(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The principal villain among many villains is Ayatollah Mahmoud Haji Daryaei, the religious leader of Iran. He is not a well-developed figure: He is principally a megalomaniac who uses his religious faith as an excuse for his plans to create an empire that will encompass all Muslim nations, and some others besides. His self-serving excuses for his cruelty and crimes contrast with Jack Ryan's soul-searching; his lack of understanding of the desires and needs of his own people also contrast with Ryan's continuous awareness that he is answerable to the American people for everything he does. Daryaei is a menacing figure, always lurking in darkness while he plans the destruction of America and the expansion of his own power. A careful and patient planner, he finds understanding from the Chinese, who also plan for the long term, but he is quick to act decisively when his carefully created plans reach fruition. For instance, when the leader of Iraq is assassinated by a mole in his security team, Daryaei is quick to use a free-lance terrorist to convey the threat of death to the leader's potential successors, who, with Daryaei's assistance, then flee Iraq, leaving it open to invasion by Iran. Within weeks, Iraq becomes part of an Iranian superstate, so that Russia to the north and all of the Middle East face a dire threat.

In contrast to Daryaei's cool confidence that he acts with the best wishes of God, Ryan is beset by self-doubt. He did not want to become President of the United States; he was to be a caretaker Vice President until the next presidential election. In spite of the terrible circumstances of his presidency, Ryan is very interesting to watch as nonpolitician trying to understand the basics of political life and statecraft. He falls back on his personal resources such as his love of his family and his belief that America must help those who have helped it. Therefore, he changes his speech at the funeral of President Durling from the statesmanlike one provided by a speech writer to a heart-felt address to Durling's children; America's enemies see it as a sign of weakness,...

(The entire section is 854 words.)