- The Washington Times - Friday, January 14, 2005

We’re barely into the new year, and already many of the lifestyle magazines are inundated with Valentine’s Day fare, complete with bright pink hearts galore.

The more serious publications, on the other hand — as is only fitting — are serving up far meatier fare for their readers.

Case in point: the January/February issue of the venerable Atlantic. Its cover features a composite montage showing a severely damaged Golden Gate Bridge, with the Washington Monument in the distance, amid a sea of rubble. The words “After the attacks of April 20, 2006” in small white lettering offer a chilling explanation of the dire view and an introduction to the magazine’s cover story, “America Attacked: The Sequel,” with the subhed, “Looking back from 2011 — an imagined history” by Richard A. Clarke.

Mr. Clarke, who directed counterterrorism efforts under Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, was all over the news in the spring because of his best-selling book “Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror.”

That book held the top spot on the New York Times best-seller list for a time. It brought Mr. Clarke national attention for his criticism of the Bush administration in the pre- and post-September 11 era — for having ignored his warnings of impending doom before that fateful day. He also says going into Iraq was a mammoth error.

In his 16-page article in the Atlantic, Mr. Clarke fancies that a second wave of al-Qaeda terrorism has struck America. He goes on to describe a year-by-year chronology, “a frightening picture of a country still at war in 2011,” he writes.

From there, he plunges into high fiction mode on the second page with fictional accounts of carnage. An example: “Peter and Margaret Rataczak, of Wichita, Kansas, were the first to die on June 29, 2005, in a new wave of suicide attacks launched against the United States in retaliation for the killing of Osama bin Laden that spring, and for the continuing presence of US troops in Iraq.”

He escalates his fictional violence with attacks on subways, trains blown up, the destruction of shopping malls and casinos, and missile attacks in American cities. Meanwhile, American bombers strike Iran, a fundamentalist coup overthrows the House of Saud — and the new regime cancels all oil contracts with the United States.

By 2008, Mr. Clarke casts the United States as the victim of a cyber-attack that causes a virtual shutdown of everything in the country dependent on computers. A second cyber-attack shuts down the stock market, and there are brownouts everywhere. The police and militia are called out. Millions of Americans are sent home from work.

Throughout the story, Mr. Clarke footnotes his fictional account with sundry concrete details — details that often reflect what he thinks were and are the shortcomings in security measures.

Curiously, though, he spends just two pages on “what we might have done differently.”

Mr. Clarke signed a contract in October to write a geopolitical thriller novel set in the Middle East and the United States. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), has it scheduled for publication this fall. I wonder whether any of the details from his Atlantic scenario will make their way into that novel.

• • •

Variety, revered as the bible of showbiz, adds something extra to its Jan. 10 to 16 issue: an Oscar 2005 portfolio featuring large portraits of likely nominees with stories written by each celebrity. One article, by “Fahrenheit 9/11” director Michael Moore, is something of a rant calling on Democrats in the film industry to make movies “to inspire the nation.”

“Who’s our Arnold?” Mr. Moore implores, while also asking what American wouldn’t vote for Tom Hanks, Paul Newman or Ron Howard for U.S. president.

• • •

Perhaps it’s time for a change of pace. Consider the February Vanity Fair, which boasts a four-page foldout of its cover to showcase all the major players in the “Star Wars” film series. Upon first glance, the cover depicts director George Lucas with the characters Yoda, Darth Vader and about half of R2-D2 plus actors Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen. Other actors and characters show up, too. You’ll have to unfold the entire cover to view Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Chewbacca and Mark Hamil, who were in the first “Star Wars” way back in 1977.

As you probably have guessed, the lead story, “Star Wars: The Last Battle,” offers a substantial preview of what you can expect when “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” opens nationwide in May. A number of spiffy photographs by noted shutterbug Annie Leibovitz also jazz up the article.

Not a “Star Wars” fan? The magazine serves up a number of tasty alternatives on its menu of topics — from the Abu Ghraib Prison case to burglaries in the toniest parts of Los Angeles and the ongoing struggle (in the Delaware courts) among Disney share owners over the $140 million severance pay CEO Michael Eisner paid to ousted President Michael Ovitz.

• • •

To close on a really upbeat note, check out the January issue of Vogue for the very charming picture of first lady Laura Bush seated demurely on the president’s desk, another photo taken by Annie Leibovitz. Elsewhere, you’ll find an excellent piece by Julia Reed, the magazine’s senior writer, who reveals Mrs. Bush “is crazy about [actor] Ben Stiller,” now starring in the blockbuster hit “Meet the Fockers.”

Who would have known?

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