Victory Is Not Yet Assured

ALTHOUGH all may be fair in love and politics, the current political pillorying of those who by vote or comment favored sanctions over war in the Gulf is deeply disturbing - especially to those of us who have lived and worked in the Middle East. Such exploitations of conscientious opinions suggest that, in the euphoria after a brilliant military victory, Americans have concluded that the United States has, through war, achieved its objectives and that peace is assured. This attitude ignores both the effects of war and the remaining issues of peace.

Some objectives have been achieved. Kuwait has been liberated. The threats to Israel and to the oil-producing regimes in the Gulf friendly to the United States have been reduced. As this is written, however, Saddam Hussein is still in power in Iraq, and Kuwait, though liberated, lies in ruins.

No one will ever be able to say with certainty whether sanctions against Iraq might have degraded Iraq's military capacity and led to the ultimate liberation of Kuwait. What is clear and, perhaps, tragic, is that in the one moment in modern history when non-military coercive measures might have been given a genuine chance, that chance was passed over.

Iraq, with its invasion and brutalization of Kuwait, is fundamentally responsible for the tragedies of the conflict. But the war may well have hardened and aggravated divisions in the region in ways that the slower tightening of sanctions might not have done. At the moment, hopes for a new order of cooperation among Arab states are threatened as retribution prevails over forgiveness and help.

America rejoices that the number of its war casualties was so small. The thousands of Iraqis killed register only faintly on the US national consciousness. Yet, in a part of the world where the litany of past wrongs from the West stretches back to the Crusades, deaths and destruction from the coalition forces can add another layer of deep resentment. In its dependence on the support of Arab leaders within the coalition, the United States tends to shut out other voices from the area.

In Basra, for example, after the cease-fire, the mobs that fought the Iraqi Republican Guard were led by Shiite Muslims. Granted that almost any regime may be more palatable to Washington than that of Saddam Hussein, will the US, its conservative Arab partners, or Israel live easily with a resurgent Shia Islam with possible ties to Iran in southern Iraq?

Against the hopes that the war may bring an Arab-Israeli peace closer, one must place the hardening of attitudes in Israel. Although the discrediting of Yasser Arafat was complete when Arafat sided with Iraq after the invasion in August, the Scud missile attacks and the greater sense of vulnerability are likely to make concessions much more difficult for Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.

Washington placed much emphasis on the role of the United Nations in supporting force in the war, and talks of a greater role for the UN in the future. The war, however, was primarily an American effort in which the UN Security Council played but a supporting role. Member nations who believe that the United States, by its military plan, exceeded the spirit of the resolution authorizing force may be less eager to provide unqualified support for US initiatives in the future.

Another objective is to lessen the threat of advanced weaponry in the region. Yet initial indications are that Middle East nations, fascinated by the display of high-tech US military might, may want more of the same. The Soviets have already balked at agreeing not to rearm Iraq. The temptations of Western suppliers will be great. Israel may be less willing than ever to subject its weapons of mass destruction to a general arms agreement.

If we who are familiar with the region feel that the shouts of victory and the dismissal of critics are premature, it is because we have seen the many unpleasant surprises encountered by the United States in the Middle East.

Those who expressed reservations about the use of force may not, in the long run, appear either to have been totally unwise in their caution or unpatriotic. -30-{et

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