THE sharp American-led response to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait has drawn international support to a degree unprecedented since World War II. This broad consensus could be a sign of the new world order after the cold war or just a one-time response to glaring international thuggery.
But President Bush and his own clear-cut countermoves against Iraq are credited with the leading role in bringing it about.
In the most dramatic test of his leadership yet, Mr. Bush has drawn only praise so far.
In a televised address to the nation Aug. 8, the president explained why he is committing troops to Saudi Arabia. Noting Iraq's military build-up along the Saudi border, he said that Saudi Arabia is ``of vital interest to the United States'' and that ``American will stand by her friends.'' Characterizing US troop deployments as ``defensive,'' he emphasized that they will defend themselves if attacked, a clear warning to the Iraqi president.
Bush said his goals were fourfold: to effect the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait, to restore Kuwait's legitimate government, to ensure the security and stability of the Gulf, and to protect the lives of US citizens abroad.
The test will become much tougher politically after the early flush of confrontation is gone.
If forcing Iraq back into its own borders becomes a long, fight - economically or militarily - Americans may have to face economic hardship at home, battlefield casualties on the Arabian Peninsula, and some expensive long-term commitments to protect Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
The public, says Bert Rockman, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, ``has accepted action, but not necessarily consequences.''
In limited, police-action wars, from Vietnam to Panama, ``the American public wants to see quick action and quick resolution. We are not a patient people,'' says John Kessel, a presidential scholar at Ohio State University.
Sustaining national sacrifice, should it become necessary, is a task that falls at the feet of presidential leadership.
So far, the congressional leadership has closed ranks behind Bush, endorsing broad leeway for military action in the Gulf.
His first task, the pursuit of international solidarity against Iraq, has met stunning success.
Administration emissaries apparently showed a commitment to the region convincing enough to overcome Arab resistance to United States intervention - persuading Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey to take sides against Iraq. Unprecedented sanctions
The United Nations Security Council trade sanctions against Iraq for invading Kuwait are nearly unprecedented. In UN history, only two cases brought sanctions from the five permanent Security Council members - China, the US, the Soviet Union, France, and Britain - which must move unanimously to act. In 1966 the members agreed to sanctions against Rhodesia after its unilateral declaration of independence from Britain, and in 1977 voted for a ban on arms sales to South Africa.
Japan, China, the Soviet Union, and the European Community, among others, have joined the US in a boycott of Iraqi and Kuwaiti oil.
``By responding boldly himself, he [Bush] has emboldened and encouraged our allies,'' says Marc Landy, a senior fellow at the Gordon Public Policy Center near Boston.
The Iraqi crisis has offered a clear model of a new, cooperative kind of American leadership in the world. This model is beyond superpower rivalry. The US is the world's dominant military power - even if its military is still largely shaped by the old East-West nuclear deterrence model.
``We're probably still the only power that can take the initiative in a move like this and have the military might to back it up,'' says Erwin Hargrove, a presidential scholar at Vanderbilt University.
Dr. Hargrove is skeptical that the ideal League of Nations-type consensus that has formed against Iraq is a harbinger of world politics to come. Rather, he says, it is a response to an unusually vicious ``bully boy.''
At home, the political opportunity for Bush in the Iraq crisis is ``enormous,'' both for his personal popularity and increasing the power of his presidency, says Dr. Landy. ``Instead of being the guy who reneged on his campaign pledge and couldn't get a budget agreement, he's the guy who put down a tinhorn despot.''
From a political standpoint, says opinion expert Everett Carll Ladd, ``I just don't see where the risk is for the president.''
Since Bush's reputation for prudence is well established, says Dr. Ladd, his greatest risk in the Middle East is to be seen as not strong enough.
Bush's popularity soared after the Panama invasion.
Yet, public support for the wars in Korea and Vietnam began to wane after roughly a year - falling in nearly direct proportion to the growing casualty counts, Dr. Hargrove says. Learning from Carter
Full-scale wars can sustain a public commitment, but limited wars ``just don't work in American history unless they're over quickly,'' he says.
American impatience could make life uncomfortable for Saudi Arabia, which decided on Tuesday to allow Americans to base operations there.
They may have been choosing between becoming an Iraqi or an American protectorate, says Dr. Rockman, and wondering: ``What is life going to be like in this region when the Americans leave? ``It's going to be hard,'' he answers.
Many of the current signposts prompt memories of the Carter years when Iran held US hostages, oil was in short supply, and the economy was stagnant.
Bush has clearly learned from some of Carter's experience as president. Carter defined the hostage crisis in a way he could not win - by promising to get the hostages back, notes Landy. The hostages came back, but at Iran's pleasure, and after the crisis had devoured the Carter presidency.