In a parallel universe called 'what if.'

Posted: Apr 10, 2004 12:00 AM

NEW YORK - President-elect John F. Kerry's rise to the nation's highest office came as little surprise following almost four years of remonstrations against President George W. Bush for his bizarre attack on the defenseless people of Afghanistan.

Kerry, a decorated Vietnam veteran, was the right man for a nation outraged by the Bush administration's pre-emptive war, which, it now seems clear, was based on highly speculative intelligence that Saudi Arabian-born terrorist Osama bin Laden was planning an attack on the United States.

Absent absolute proof of such an imminent attack, Bush's Sept. 10 bombing of Afghanistan earned him international condemnation and, in all likelihood, an indictment in coming weeks. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, appearing last night on "Larry King Live," said the United Nations' International Criminal Tribunal likely would bring charges of genocide against Bush.

Bush also faces federal charges at home for his baseless arrest of 19 foreign nationals, many of them native Saudis, whose "crime" was attending American flight schools. The Council on American-Islamic Relations has joined the American Civil Liberties Union in a joint suit against both Bush and former Attorney General John Ashcroft, charging racial profiling, unlawful arrest and illegal search and seizure.

Kerry's campaign mantra - "You go to war because you have to, not because you want to" - clearly resonated with Americans as they tried to make sense of Bush's Sept. 10 attack on Afghanistan. Neither the president, nor national security adviser Condoleezza Rice convincingly defended their actions during the recent "9-10 Commission" hearings, which Congress ordered in response to public outcry.

The commission's purpose was to try to determine what compelled the president to launch a war against Afghanistan. What kind of intelligence suggested that such an act was justified?

The main target of the attack was bin Laden, friend to Afghanistan's brutal Taliban regime, as well as al-Qaida training camps in that war-ravaged nation. Al-Qaida, an international terrorist network, has been blamed for numerous attacks on U.S. interests, including the USS Cole bombing, which killed 17 sailors.

Even though Bush's military campaign was successful in ending the oppressive Taliban regime, bin Laden apparently escaped and al-Qaida continues to flourish.

Some intelligence sources speculate that bin Laden's operatives may be trying to secure weapons of mass destruction from Iraq's Saddam Hussein. Even though Saddam continues to send money to the families of Palestinian terrorists and is believed to have programs for developing WMD, Kerry says he is committed to containing Saddam through continued sanctions and the U.N. oil-for-food program.

In any case, experts say that intelligence about Saddam's WMD program is just as speculative as was the intelligence that prompted Bush to attack Afghanistan. The man credited with sounding the alarm on bin Laden and al-Qaida was Richard Clarke, a counterterrorism expert who has served four presidents, including Ronald Reagan, George H. Bush and William Jefferson Clinton.

In a Jan. 25 memo to Rice, for instance, Clarke urged immediate attention to several items of national security interest: the Northern Alliance, covert aid, a significant new '02 budget authority to help fight al-Qaida and a response to the USS Cole.

At Rice's and Clarke's urging, Bush called a meeting of principals and, after "connecting the dots," decided to wage war against Afghanistan. What did the dots say? Not much, in retrospect. Apparently, the president decided to bomb a benign country on the basis of "chatter" that hinted at "something big."

With no other details on the "big," and weaving together random bits of information from a variety of questionable sources, Bush and company decided that 19 fundamentalist Muslim fanatics would fly airplanes into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon on 9-11.

Under questioning by the "9-10 Commission," Clarke denied that his memo was anything more than a historical overview with a "set of ideas and a paper, mostly." The bipartisan commission concluded, therefore, that Bush's "dot-connecting" had destroyed American credibility and subjected the United States to increasing hostility in the Arab-Muslim world.

Last week, Saddam Hussein and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat joined French and German leaders in condemning Bush and urging the American voters to cast their ballots for regime change in America. President Kerry was the clear response to that call.

In a flourish of irony and the spirit of bon vivant for which the new president is widely known, Kerry gave his acceptance speech from Windows on the World, the elegant restaurant atop the World Trade Center's Tower One.