"Funny Aneurysm" Moment: Islamic extremists launch an attack against the United States and trick them into believing they can destroy the world at will. In retaliation, the U.S. government almost invades Iran, an action the extremists predict will simply create more anti-Western Islamic extremists. Post-9/11 and the invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq, the countless terrorist attacks carried out all over the world against nations that had troops in those two countries in revenge, and the rise of the Islamic State, and one has to wonder if the Bush administration either did not read this book or took all the wrong lessons from it.
Hilarious in Hindsight: Elliot calls Ryan James Bond, unable to adapt to the end of the Soviet Union, but the novel makes it clear that his skills are still necessary. More than twenty years later, Skyfall would run with the same themes.
Iron Woobie: The unnamed Druse farmer, who has lost virtually his entire family, either to natural causes or the Arab-Israeli conflict. The only thing he asks God for his is a little respite, but he realistically knows he won't get it. But he still gets up everyday to care of his dying farm and find great joy in his grandchildren from his only living, crippled son.
Nightmare Fuel: Though Clancy points out in his afterword that he specifically changed a lot of details on creating a nuclear bomb, he also points out that the information necessary to do so is public knowledge, and not terribly difficult to acquire.
Complete Monster: Neo-Nazi billionaire Richard Dressler wants to create a fascist superstate in Europe. His ruminations on history have led him to the conclusion that Adolf Hitler was a fool for trying to fight Russia and America—it's much better to have them fight and destroy each other. Dressler obtains a nuclear weapon and places it in a football stadium during the Super Bowl, killing countless innocent people. He blames the attack on Russia so the Americans will bring their military to bear and when Russia stands its ground, the two countries are ready to engage in all-out nuclear war on one another thanks to Dressler's framing and stroking of tensions.
Critical Research Failure: The missiles on the movie poster are surface-to-air missiles designed for shooting down airplanes; they are not nuclear ones.
Harsher in Hindsight: In the movie rogue elements of the Russian Military use a Novichock nerve agent on the Chechen capital. At the time, their existence was known to only a few experts and they had never been used in the real world.
Also, the use of Neo-Nazi baddies in 2002 was ridiculed as not being far-fetched and not very believable. Now...
Idiot Plot: Jack Ryan has finally gotten on the phone with one of the President's advisors, a man who hates him and dismissively refers to him as "Nemerov apologist" right off the bat. Instead of immediately telling him that he can prove the plutonium in the bomb was of American origin, instantly resolving the situation before things get any worse, he decides to argue with the guy about Nemarov's integrity until he hangs up.
Inferred Holocaust: Even though that World War III is averted, the implications of a terrorist attack by neo-Nazis is still harrowing due to the usage of nuclear weapons that claimed the lives of civilians.
Nightmare Fuel: The attack on Baltimore, although brief, is still horrifying due to the devastation; even the aftermath alone is reminiscent of Hell itself on a smaller scale.
Exemplified by the mounting look of horror on Cabot's face after he's received Ryan's warning that the bomb is in Baltimore, with him realizing that it's been hidden inside the very stadium he and the President are in, knowing that all the people around him are doomed as there is not enough time to evacuate the stadium. All that he can do is order the President's evacuation before the bomb goes off.
Values Dissonance: Some Russian viewers were unhappy with the portrayal of the Chechnya problem in the film.