A lobbyist tries to incite hatred against China. Walter "Bird" McIntyre is a lobbyist for defense giant Groepping-Sprunt who lives in a countryside estate with his wife, an equestrienne trying out for the US Equestrian team, his senile mother, her vastly overweight caretaker, and his brother Bewks, a Confederate Civil War cavalry re-enactor. When Groepping-Sprunt's proposed drone project gets shot down by Congress, Groepping-Sprunt CEO "Chick" Devlin gives Bird a mission: foment bad feelings against China so Groepping-Sprunt's next secret project, "Taurus," can pass through Congress. Bird sets up a fake lobbying group called Pan-Pacific Solutions and enlists the help of militant neocon Angel Templeton, who runs a group of lobbyists dedicated to American military strength and warfare. Bird's mission is helped along by the Dalai Lama, exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, who is diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Bird and Angel plant a fake story that the Chinese were involved with the Dalai Lama's sickness, which draws an angry response from the Chinese. Then, the Dalai Lama dies in a hospital in Cleveland, and the issue arises of whether or not the Chinese will let the other lamas bury the Dalai Lama in Tibet, according to their tradition. Bird and Angel have another angle, since the Chinese refuse, sparking more outrage against the Chinese. As tensions between the United States and China grow, Bird's wife, Myndi, makes the equestrian team, but is worried that their next competition, the Tang Cup in China, will be cancelled. Bird and Angel move from a working relationship to a sexual relationship as they continue to plant stories, including one that the Chinese poisoned the Dalai Lama in his hospital bed in Cleveland. The Chinese sink a Taiwanese fishing vessel they claim was spying on them, the Americans offer to bury the Dalai Lama in Arlington Cemetery, and the Tang Cup is cancelled. As all this is happening, a newspaper reporter breaks the story that Bird and Angel were responsible for the original stories against the Chinese, and that they are sleeping together. Myndi leaves Bird, who hits a deer and is nursed back to health by his brother and Angel. After his accident and his role in all of the events, Bird undergoes a transformation, delving deeper into Buddhism. He swears off violence and lobbying, becoming something of a philosopher in the process - which causes Angel, who liked the old Bird, to leave.
Best part of story, including ending:
Buckley is the master of revealing and making fun of politics, lobbying, and other assorted - and sordid - things revolving around Washington, DC. He takes an international incident, one that could conceivably happen, and pokes fun at it with his characters, each one representing something of a caricature of actual people.
Best scene in story:
I enjoyed the scene after Bird's accident where he is recuperating at his home, and his brother Bewks enlists his fellow re-enactors, the Fifty-Sixth Virginia Cavalry, to literally guard Bird's home against reporters by pointing their muskets and cannon at them.
Opinion about the main character:
While Bird has reservations about what he and Angel are doing, both with each other and with the Chinese, his transformation to an enlightened Buddhist at the end of the book comes off very sudden - though a large part of it might be shock or stress from his accident.