Like The Hunt for Red October (1984), and Clancy's other novels, Clear and Present Danger is episodic; the attack against the drug cartel serves to focus the actions of the many characters. This focus helps keep events in perspective; everything a character does is measured against its effectiveness in hurting or aiding the cartel. Bashing drug smugglers is likely to appeal to many readers, but Clancy avoids pandering to those who expect the complete destruction of vile villains. Instead, the novel explores the moral ambiguities and confusions of the situation.
Cutter seems right at the novel's start when he insists that the drug cartel needs to be hit hard by America's might. The reader finds himself whole-heartedly agreeing, but as the plot progresses the reader becomes mired in the consequences of Cutter's statement. At first, the attacks on drug manufacturing facilities are all excitement, with evil men being killed, but then the bodies of unarmed villagers are found among the dead, poor peasants who are only trying to feed their families by doing menial tasks for the cartel. These deaths bother the American soldiers, who see the villagers as victims of their poverty. In the same way, other situations are set up as ideal or desirable and then revealed as ambiguous in their consequences. Many American troops perish as the conflict intensifies in the Colombian jungles. The leader of a combat team, Captain Ramirez, is courageous, honest,...
(The entire section is 310 words.)