laughing at him as Alex had half expected, Ham nodded thoughtfully. Under his somewhat more cynical exterior, the son and grandson of American ambassadors believed the same thing.

“Have you asked Anah what she thinks?”

Alex brightened at the mention of his daughter.

“She’s not thinking about much these days except summer vacation. She can hardly wait.”

“Maine again?”

“She wouldn’t miss it.”

One of the challenges of raising children in the Foreign Service was that the constant moving around the globe made it hard for kids to develop a sense of belonging. They grew up as rootless “third-culture kids” who did not look on the United States as home. Many families tried to compensate for this with regular visits to someplace in America that the kids could think of as theirs. For Alex and Anah, it was Alex’s mother’s house in Brunswick. Alex could get only a few weeks off from work, but Anah typically stayed in Maine for the entire summer. She loved the beach and the tide pools and the dark pine forests. Most of all, however, she loved that there was so much family. Alex suspected that it reminded her on some level of the big, sprawling tribal family she had come from. Anah had a score of cousins in and around Brunswick who were her constant companions for the summer months. They had embraced the black girl from Sudan as family without reservation.

The youngest of three, Alex was the only one who had left Brunswick and the first in his family to finish college. His brother had done a year at the University of Maine in Orono in forestry before dropping out and going to work for the paper company. His sister worked part- time at a coffee shop and full-time as the wife of a lobsterman. Their father had been a mechanic at the naval air station where he had worked on the P-3 Orions that patrolled the Atlantic coast looking for Soviet submarines. A longtime smoker, he had died of throat cancer when Alex was twelve.

Reluctantly, Alex and Ham turned back to the stacks of passports in front of them. The application on the top of Alex’s pile belonged to an elderly man with the unwieldy name Rafiou Alfa Ismael Pascal Gushein. In Guinea, having six or seven names with a mishmash of tribal, Is- lamic, and French roots was not at all unusual. Gushein entered the interview booth with a young man who introduced himself in French as the applicant’s nephew. His uncle, he explained, spoke neither English nor French, only the tribal Soussou language.

Alex sat on a bar stool behind two inches of bulletproof glass. A narrow slit allowed him to pass documents back and forth with the applicant. The glass wall established a psychological as well as a physical barrier between the consular officer and the applicant that was utterly intentional. It made it easier for the officers to say no.

Alex appraised Mr. Gushein while he f lipped quickly through the passport. The applicant looked considerably older than his sixty-four years with his snow white hair and deeply lined face, but he stood tall and straight in the booth, and looked Alex right in the eye with an easy confidence. Alex pegged him for a village elder or headman. Someone used to automatic respect.

The passport was old and worn, but unused. A series of stamped dates on the back page indicated that Mr. Gushein had applied for a U.S. visa six times previously and been refused each time. One of Alex’s Guinean staff had pulled the old applications out of the file and bundled them with the passport. Scribbled notes from previous generations of consular officers explained the reason for the refusal.

“Son living illegally in the United States,” said one. “Poor risk,” said another.

Two of the previous forms said simply “214(b),” the section of immigration law that makes clear all visa applicants are assumed to be intending immigrants who must establish strong and compelling ties to their home country. Another two of the applications were blank, handled by consular officers who were apparently too busy to even explain their reasons for a decision of no consequence to them but of enormous importance to Rafiou Alfa Ismael Pascal Gushein.

“Mr. Gushein,” Alex asked, “why do you want to go to the United States?”

His nephew translated into Soussou, a language of which Alex knew no more than a few words.

“My son lives there,” the nephew replied, translating Mr. Gushein’s response. “I have not seen him for many years.”

“Where does he live?”

“Chicago.”

“What does he do in Chicago?”

“He cleans the windows of very big buildings.” “Is he paying for your trip?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know if your son is legally in the United States?”

“I don’t know. I’m sure he would rather be, but he is a headstrong boy. He broke my rules often enough. His dream was to go to America. I know that is hard to do for poor people like my son. He would do what was necessary to make this dream real.”

“Mr. Gushein, how long do you intend to spend in the United

States? And how can I be certain that you will come home to Guinea?” “I will be in your country for two weeks. I must come home before

it is time to shear the sheep.”

There were more questions he could ask, but Alex didn’t really need any more information. It was clear to him why previous interviewers had rejected Gushein’s application: They were trying to punish the son for breaking U.S. immigration law by denying the father the right to visit. Alex didn’t share that philosophy. The only relevant question was whether it was reasonable to believe Mr. Gushein would return to Guinea after his visit to Chicago.

Immigration law gave consuls considerable discretion. In this case, Alex could decide to issue or not issue the visa as he saw fit. There was no appeal. Ham would certainly have said no without a second thought. Hell, he might have been one of the interviewing officers who had turned down the earlier applications.

Gushein’s explanation that he would need to return to his village in time for sheep-shearing season was perfectly credible. It was the right time of year. In the villages, livestock was a rough measure of a man’s wealth, and shearing was an important event on the agricultural calendar that governed rural life in West Africa.

“Mr. Gushein,” Alex said, after perhaps twenty seconds of ref lection. “Can you come back this afternoon to pick up your visa?”

When the nephew translated this request, Gushein nodded slowly, but Alex could see tears forming at the corners of his eyes. He had come in expecting to be rejected and had not allowed himself the luxury of hope. The Soussou elder put one hand against the wall to steady himself while his nephew gripped him by the other elbow.

“Merci, merci,” he said in accented but clear French, maybe one of only two or three words that he knew in that language.

Some days, Alex thought, the job wasn’t all bad.

The glow didn’t last for long. Alex had nearly finished his final interview when the Consul General shouted for him from the comfort of his leather “executive model” desk chair.

“Alex, I want to see you in my office right now.”

Ronald R. Ronaldson was both Alex’s boss and the embodiment of his deepest professional fears. R Cubed had once been a rising star in the Foreign Service. Somewhere along the way, however, he had fallen from grace—alcohol, it was widely assumed—and found himself at fifty commanding a small consulate in a West African shithole. He was angry about his fate and took it out on his subordinates through the infliction of petty indignities.

“Sure thing,” Alex replied in as upbeat a tone as he could muster.

“Let me finish with this last case, and I’ll be right there.” “No, Alex. Right now.”

Alex made his apologies to the last applicant, a seventeen-year-old kid with good grades at the local convent school and a scholarship offer from Wake Forest, and made his way back to the CG’s office. French doors connecting his private office to the suite provided the Consul General with a commanding view of the entire section, or would have if Ron Ronaldson hadn’t kept the heavy curtains on the inside drawn tight to facilitate the occasional midafternoon nap.

“What can I do for you, Ron?” Alex tried hard to keep any edge of impatience or irritation out of his voice, but he was not quite successful.

“I’ve been going over the statistics on visa issuance,” Ron began. From the vaguely glassy look in the CG’s eyes, Alex suspected that R Cubed had been conferring with either Johnnie Walker or Jack Daniel, his two most reliable confidants. “Frankly, Alex, your issuance rate is simply too high. You’re nearly fifteen points higher than Ham and well ahead of the average for the region. I need you to bring that number down before it’s time to send in the quarterly report.”

“Why does the issuance rate matter? The real problem should be the overstay rate. There my numbers are pretty good. I may issue more visas than Ham, but in percentage terms, I don’t have any more of my visa cases picked up on immigration violations than he does. Less than two percent, actually.”

“I don’t give a good goddamn about that. The issuance rate is the number Consular Affairs sees, and I don’t want them f lagging my consulate as the weak link in West Africa. We’d be seen as a terrorism risk. I’m simply telling you to get your numbers down.”

“Ron, are you telling me that I need to start rejecting qualified people who traveled two days and forked over a hundred and forty dollars for three minutes of my time just to bring our numbers in line with the bell curve?” Alex knew that this approach was not going to produce the desired result, but he couldn’t help himself.

Anger flared briefly in Ron’s eyes before they returned to their glassy norm. “If you want to put it that way, Alex, then yes. That’s exactly what I’m telling you to do. You can start with this gentleman.” Ron pulled a passport and visa application out of his in-tray. Alex could see from the piles of applications and passports that the CG had been re- viewing the morning’s issuances. “You approved a visa earlier for a man named Rafiou Alfa Ismael Pascal Gushein.” Ron mangled the pronunciation of the unfamiliar name. “The man is an obvious bad risk. When he comes back this afternoon, you tell him your decision has been over- turned by a more experienced officer and that he does not qualify for a visa.” Ron made no effort to hide the satisfaction he took in issuing this humiliating instruction, and Alex felt his ears begin to burn.

“I know you feel that consular work is a terrible comedown for you, Baines. And, frankly, you’re not particularly good at it. You’re too soft and too slow. Ham is in a different class. He’s just passing through the consular universe. But you’re in this for the long haul. Get used to it. Stop thinking you’re better than this. Better than us.”

Alex had no reply. Ron was wrong about Gushein, but not about Alex. He left the CG’s office without saying a word.

That afternoon, Mr. Gushein and his nephew came back for the visa Alex had promised them. R Cubed had pulled open the curtains in his office and opened the French doors to provide a good view of Alex’s humiliation.

“Listen,” Alex said to Gushein’s nephew. “We have a problem. The big man back there doesn’t want me to give your uncle a visa. He doesn’t think Mr. Gushein will come back to Guinea after visiting his son. I don’t agree. I’m giving your uncle the visa, but you need to make it look like I’ve turned you down.” Alex spoke in rapid-fire French mixed with a heavy dose of Guinean slang that he knew Ron wouldn’t understand. The CG’s French had never progressed much past “Frère Jacques.”

“Please tell your uncle that he needs to convince the fat man back

there that I’ve just ripped his heart out of his chest. Do you think he can do that?”

“No problem.” The nephew spoke softly but rapidly to Gushein, whose face almost seemed to cave in with sadness. Alex wondered for a moment if his nephew had told him that he would not be getting a visa. No matter. He would learn the truth soon enough. Alex had printed the visa himself and placed it in the passport rather than allowing one of the local staff to do it. There was a record of the decision in the computer and Ron, of course, had access to the system, but he was generally pretty lax about administrative controls. Alex doubted very much that he would ever check.

Alex heard R Cubed slam the French doors, which was followed by the sharp hiss of the curtains being drawn. Time to celebrate his triumph with a Jack and Coke, easy on the Coke.

Gushein left the consulate leaning on his nephew for support. When he reached the door, he turned to look back at Alex and gave him an almost imperceptible nod. So he knew. The old man would have made a hell of an actor.

Alex realized that he had just made two important decisions. The first was that Mr. Gushein was getting on a plane for Chicago if Alex had to buy the ticket himself. The second was which letter he was going to send off to the Centrex people.

Revue de presse

“There’s the mission the public knows, and the mission we’ll never see. Matthew Palmer knows both, which is what makes this novel crackle with complexity and authority. What a debut.”—Brad Meltzer, #1 New York Times bestselling author

“A thriller of great integrity and intelligence…I highly recommend it.”—Douglas Preston, #1 New York Times bestselling author

The American Mission is one of those wonderful novels, where great storytelling is woven through with the intricate detail only a knowledgeable insider can supply. I loved it!”—Iris Johansen, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Live to See Tomorrow

“Superb!...With The American Mission, Palmer joins the exalted ranks of Follett, Forsythe, and Clancy.”—Tess Gerritsen, International Bestselling Author

“Reminiscent of Graham Greene, Mr. Palmer is far better than John le Carre. This is the sort of book you don’t want to end.”—Gayle Lynds, New York Times bestselling author of The Book of Spies

 

Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 1432 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 422 pages
  • Editeur : G.P. Putnam's Sons (26 juin 2014)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ASIN: B00G3L14Y6
  • Synthèse vocale : Activée
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  • Moyenne des commentaires client : 4.0 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (1 commentaire client)
  • Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon: n°289.437 dans la Boutique Kindle (Voir le Top 100 dans la Boutique Kindle)
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Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
As a career dipomat who served in the Congo/Zaire, I can attest to the fine detail of Mathew Palmer's "American Mission". I also give him the highest marks as a writer and born adventurer.
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Amazon.com: 4.1 étoiles sur 5  54 commentaires
14 internautes sur 15 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Evil Prevails When Good Men Fail To Act 28 avril 2014
Par Scott E. High - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit (De quoi s'agit-il?)
Matthew Palmer has gotten dangerously close in his first novel to defining what many politicians' refer to as "defending American interests" overseas. Unfortunately, one way or another, it always seems to be about business and making money--especially in oil and minerals. The major difference in how this is accomplished comes in two forms: 1. The bad guys come in and play the corruption game, paying off the various players and raping the land for their own benefit, or 2. The good guys come in, bringing schools and medical care, introduce a new form of government and allow the population to share in the wealth and prosperity.

This is the first novel I have read that explains what the State Department does at the local level in developing countries, both the mundane tasks Foreign Service officers deal with at the lowest levels and also what the senior players are involved in as far as political games. Fictional or not, this story walks you through a bloodless coup in the Congo and defies you to identify who the good guys and bad guys really are. Just when you think that you have a grip on it, someone you trust puts on a different hat and a new game with different rules begins. "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer."

I found this novel to be extremely entertaining and refreshingly open about what roles Foreign Service officers are sometimes forced to play. Well written and candid in its presentation, you will find this an enjoyable read. Great debut novel!
11 internautes sur 12 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Pretty good debut effort 11 mars 2014
Par Brian Baker - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit (De quoi s'agit-il?)
"The American Mission" is a novel of political intrigue somewhat reminiscent of books from the 60s and 70s by authors such as Fletcher Knebel, or Burdick and Lederer ("The Ugly American"). It takes place in today's Congo, and follows the story of a career American diplomat -- previously disgraced for his actions during a massacre in Darfur -- who is reassigned to the American diplomatic mission in the Congo.

Alex Baines (the diplomat) is driven to rehabilitate his career in the State Department, and finds himself becoming involved with the people who inhabit a small village at the confluence of two Congolese rivers far in the backside of nowhere, who have discovered rich mineral wealth on their tribal lands.

When the villagers decide to develop those resources for themselves, they've placed themselves at odds with powerful national and international forces intent on securing that wealth for themselves.

As the conflict intensifies, Baines finds himself caught between several factions, trying to do what's right for the villagers as well as his own country, and finding that the differences seem to be irreconcilable.

As he tries to deal with international mining interests, Congolese rebels, the local dictator, adversaries in his own embassy, and invading rebels from neighboring Sudan, the game gets ever more deadly as the stakes continue to increase.

Though this book does start out a bit slow, the pace steadily builds. The plot is believable (and "classic", as I said), the characterizations are well-realized, and the settings are colorfully portrayed. It's a very interesting portrayal of a situation that's all too common and believable, as it takes place in Africa, the continent on which nothing ever seems to work out right, and where corruption is rife.

I think author Palmer did a good job, and I definitely look forward to more from him in the future, particularly as his skills mature.

A solid 4 stars.
8 internautes sur 9 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Well done debut thriller with intrigue, conspiracy and likeable characters 6 mars 2014
Par QueenKatieMae - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit (De quoi s'agit-il?)
The beginning chapter of The American Mission begins with a deadly raid on a refugee camp in the Sudan. American Foreign Service Officer (FSO) Alex Baines escapes, but the fallout ruins his career and changes his life. An ambassador in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and lifelong friend, calls Alex asking for his talents as a FSO that promises career redemption. Alex knows and loves the DRC having spent time there in the Peace Corp.

The DRC Alex remembers has changed greatly since his days in the Peace Corp. On his first day back he is sent deep into the jungle to negotiate a hostage release from the terrorist guerrilla leader known as The Hammer of God. A US-based mining company, Consolidated Mining, has lost its engineers and six Americans.

The first part of the book gives the reader a detailed look into what makes the Foreign Service such an important branch of American diplomacy throughout the world. And the author, having worked twenty years in the FS, is able to share his invaluable insight and knowledge in this debut novel. However, I wonder if the author ever lived a life like Alex Baines because the second half of the book reads like something out of a Clive Cussler novel. Surrounded by conspiracy and danger, Alex strikes out to make a change in a country invaded by terrorists and foreign mining companies.

While The American Mission is an exciting and entertaining read, it's only fair to let you know that nothing in the book will surprise an experienced reader of thrillers. If you read LeCarre or Ludlum, you will know the ending of this book. But that does not detract from the captivating story, it's likeable characters, or it's intrigue. And the fact that former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright gives it a thumbs up increases the book's street cred.

The book comes out in June, just in time for beach weather and poolside reading.
Highly recommended.
4 internautes sur 4 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Entertaining and thought-provoking 6 juillet 2014
Par L. G. Paisley - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Format Kindle
Alex Baines is a Foreign Service Officer working in the visa department of the US Embassy in Conakry, Guinea, as a form of government purgatory related to his previous assignment. He is called by his old boss and mentor and is given the chance to be restored to inner circle of the Embassy in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. He soon finds himself in a conflict between what is theoretically his job as a representative of the United States to advocate for economic opportunity for American companies abroad and defending the people and land of the Continent of Africa against exploitation by those same companies who want to extract the riches of the earth, even if it means destruction of lives and the land.

For some reason, Africa has remained the Dark Continent in contemporary fiction, getting passing attention from most authors (and probably little thought by most Westerners) . This story is set entirely in Africa in a way that reflects Palmer’s respect, admiration and hopes for the people of that land. He shows the humanity of the people and the common Western misconceptions of African politics and challenges without being condescending.

This book is in written in the ‘thriller’ genre and style, so you can’t look to it for lyrical prose or extended contemplation of some facet of the human experience. However, it goes well beyond the formulaic thriller cliches of a former military/police expert who is brought out of semi-retirement for one more mission who calls on his nearly super-human abilities to save the world. The American Mission has an important conflict that really goes beyond the pages of the book and uses an engaging story to describe it.

The prose is simple and effective--Palmer isn’t trying to wow anyone with descriptions or literary pretentions, and that is fine because the story moves on its own.

The conflict isn’t subtle, but Palmer doesn’t beat the reader over the head with it either. There is plenty to think about long after the story is finished. Frankly, this story should make Americans think twice about what their leaders are doing abroad and question how their values are represented to the world.

Palmer is a 20-year veteran of the Foreign Service and thus has personal insight into the workings of diplomacy and the less-glamorous grind of representing America abroad. The glimpses into the inner workings of diplomacy and embassy operations are fascinating and really add to the story.

I hope this is just the first in a series of intelligent, thought-provoking fiction by Matthew Palmer, shining a long-overdue light on Africa.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book with the expectation that I would provide an honest review.
4 internautes sur 4 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Great Thriller! 30 juin 2014
Par Anthony Agbay - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
Every so often, a book comes along that you can't put down very easily. It doesn't have to be the most mind-blowing plot, or crazy adventure, but everything in it just works together correctly. I was lucky to get and advanced reader copy of The American Mission by Matthew Palmer. I really enjoy this genre of books and am always looking for new authors and novels. The American Mission is one of those books that you can't put down until the end. It has some flaws, but all in all, I really enjoyed the book.

The book follows Alex Baines, a Foreign Service officer working for the State Department. After witnessing a massacre in Darfur while he and other UN personnel stood by, he found himself stripped of his security clearances and unable to move up the career ladder. When his old mentor, Howard Spencer, asked him to join him in the Congo, Alex jumps on the opportunity to start his career again, but finds himself in a whole new set of trouble between political scandals and shady companies.

One of the strong points of the book is it's plot and it's realistic nature. Books like The American Mission rely upon realism to craft an engaging plot behind all of the action and controversy. As a former worker with the U.S. Foreign Service, Palmer has first-hand experience of the work and issues with working in diplomatic positions. His knowledge clearly makes itself apparent in the book in the form of extra little details that round out each scene and environment. Even the plot itself doesn't feel too far out of line with what could possibly happen in the modern world today. Nothing felt out of place and the plot never escalated out of control.

More importantly, it just was a fun book to read. The pacing was a little bit slow at the beginning as Palmer worked to set up all the parts for the end, but there were a few twists and turns sprinkled about that really kept things interesting. It's enough to keep you guessing and engaged without making things too complicated. The characters are fairly deep, each with their own motivation. I did feel that the end came a little bit abruptly. It could have used some more fleshing out, but it still was worth the wait.

Overall, I totally enjoyed The American Mission. The story line was really good, the characters were interesting, and all in all, it just was really fun to read. It isn't without it's flaws, but Palmer has made a very good impression with this book. I, myself, couldn't stop reading the book until the end. If you are interested in authors like Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton, this is a good addition to your shelf. Even if you aren't, then the book will be a perfect entry point to get you really interested in the genre.
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