It’s November 9, 2001, and three Arab Bureau of Investigation agents are hard at work early that morning. Two are watching the estate of a powerful underworld gangster from atop the air control tower of Baghdad International Airport, while the third is supervising a smuggling bust of the gangster’s nephew when a jet suddenly screams overhead and crashes into one of the Tigris & Euphrates World Trade Towers in Baghdad. At the airport, the other agents learn that in addition to another jet hitting the second tower of the WTC, a third has crashed into the Arab Defense Ministry in Riyadh, and a fourth, bound for the Presidential Palace, went down in the Arabian Empty Quarter, overtaken by patriotic passengers who refused to let American Christian fundamentalists attack another institution of the United Arab States.
And so begins the twisted tale of Amal, Mustafa, and Samir, three ABI agents, all with troubled backgrounds connected to the terrorist attack or the ensuing war. As Mustafa interrogates an American about his involvement with a terrorist cell, the prisoner spits out a fantastic claim: “It’s a mirage! There is no Arab superpower, no union of Arab states. In the real world, you’re just a bunch of backward third-world countries that no one would even care about except for oil … America is the real superpower.” And what about that copy of Le Monde, dated September 13, 2001, with the inexplicable headline, “Nous sommes tous Americains“?
But the America the three agents visit in search of answers is a rundown third-world backwater, a disorganized collection of unstable nations and sovereign domains. The terrorists came from a white supremacy group based in the Rocky Mountain Independent Territories. The District of Columbia is known as the Green Zone and occupied by UAS Marines, with a White House that’s “just another palace, albeit … the rose garden was pretty.” The Watergate Hotel houses a Marine mess hall and other UAS military operations, and Northern Virginia is a violent, ramshackle country town sheltering the Texas CIA director on the run from an evil man known as the Quail Hunter.
An assortment of famous names pass through the novel, in different roles but still showcasing their true colors. And throughout the story, all the characters suffer attacks of vertigo — a malady known as Gulf Syndrome — as if something in their world is off-kilter, and sand trickles from places it shouldn’t. Reality slips through their fingers as they finally realize they’re trapped in a looking glass world.