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And So, on to Baghdad? : Keeping gulf policy in proper perspective

In the days and weeks and probably months ahead, the resource America is going to need in greatest abundance is not more military hardware, ground forces or burden-sharing by allies, but wisdom. We are going to need a lot of that. But will we have enough when the crunch comes? One has to wonder.

Washington policy-makers are said to be deeply divided over the proper aim of U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf. Some circles in the Bush Administration tilt toward a policy whose rationale absolutely requires the toppling of Saddam Hussein by whatever means necessary. They would not accept even the complete withdrawal of Iraq from Kuwait as an end-point in the military crisis. Direct military action against Iraq, not to mention Kuwait, is required.

But that course goes disturbingly beyond the original purpose of the U.S. military commitment and would represent a substantial escalation of U.S. aims. The United States is in Saudi Arabia to deter aggression, to protect U.S. oil supplies and to defend Saudi Arabia, an important ally, the site of a great deal of the world’s oil and a country in the same geopolitical ballpark as Israel, another ally this nation cares deeply about.

Yes, absolutely: Iraq must withdraw from Kuwait, as demanded by United Nation resolution, and it is the purpose of the punishing and nearly all-embracing economic embargo to effect that goal.

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Iraq must also be prevented from realizing any design on Saudi Arabia. And that is precisely the purpose of the American military commitment, which, it must be said, has so far achieved its goal of deterring Iraq from Saudi Arabia with seeming surety. In that sense, it might be argued, U.S. policy is already a triumph.

But the question of the political and even biological future of Saddam Hussein is not an appropriate issue for U.S. military forces--it is a problem for the Iraqis themselves. If the United States were to deal with that issue directly, it would put at risk the most startling and commendable achievement of the Bush Administration’s crisis management in the gulf: the broad anti-Hussein international political consensus.

If American forces are attacked in any way, our retaliation should be swift and merciless. But we must not risk a wider conflict by losing sight of the clarity that instructed our initial involvement two weeks ago. We especially owe it to the tens of thousands of American military personnel who are putting their lives on the line in the Persian Gulf to maintain a policy that is cool-headed, wise and just.

It is a policy that must not be buffeted off course by the winds of domestic politics, or by the overreaching of military and policy theorists for whom war is a kind of academic exercise--in theory an extension of diplomacy by other means. While threats of war may be an extension of diplomacy, war itself is the proof of diplomacy’s failure.

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Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee puts the issue clearly, leanly and correctly: “Our military mission is to defend Saudi Arabia.” Let’s keep that in mind.


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