The US Must Keep Its War Aims in Focus

IT is not too soon - on the contrary it may be too late - to talk about war aims in the Persian Gulf. The guiding principle is: Fewer are better. Through all of its resolutions on the subject, the United Nations Security Council has limited itself to calling for Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait and for Iraqi protection of foreigners. The United States should go no further.

War has its own internal dynamics for spreading, and to a degree these are uncontrollable. But to the greatest extent possible, our response should be related to the original, limited objective. In order to force Iraq out of Kuwait, it is necessary to attack Iraqi forces and infrastructure in other locations. This spreads the war, but it is not the same thing as destroying the military power of Iraq, though it may end by doing that.

In order to prevent an even greater widening of the war, it was necessary to undertake the antimissile defense of Israel. This is not the same thing as undertaking the total defense of Israel. Even less is it the same thing as paying the extra expenses Israel incurs because of the war, let alone because of the resettlement of Soviet Jews.

There will doubtless be other events that broaden the war. But we can deal with them as long as we recognize them for what they are and keep them related to the original objective.

MORE insidious are the pressures that arise internally within the US, within the American government and the American people, and that seem to be rooted somewhere deep in the American psyche. History provides many instances that document the American tendency to expand a reasonable, attainable, limited objective into a costly, unattainable worldwide crusade. Consider only the 20th century:

World War I was really about the balance of power in Europe, but we turned it into a crusade to make the world safe for democracy. We won the war, but we made the world neither safe nor democratic.

There is an impressive argument to be made that the policy of unconditional surrender prolonged World War II without producing commensurate benefits in the peace that followed.

In Greece and Turkey, we were not content with the reasonable policy of helping two countries resist communist insurgencies. We broadened that into the worldwide Truman Doctrine to ``assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way,'' and for 40 years we scattered untold billions of dollars and millions of arms around the world. Successes were few, failures many.

In Korea, we achieved the original objective of driving the northern forces out of the south in three months. Then we broadened the aim to include unification of the country. Three years later, after bitter fighting and wrenching political debate, we settled for an armistice that left things where they had been.

In Vietnam, we started to help a shaky government control some fractious elements and ended by taking sides in a bloody, expensive civil war.

In Nicaragua, we started to interdict supplies flowing from Sandinistas to rebels in El Salvador and ended again taking part in a civil war. Along the way, we picked up the Reagan Doctrine, which sought to aid insurgents anywhere so long as they were anticommunist.

The list could go on. One hears talk now about some kind of regional security arrangement in the area of the Persian Gulf after the war. That, too, was tried once, as part of John Foster Dulles's grand design to ring the Soviet Union with regional security organizations. The Baghdad Pact was the link between NATO in Europe and SEATO in Southeast Asia. The original members were Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom. The United States never joined, but participated as an observer. Iraq withdrew after its revolution in 1958, and the headquarters was moved to Ankara. Iran withdrew following its revolution in 1979, and the whole thing was dissolved.

For Westerners in general and for Americans in particular (because of our special identification with Israel), the Middle East is a political minefield with a booby trap at every turn. It would have been better to let this war wait while we tried more economic and political pressure to get Iraq out of Kuwait.

There will be a peace conference when the shooting stops. This will be a splendid opportunity for leadership by the United Nations, not the United States. We will have done enough if we help to get Iraq out of Kuwait.

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