Clear and Present Danger takes as a premise that there are people in the world who are utterly evil. Ernesto Escobedo is one such character. He considers himself to be a man of honor, but his sense of honor is twisted. He gives a follower the "honor" of executing a traitor to the drug cartel because he feels he owes the man a favor. The execution involves the rape of the traitor's wife and daughter before his eyes; then the family members are murdered one at a time, the traitor last. Escobedo remembers with satisfaction when he did the same thing in his youth; rape and torture are to him honorable ways to assert dominance over one's enemies. This is sickening, but Escobedo's rationalizations are frighteningly plausible.
Betrayal is another significant theme in Clear and Present Danger. Much of the novel's suspense hinges on the fact that any mistake can bring on immediate retribution; so schemers are constantly in danger. Escobedo schemes to become a political leader. His aide Felix Cortez schemes to kill Escobedo and the other leaders of the drug cartel and take control of the drug operation to undermine the United States with a flood of drugs.
There are schemers on the other side of the conflict, as well. The nastiest of these is Vice Admiral James Cutter, who urges the president to launch a secret war against the Colombian drug cartel. But soon after the clandestine American force begins to operate in Colombia, Cutter finds himself trapped between his responsibilities for deaths caused by the war and his desire to have an unblemished record. To escape his dilemma, he conspires with Cortez to abandon the American soldiers, who have been "inserted" into Colombia. Even the well-intentioned scheme of the Coast Guard crew at the novel's beginning results in deaths. The schemes and counter schemes pull people deeper into confusion.
The title Clear and Present Danger suggests another of the novel's themes: that of the limitations of presidential power. "It is determined that drug smuggling operations are a clear and present danger to U.S. national security. The president authorizes the judicious use of military force in accord with established operational guidelines to protect our citizens," declares a key document in the novel.
In an emotional moment, the president has publicly...
(The entire section is 578 words.)