Meet Jack Ryan
So who is Jack Ryan?
Ryan was born as the figment of Tom Clancy's imagination as the underestimated good guy who must always triumph over adversity. He can do whatever the author wants him to do. Ryan can prove any point, get the last word in, and make the right decision when the time to act is nigh.
And Ryan, as a result, suffers from the same problem affecting all fictional heroes ... each daring deed must be outdone in the next book. By the time the reader gets to the fifth or tenth installment, the hero begins to look unbelievably superhuman.
If Jack Ryan were a real person, what would his biography look like?
Ryan's first appearance in print was in Hunt for Red October, set loosely in the early 1980s, sometime during Ronald Reagan's term in office. Ryan is in his early thirties, which places his birthday somewhere around 1950 or so. He is a baby boomer, coming to adulthood too late to have been directly affected by the Vietnam War. Son of a Baltimore detective and brought up a good Catholic, Jack Ryan is imbued with a sense of right and wrong that is certain and doubtless. Attending Boston College, a Jesuit school, Ryan kept his hair short, never tried smoking a joint, didn't protest, probably didn't get laid, and opted for Marine Corps ROTC. Commissioned, he served briefly in the corps as a platoon leader, his career cut short by a helicopter accident over Crete that caused a major back injury in the JFK tradition. (Though, for some strange reason, no matter what physical exertion Ryan makes in later books, his "bad" back never acts up.)
Ryan marries rich, but still goes on to make his own fortune. Cathy Muller is the daughter of a successful executive at Merrill Lynch. She goes to medical school, becoming an outstanding eye surgeon. (She has been driving a Porsche since her sixteenth birthday.)
Along the way, Ryan also picks up his doctorate, albeit in history, and does the good son-in-law bit. He goes to work at Merrill Lynch, where he makes the right investments early in the high-tech boom, becoming independently wealthy. Safely ensconced at his estate overlooking Chesapeake Bay, Ryan writes history books and teaches young midshipmen at the nearby Naval Academy at Annapolis. His wife, Cathy, is also doing well at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. No matter what Jack Ryan chooses to do for a living, there will be no financial shortcomings suffered by the family given the existing fortune and a surgeon's salary. Ryan could even stay home and be a househusband with no visible impact on the family income or assets.
Even though Clancy starts writing about Ryan in Hunt for Red October, the Ryan story really begins with Patriot Games, the third Clancy book to make print. Ryan is in London, doing some tangential researchin British naval archives as it dovetails with his main project on Admiral William Halsey.
Ryan's upbringing, steeped in law-and-order and service, would not permit him to stand aside as armed Irish terrorists try to kidnap the prince and princess of Wales. He tackles one suspect and uses the loose gun to shoot the other assailants. (As the British would say, typical American.) His choice, made in a split second, will dictate the course of his life, though he does not know it yet.
One terrorist vows to avenge the death of his brother in the attack Ryan foiled. Ryan finds out the hard way that men with guns are now out to kill him and his family. After one failed attack, Ryan swears to fight back. His previous contract work as a freelance analyst at the CIA put him in the good graces of Admiral James Greer, deputy director of intelligence. (The other half of CIA is focused on operations.) With access to raw intelligence, Ryan pieces together the whereabouts of the Ulster Liberation Army. Partially in revenge, they crash Ryan's dinner party for the prince and princess of Wales at the Ryans' Peregrine Cliff estate.
Ryan thus becomes a man of action again, and the evil plot is foiled. But the real change is at the job level. Ryan is now an analyst at the CIA. Like joining the IRA, it's "once in, never out."
Ryan is then sent to the CIA station in London, where he focuses on the Soviet navy in Hunt for Red October. He accidentally becomes a man of action again! Ryan's queries on the SSBN Red October's super-quiet propulsion system, coupled with information coming from a CIA spy with access to the Soviet Politburo (code-named CARDINAL) set into motion an elaborate operation to take delivery of the defecting sub while covering up its absence. The Russian experts the navy was flying in die in a tragic helicopter crash. Ryan and a British colleague must handle taking custody of the sub, amid a gunfight and a harrowing game of cat and mouse against a Soviet attack sub.
Ryan's second London adventure becomes a vain attempt to thwart the assassination attempt on the pope, outlined in Red Rabbit (writtenout of sequence only a couple of years ago), jamming the event into the continuum of Ryan's cold war adventures.
In Cardinal of the Kremlin (Clancy's fourth book, but third in the Ryan series), Ryan interferes with KGB chief Gerasimov's ploy to seize power. Ryan makes it known that the missile sub Red October was stolen on Gerasimov's watch, and that if word got out, Gerasimov would be discredited, thus simply ending the power play. Ryan instead offers the KGB chief a chance to defect, which he accepts.
Ryan emerges as an in-demand analyst who still gets into "trouble" outside of his department. But he never shirks responsibility when a chance appears to protect or advance the interests of the United States.
Reagan's term ended in 1989.
In Clear and Present Danger, the succeeding president is code-named WRANGLER by the secret service.
He is never named.
James Greer, Ryan's mentor, dies from pancreatic cancer, resulting in Ryan becoming the acting deputy director for intelligence. He uncovers the illegal insertion of U.S. light infantry in Colombia, as well as the plot to abandon them to maintain deniability. As Greer is laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery, Ryan flies off to Panama to improvise the helicopter rescue effort, and winds up manning one of the door guns on the MH-53, taking fire and firing back.
Ryan also has to deliver the weekly intelligence briefing to WRANGLER's challenger, J. Robert Fowler. That places the action in 1992 (or 1996, depending how you count the years in later books).
They do not hit it off.
Fowler becomes president in Sum of All Fears, and Ryan becomes the full-time deputy director of intelligence, officially replacing James Greer. Fowler achieves the high point of his presidency--a resolution of the old, ongoing Arab-Israeli crisis. The downside is Fowler's crisis mismanagement when terrorists set off a rebuilt nuclear bomb in Denver during the Super Bowl. Fowler accepts the official misinterpretation that the Russians detonated the bomb, and subsequent confrontationsbetween U.S. and Russian forces elsewhere in the world (some of them provoked by other terrorists) reinforce that judgment. As Ryan sees Fowler rapidly climbing up the escalation ladder, his intelligence work uncovers data that the bomb was set off by non-Soviet terrorists, and he cuts into the hotline conversation between the White House and the Kremlin to bring this information to light. Both sides undertake a phased stand-down of forces.
Once Fowler is briefed that Iranian-sponsored terrorists committed the nuclear bombing, he orders a nuclear counterstrike on Qom, Iran's holy city. Ryan refuses to concur, thus negating the launch order. In a matter of plot convenience, there were no other authorized cabinet officers or appointees with the necessary confirmation clearance. Ryan will not countenance the slaughter of innocent bystanders just to kill one person (Iranian leader Ayatollah Daryaei), in an act of retribution. After failing to order the strike, Fowler has a nervous breakdown, resigns, and passes the presidency to his vice president, Roger Durling.
Ryan's career now rebounds into the White House in Debt of Honor. Durling has a poor grasp of foreign policy. He needs a new national security advisor, and Ryan is right for the job. Despite having a background more on the analytical side of the CIA rather than the operational side, Ryan takes action, planning and executing covert operations to reassert American power abroad.
Durling reaches the high point of his presidency when he signs a treaty with Russia to dismantle the ICBM arsenals of both nations. This is marred by a trade deficit with Japan that is causing many U.S. factories to close down. Eventually, the U.S. finds itself at war with Japan again, with Japan firing the opening shots. Ryan helps craft the war-winning strategy. Durling is smart enough not to interfere.
The presidential election is just around the corner (placing the action in either 1996 or 2000), and Durling looks likely to win. He asks Ryan to fill in as vice president to replace the recently resigned VP, Ed Kealty. The president promises Ryan that he only has to serve out the remainder of the current term, focusing on national security and foreign policy.Durling intends to tap a real running mate for the election, who will take over the vice presidency come January. Ryan's sense of duty does not allow him to decline. While politically he would be serving a president, an appointment to any post in Washington also means one serves his country and the American people. Ryan clearly perceives those responsibilities.
But January never comes for Durling. As he is about to deliver the State of the Union address, he is killed (along with most of the cabinet, Congress, and Supreme Court) when a crazed pilot dives a Japan Airlines Boeing 747 into the Capitol. (The pilot is striking back after the loss of his brother and son in the war.)
Ryan is now president, and he never wanted the damn job. There is nothing in Ryan's life that even hinted at this outcome. All offices he held before were by appointment. Ryan never once ran for office, not even for class president.
In Executive Orders, Ryan has to rebuild the U.S. government, a grave domestic challenge, and has to face down Iran, which recently "annexed" Iraq following the fictional assassination of Saddam Hussein. The combined might of two tyrannies now faces Saudi Arabia. A robust American response like Desert Shield/Desert Storm is out of the question, as Iranian terrorists launch a far-reaching biological attack on the U.S. that immobilizes most of the units before they can intervene. Ryan orders intervention anyway, believing that the U.S. never deserts its allies. What few U.S. forces that are sent into the theater win the war, and Ryan then orders the assassination of Daryaei.
The world for Jack Ryan has suddenly changed.
In The Bear and the Dragon, Ryan now sits in the Oval Office as an elected president. This places the action in 1997 or 2001, depending how the reader marks the years. Shoehorned into the time stream is Rainbow Six, where a multinational commando team defeats an effort by U.S. environmental extremists to launch a worldwide epidemic using a genetically modified strain of the Ebola virus, to be let lose at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.
Returning to the plot of The Bear and the Dragon, Russia has mademajor discoveries of gold and oil deep in eastern Siberia, and President Ryan must now find a way to protect Russia from a Chinese invasion to seize the resources. Diplomatic efforts are for naught, so the U.S. must dispatch whatever forces it can muster to support the Russians.
The U.S. helps win the war, providing a major assist to the Russians, who provided the bulk of the ground forces. Ryan once again shows that the U.S. stands by its allies. He even engineers Russian admission to NATO to deter China from attacking. Ryan's refusal to leave Washington, D.C., during a nuclear attack also underscores his sense of leadership, which is a willingness to face the same challenges as those faced by servicemen who must obey his orders.
Ryan is out of the White House in Teeth of the Tiger, which takes place some time after 2004. His role in this book is minimal. He has resigned the presidency. Robby Jackson, his vice president, becomes the first black president of the United States, a position he holds until gunned down by a radical Ku Klux Klan member who was not pleased by this reality. Ed Kealty manages to get elected president. (And Kealty's scandals did not come to light?)
Prior to leaving office, Ryan has set up a self-funded intelligence service in the guise of a private investment firm, with access to all CIA and National Security Agency (NSA) files and zero oversight by Congress or the White House. The firm, Hendley Associates, is staffed by analysts and operatives forwarded from a number of government agencies and services. Analysts develop information on terrorists abroad. Operatives are then dispatched to kill them. If anyone gets into legal trouble, a stack of undated presidential pardons signed by Jack Ryan sits in the Hendley safe, ready to be dispensed like they were "get out of jail free" cards in a deadly game of Monopoly.
By this time, Ryan is about fifty-plus years old, which is on the young side to be a retired ex-president. Clancy may not know what to do with his old superhero, especially now that Jack Ryan Jr. is an analyst at Hendley who seems to share his father's penchant for getting involved on the operational side.
Jack Ryan has no love for American politics, treating it more as a shabby process to be endured. Typically, politics sidelines or overlooks those who try to do the right thing in the name of the common good. Ryan made sure that politics ceased during his brief tenure in the Oval Office to make sure that good people were appointed to the top jobs at the FBI, CIA, and the various cabinet departments. Occasionally, Ryan complains vehemently in private about the direction Kealty is taking the country, but like a good ex-president, he maintains his public silence about actions taken by his successor. Left unmentioned are any plans for a Jack Ryan presidential library or even a brief word about the ex-president's office, small staff, or Secret Service detail.
What Ryan does from here is entirely up to Clancy. It is not unreasonable to hope that Jack Ryan (senior) will return to his first love, studying and teaching history, as well as writing history books. Having an ex-president teach a seminar on government to a bunch of graduate students would truly be a singular experience.
Jack Ryan will probably also make a pretty good grandfather.