ONE goal of American policy in the Gulf has been improved long-term security in the Mideast. As diplomatic and political activity builds before the Jan. 15 deadline, thought should be given to that subject again: What do we want the region to look like after the current crisis? If war comes, the rebuilding task will be immense. Iraq's armed power could be greatly reduced. Power vacuums could emerge. Peacekeeping forces would be required in and around Kuwait. Would they be all Arab, or a mix of forces?
If Iraq withdraws peaceably, the international community still has to deal with a region whose volatility has again been demonstrated. World leaders would be foolish to turn from the region after this latest eruption without setting in motion a process of reviewing and strengthening international security structures there.
``Tripwire'' security arrangements may be needed in the Gulf to guarantee borders. Gulf states should consider augmenting their sparse manpower with peacekeeping troops from fraternal countries like Egypt.
Arms sales into the region should be curtailed by international agreement. Iraq's overbuilt forces will have to be drawn down, perhaps by trading troop and armament reductions for a phased lifting of the international trade embargo. Nuclear and chemical arms must be eliminated through treaty arrangements and a ban on trade in the components of such weaponry.
Ultimately, the region's rush to arms can effectively be tempered only as the confrontation between Israel and her Arab neighbors - notably the Palestinians - turns toward negotiation. That process has to be resumed.
Economic and resource issues are also crucial. Millions of people - Yemenis, Palestinians, Egyptians - have been thrown into economic chaos by the crisis. Stability in the region demands that their needs by addressed by the oil-rich states and by the broader international community.
Right now attention is glued to the next day's maneuvers by Baghdad or Washington. At least some of that attention should be focused farther down the road, at bringing a durable peace to the world's most war-prone region.