THE war in the Gulf is barely four weeks old. Yet diplomats and officials on the coalition side are already talking about how the Persian Gulf region should be governed, and how to reach that decision, once US-led forces have won. Will Egypt and Turkey, the strongest regional coalition allies, have significant leverage? How seriously should one take the recent offer of Iran to become, in effect, the Geneva of the region - the negotiation hub in the war's aftermath? Syria has sided with the coalition, but how far can the US extend its hand to Hafez al-Assad, a protector of terrorists?
This is to say nothing of Jordan's King Hussein, who has had to walk a tightrope since August. How can Arabs, and specifically Palestinians, feel some sense of ``ownership'' in the region?
In the next year, these and other questions will be intricately and exhaustively explored. Yet beneath the diplomatic maneuvering, the most important element for the US to consider may be the spirit it exhibits in these doings. After its use of devastating force in the region, the US will attract much hatred. Washington must show magnanimity, beginning now.
Secretary of State James Baker commendably articulated this need before the House Armed Services Committee last week. The ``deepest passions have been stirred,'' and the US ``must approach the postwar period with a due sense of modesty,'' the secretary said. Exactly right. So was his later allusion to the need to work on the Palestinian autonomy issue after the war - to ``heal not just the Persian Gulf, but the rest of the region, which needs it so badly.''
Even those in the US and the rest of the world who have questioned the choice of a total-war solution to Saddam's aggression will appreciate a spirit of ``with malice towards none, with charity for all'' underlying US policy now and in the war's aftermath. Hubris in ``victory'' would undermine US policy for years.
In this regard, congressional balking over possible US aid to help rebuild Iraq after the war is troubling. Saddam himself is at the heart of such objections, and his postwar status is a question mark.
A ``modest'' spirit will also help ameliorate what could be one of the worst outcomes of the war if not checked: a subtle assumption on the part of policymakers and politicians in the US and elsewhere that war is in fact an effective, practical foreign policy - so long as one can find a rationale for it. That's a slippery slope to avoid.