Brad Thor Interview: "I Don’t See a Home for Me in the Republican Party"
Image attributed to Brad Thor
Brad Thor is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Use of Force, Foreign Agent, Code of Conduct, Act of War, Hidden Order, Black List, Full Black, The Athena Project, Foreign Influence, The Apostle, The Last Patriot (nominated best thriller of the year by the International Thriller Writers Association and banned in Saudi Arabia), The First Commandment, Takedown, Blowback (recognized as one of the “Top 100 Killer Thrillers of All Time” by NPR), State of the Union, Path of the Assassin and The Lions of Lucerne.
Thor has appeared on Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS to discuss terrorism, as well as how closely his novels of international intrigue parallel the real threats facing the world today. His new book Spymaster, out July 3, 2018, is the latest in the Scot Harvath Series.
"I don’t see any clear concise Trump doctrine, so I’m concerned about it because Putin deserves scorn. He deserves isolation. He’s a bad guy. He kills people."
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Brad, why do you say that Spymaster is the most challenging and rewarding story you’ve ever written?
Brad Thor: Well, you know, I try to raise the bar every time I write a new book, so each one is harder than the one before. This one in particular was a challenge because I’m writing a political thriller in probably the most divisive climate I’ve ever known as an American. So the last thing I want to do is to have the readers think I’m picking sides. But I still need to simmer the story in enough reality that it makes sense. Mark Twain once said that the difference between fiction and reality is that people expect fiction to make sense, which is kind of funny. That’s my challenge in every one of my books.
I have a certain set of rules I have to operate within that exists in the real world, so I like to make people feel like this story could explode on their doorstep tomorrow. That’s the challenge, and I had that with this one, but I set the bar very high, and I’m really happy with Spymaster.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What are the origins of the story?
Brad Thor: What I like to do is to give readers, first and foremost, a white-knuckle thrill ride. That’s my job. I’m a thriller writer. So I’ve got to have an exciting ride for them. I like short, crisp, cinematic chapters that you can sit down and say that you’re just going to read one, but before you know it it’s two hours later and you’re almost done with the book (laughs). That is part of my process.
But with this one, I read a lot of defense articles, I studied domestic politics, geopolitics and without giving too much away, there was a war gaming scenario that the RAND Corporation put together. They took a bunch of top American generals, and they assigned them Red Team and Blue Team, Red Team being the United States, Blue Team being an adversary of the United States, and they mixed them up. They gave them one scenario and kept having them change sides so that they could think about it from the enemy position. They rolled the dice on this scenario a thousand times, and the enemy won every single time. America and its allies lost. It blew my mind.
I could not believe that the United States lost this scenario, and I said, “Okay. That’s going to be the jumping off point for Spymaster, that we know we’re going to lose this scenario. We know the enemy knows this, so if war is hell, what are we willing to do to avoid getting into a war? How many of our own rules would we break if we thought we could stay out of war?” That’s what Spymaster is really about, avoiding the scenario, but kind of weighing the cost to us.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you perhaps predicting what a conflict between America and Russia might be like in the future?
Brad Thor: Yes. That was the scenario that the RAND Corporation war game was about, and Russia won against the United States and NATO every single time they rolled the dice. Regardless of what generals they put on Red Team or which generals they put on Blue Team, NATO and the United States lost ever single time. That was just such an eye opener for me, so terrifying.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Scot Harvath is still the guy to take down the terrorists, but does he evolve emotionally and professionally in his latest adventure?
Brad Thor: He does. This is my 18th thriller, and I always tell people you don’t have to have read any of my prior work to enjoy the latest book. I always make them so that they can stand alone. In Spymaster, Harvath is dealing with a couple of different issues. He’s got younger operatives coming up behind him. He’s trying to stay at the peak of his game. He’s like a professional athlete. It’s like a Tom Brady. How many more Super Bowls is Tom Brady going to do, and how does he stay in peak physical condition in a job that absolutely beats the heck out of your body? So that’s one issue Harvath is dealing with.
The other issue actually comes from real life. In my thrillers, Harvath’s boss is based upon a real life CIA operative named Dewey Clarridge, and Dewey died two years ago. He had a legendary career at the CIA and had helped set up their counterterrorism center. It was a big deal as Dewey was dying from cancer because he had so much wisdom. How do you get it all out of him? The people who were still working with him wondered how you could distill that wisdom so that it’s preserved, and that’s part of what Harvath is dealing with emotionally in this book. His boss is saying, “I want you to come out of the field, Tom Brady. No more Super Bowls. You come coach. You find the next Tom Brady.” And Harvath’s figuring he’s got five Super Bowls left in him.
So it’s that thing like, at what point are you being selfish and not focused on the bigger picture? That’s part of what he wrestles with in this book. He loves being in the field, but are his talents better employed on the sidelines rather than on the field?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you pattern Rebecca Strum, the US ambassador to the United Nations after Nikki Haley?
Brad Thor: That’s been asked by almost everyone who has read the book in advance. I’m going to let readers decide that, but I will tell you this. The name of Rebecca Strum comes from a gentleman who bought the character naming rights for his wife and supported a military fundraiser that I’m a big supporter of. It’s a quiet group. I don’t mention their name. But he supported it, and I named the character after her.
It was my attempt to pay homage to the people that the foundation supports and to this lovely woman whose husband generously contributed to get her name in the book. But I can understand why some people are drawing those comparisons because of the strong showing that former governor Haley has demonstrated at the United Nations. So I’m not surprised to see those parallels drawn.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The last time we spoke in 2010 about The Athena Project, you told me that The Last Patriot was banned in Saudi Arabia and that you received death threats for writing it. Have you experienced anything like that since that time?
Brad Thor: Oh, my God! It’s been eight years? You know what? For a while after The Last Patriot, they still popped up and all that kind of stuff. I was doing a lot of commentary on television about Islamic terror and things like that. It’s funny. When I would have it in my books, it would really draw those people out and there’d be a lot of threats. But I’ve done so many books that don’t have an Islamic terrorism angle to them, I don’t know if I’m off their radar screen or what it is, but there hasn’t been a lot of that lately.
I think it’s probably because I’m not out in the news discussing those particular issues. I’ve been out saying that it’s great we crushed ISIS in Syria, but I think they’ve got so many problems on their own hands that they don’t have the time to focus on me.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you still a member of Homeland Security’s Red Cell program?
Brad Thor: Once you’re in, you’re always in. I’ve had calls for different things, and I’ve been asked to not only do it at the Department of Homeland Security but for the Pentagon. My phone could ring right now, and it would be folks from that program wanting to war game a particular scenario.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Who poses the greatest terror threat to the United States?
Brad Thor: I really believe that Russia is one of our biggest threats. I think China is one of our biggest threats. We just had a ton of information hacked by the Chinese, so I think right now, two of the biggest threats we’ve got are Russia and China. Those are two places we have to be very, very focused on.
Islamic terror is always an ongoing threat. I just got back from ten days in London and had my head on a swivel the entire time because there’s been so many soft target attacks in Europe by people who commit these attacks in the name of the Muslim faith. So that’s always a potential. In a free society like ours, it’s really tough to guard against something like that because we hold our civil liberties so dearly, as we should. But I think from a geopolitical perspective, Russia and China are big deals, and we need to constantly be vigilant and be concerned about them.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): President Trump doesn’t seem to feel that Russia’s a threat to America and appears to embrace Vladimir Putin at every turn. So shouldn’t he be keeping him at arms length?
Brad Thor: Listen. Winston Churchill said, “Jaw-jaw is always better than war-war.” I found it interesting though Trump’s reluctance, even as a candidate for president, to ever criticize Putin. I mean, the guy’s a bad guy. They invaded Crimea, and that was an absolutely travesty under the Obama administration that all they did were sanctions and stuff like that. We promised Ukraine that we would protect them if they gave up their nukes. We’d make sure nothing happened there, and then 20 years later, Putin snatches the Crimean Peninsula. That’s not good. Putin’s a bad guy.
I always worry when I see Trump seem to be cozier and more enamored by people like Duterte in the Philippines or some of the middle eastern guys and particularly Putin. He seems to gravitate towards that personality, and our relationships with Canada and Germany suffers. When he was reluctant to support NATO’s Article 5 to say if one of the NATO members was invaded or attacked we would defend them, that kind of stuff confuses me. There seems to be kind of this hulk smash policy. The Obama foreign policy was “don’t do stupid stuff,” which was a dumb policy. The Trump administration seems to be “let’s just break stuff.” I don’t get it.
I don’t see any clear concise Trump doctrine, so I’m concerned about it because Putin deserves scorn. He deserves isolation. He’s a bad guy. He kills people. Putin sees the United States and NATO as their greatest threats. But sometimes God chooses imperfect vessels, and it may be that all this craziness and the tumult we’re seeing during the Trump administration serves the country well over the long term. I don’t know. Frankly, I’m exhausted at this point trying to figure it out. So we just have to try and sit back. We have to watch and see.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You called Trump “unfit to serve,” so are you serious about challenging him in 2020?
Brad Thor: No. I’m not going to run for president. In fact, I don’t even consider myself a member of the Republican Party anymore, so I can’t primary him. I don’t see a home for me in the Republican Party. I was told by Republicans that if we just gave them the House, then if we just gave them the Senate, then if we just put a Republican in the Oval Office, they would get our financial house in order. They didn’t do that. They passed a 1.3 trillion-dollar omnibus spending bill. I like tax cuts just like the next guy, but you can’t cut taxes and pass a 1.3 trillion-dollar budget. It is a burden we are putting on our children in the future generations that’s just not fair.
That was my tipping point. That’s what drove me crazy, and that’s why I said that I want to primary Trump because nobody stands up to him. Nobody asks these important questions about what this means for the future. I also believe to be a leader you have to represent everybody. You can’t just play to your base. You have to talk about the nobleness of the nation, what makes us good and what unites us. It seems Trump just keeps playing to a section of the United States. I don’t think that’s healthy, and I don’t think that’s the hallmark of a leader.
I think a leader gets elected, and then the leader should say, “We have our differences, but let’s focus on what we have in common because we actually have more in common than divides us.” But to constantly be demeaning Democrats and still calling people names is not a leader. I’m not a Democrat, but I’m an American. I love my family and friends who are Democrats, and I see them as family, friends and fellow citizens before I do political parties. There’s more that unites us than divides us, and I think that’s where we all should be focused.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Any updates about bringing Scot Harvath to the big screen?
Brad Thor: Warner Bros purchased the rights. They did a fantastic screenplay, one of the best scripts I’ve ever read. They had an executive shakeup there, and now it’s on the shelf. So I don’t know. I really can’t figure out Hollywood. It’s a frustration, I think a lot of authors have, and they have had for generations. So at this point, we don’t have anything active with Hollywood.
Everything is kind of in this parked mode. It’s just kind of stalled. Hollywood is probably one of the most risk averse businesses. But they finally made American Assassin with Dylan O’Brien and Michael Keaton. I was thrilled with that and hope they have a second one coming, but we’ll see what happens with my stuff. Time will tell.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I assume you’re already working on Harvath’s next adventure?
Brad Thor: The next installment, you betcha! It’ll be out next summer. I put that huge dramatic ending on Spymaster. People are already saying they can’t believe I did that. A reviewer said it was a killer, jaw-dropping ending that’ll have readers all talking about it. So that was on purpose. I think it was Mickey Spillane that said, “The first chapter sells the book. The last chapter sells the next book.”
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