War and World Order

DID the ``new world order'' wither with the first bombs dropped on Baghdad? The phrase used by George Bush as a keynote of his recent foreign policy doubtless has taken a battering. Much of its meaning and impact has been scattered by violent events in the Gulf and the Baltics. But if the new world order has meant anything, it's been the recognition that relations between nations have taken a discernible turn - away from superpower confrontation based on ideology and military might and toward far-reaching political and economic change that could establish a new basis for cooperation. That turn remains discernible through the smoke of current battles.

In Eastern Europe, Latin America, and parts of Africa, democracy is still trying to take root. The cooperative new foreign policy between Moscow and Washington remains, precariously, in place. The possibility of progress has not been lost, even in the volatile Middle East.

In that region, progress and stability - and, we hope, greater democracy - hinge largely on the outlook for lasting peace. Will war in the Gulf deepen anti-Western sentiments and radical impulses, or will it clear the decks in the region and create fresh opportunities for peacemaking?

The conflict's end will leave the United States obligated to the Arab nations who stuck with the coalition against Saddam Hussein. Washington will best meet that obligation by taking the lead in forging a solution to the Palestinian problem.

Complications, as ever, could be immense. The Palestinians are in disarray. Their longtime leader, Yasser Arafat, chose the wrong ally in Saddam. Arafat's top aide, Abu Iyad, is dead at the hands of an assassin reportedly tied to the radical Abu Nidal faction, supported by Saddam. Who will lead the Palestinians to the peace table?

Will Israel's government be any more willing to consider compromise on the West Bank and Gaza than it have been in the past? Two things may provide an incentive: the hint that Syria might be willing to deal, and Israel's own deepened obligation to the US for helping to remove the Iraqi threat.

It may not be too much to hope that when present hostilities cease, President Bush will use some of the same energy and decisiveness evident in the Gulf crisis to address the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The quicker the US moves, the greater its chances of defusing destructive Arab reactions in the aftermath of war.

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