Harris's smartly rendered, admirably detailed exploration of the bizarre, violent road from Iran-Contra to the prosecution of Panamanian General Manuel Noriega synthesizes three distinct stories involving everyone from the Medéllín cocaine cartel to CIA Director William Casey, Oliver North, and assorted generals, federal agents and state's attorneys. During the Reagan-era cocaine wars, ambitious DEA agents went after Noriega for allowing cartels to ship drugs from and launder money in Panama. On the other hand, the autocratic, ruthless Noriega had long been the go-to man for CIA and covert military operations against Central American communism. Veteran author Harris (The League,
etc.) persuasively argues that the dictator's cartel business overlapped with CIA incursions, primarily against the Nicaraguan Sandinista government. Finally, Iran-Contra's rapid 1986 unraveling caused Noriega's American protectors to betray him. Following George Bush's election, unprecedented U.S. military action into Panama—costing 28 U.S. and numerous Panamanian lives—deposed Noriega, who then faced a Florida grand jury. (DEA executives, horrified by this pursuit of their onetime asset, nearly derailed the responsible agents' careers.) Harris portrays Noriega as the ultimate grifter and certain key American players as quasi-heroes: DEA agents struggling against bureaucracy, the dictator's sleazy legal team and former partners who turned state's evidence and Canal Zone military authorities with the unwelcome task of enforcing the State Department's capricious demands. Although his sometimes purple prose relies too much on unnamed sources, Harris's investigative epic of governmental malfeasance and retribution reads like an international thriller. (May 21)
Forecast:Antiwar activist Harris will attract some conservative readers, and many academics and progressives, with his relatively balanced treatment. Harris will promote the book particularly in the Bay Area, where he lives, and the launch of the book will be televised on C-SPAN.