Response to Baghdad

THE Westerners trapped in Kuwait and Iraq pose a tremendous challenge for President Bush, Prime Minister Thatcher, and other leaders. Every humanitarian instinct urges concern for their citizens' well-being and outrage at the threat of mistreatment. But this concern could easily clash with the commitment to defend Saudi Arabia, to reverse the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and to apply force, if necessary, to attain these goals. Now that Baghdad has made clear its inclination to use foreign ``restrictees'' as leverage, the veil is off this newest hostage crisis. A strategy of placing foreigners near potential military targets in Iraq is callous. It flies in the face of the unanimous United Nations Security Council demand that Iraq ``take no action to jeopardize the safety, security, or health of such nationals.''

But it's a powerful tactic, both emotionally and politically. What should the response be?

First, a restatement of purpose. US involvement in the Gulf springs from the need to oppose Iraq's flagrant breach of international norms. Invasion and annexation can't go unchallenged, and only the US was in a position to quickly mount a challenge. Also, the Iraqi military thrust endangered vital interests of all industrialized nations. These purposes stand regardless of the hostage situation.

Second, a reaffirmation of unity. Iraq's decision to use foreigners as shields should only solidify the international community's opposition to Saddam's policies. The determination to maintain economic sanctions against the regime in Baghdad should be strengthened by this latest example of its ruthlessness.

Conflict between nations disrupts lives. The civilians caught in the Mideast turmoil now know this all too well, as do the young soldiers heading for the Gulf and the millions in the region buffeted by the threat of war.

That threat can be averted. But it will take patience and self-discipline, qualities doubly important with a hostage drama flowing into the news.

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