It is not currently fashionable to assess the importance of Counterfactuals in History, or what writers of Alternative History call the "What If” hypotheses. But it should be: Outstanding political minds from Winston Churchill to Newt Gingrich have enthusiastically embraced the idea. And in this rapidly evolving 21st century, it has become more than ever a critical tool for analyzing our global strategic postures and policies.
Edward Lozansky’s delightful but also profound novel "Operation Elbe” explores these possibilities. It is an excellent example of the action/espionage/world-at-stake genre that continues to prove enduringly popular in every dimension of our popular culture. But it is much, much more than that.
When nuclear physicist Mikhail Petrov, a Soviet-era defector to the United States loses his American wife Alessia in the 9/11 terror attacks, he is called in to serve US and Russian combined forces working together to protect both great nations against suitcase thermonuclear bomb mega-attacks.
Petrov has some knowledge with scientific principles of these devices which makes him an important player of the joint team. The action moves rapidly from high places in Washington and Moscow to the savage heart of Afghanistan but it is the author’s own intimate knowledge of the Beltway and Russian Heartland that gives him a unique edge and palpable tang of credibility.
Lozansky has been for decades one of the most consistent, eminent and constructive of all the far-too-few figures working to defuse tensions between the two nuclear superpowers. Making the transition from factual scholarship to fiction is far from easy and the field is littered with embarrassing examples of eminent figures that tried and must have ended up wishing they didn’t.
However, Lozansky makes it look easy. His characters have a wit and easygoing banter that could give the author yet another career as a scriptwriter and I actually believe that this book has a great potential for the movie blockbuster, especially like in the book it is also produced by the joint US-Russia team.
As with Harry Turtledove, S. M. Stirling, and Newt Gingrich, who have enjoyed a hugely successful franchise in Alternate History popular fiction, the grand masters of the genre, Lozansky’s strength is in ideas and following through the implications, potential consequences and opportunities of the great "what if’s” of history. And it is this that gives his novel its true bite and bitter "if only” aftertaste.
For the United States and Russia did initially cooperate closely and fruitfully in the awful traumatic days after 9/11. The conquest of Afghanistan and the toppling of the Taliban would never have been as quick and low-cost in casualties as it was, had it not been for the enormous aid that Russia and its Northern League allies gave to US Special Forces.
"If only” George W. Bush had accepted Putin’s offer to build on this effort and expand US-Russia military cooperation the chances for striking a powerful blow to terror networks would highly increase but Bush was not interested.
The formidably impressive record of the Russian Air Forces against ISIS since leaves no doubt that welcoming Russia into tactical operations against the terrorists would have been a formidable and fruitful asset. It would have had an enormous deterrent effect on Islamist movements, not just the group personally led by bin Laden but also on those that were to emerge in Iraq and Syria and around the world.
Edward Lozansky has written an exciting and moving action thriller: It is ideal reading material for everyone, but even more for the Beltway policymaking community. This is a novel of serious, relevant and crucially important ideas presented with passion, skill, fast moving action and leavening wit. It needs to be widely read and pondered.
• Martin Sieff is Adjunct Professor of Transnational Threats at Bay Atlantic University and a Senior Fellow of the Global Policy Institute in Washington, DC.
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"Operation Elbe” available on Amazon
By Edward Lozansky
264 pages, $15.95