THE question is no longer whether Saddam Hussein will leave Kuwait. One way or another, the departure of his troops from the nation they seized and raped is now assured. The question is whether Saddam should be allowed to survive; whether he should be permitted to remain ruler of Iraq, a client state of the Soviet Union, regrouping and rebuilding his offensive military capacity with Moscow's protection and aid.
It is a bizarre debate.
It is as though, after World War II, had Hitler not died in his bunker, we had simply overlooked his slaughter of the Jews and pondered the possibility of his continuing to run Germany provided he gave up France, and Holland, and Belgium, and the other territories he had overrun and plundered.
Saddam is not a mildly irritating little despot who should be slapped on the wrist and told to mind his manners. He is a dangerous and unpredictable tyrant who has shown readiness - even eagerness - for plunging the entire Middle East into war, for killing thousands of people in the process, and for disrupting, if he can, the economy of the Western world.
This is the man for whom the massive death toll of the Iran-Iraq war was of no consequence.
This is the man who butchered his own Kurdish opposition.
This is the man who has used chemical weapons, who has stockpiled them, and who has threatened to use them again.
This is the occupier of Kuwait - a state that, while it is no advertisement for Jeffersonian democracy, nevertheless deserves to exist.
This is the man who targeted civilian population centers in Saudi Arabia with his notoriously inaccurate Scud missiles supplied by the Soviet Union.
This is the man who targeted cities in Israel - not even a participant in the current allied offensive against him - with more of his Scuds.
This is the man who grotesquely protests allied bombing of civilians in Iraq - a terrible tragedy but unintentional and deeply regretted - while he himself consciously seeks out civilians in other countries for death by his rockets and his terrorism.
This is the man we are discussing leaving at large and in control in Iraq, unrepentant, unreformed, and with a finger inching toward a nuclear trigger.
It is a prospect that boggles the imagination.
True, Winston Churchill spoke of magnanimity in victory. But the allies pursued Germany's rulers as war criminals. It was to the defeated German people that they practiced magnanimity.
To demand the ouster of Saddam Hussein is no mark of blind vengeance. It is an act of justice.
And of prudence. Implicit in the demand that Saddam ``leave Kuwait,'' is the requirement that he leave it, and other vulnerable neighboring states, alone for good. If Saddam, the master of duplicity, were to remain in power in Iraq, there could be no security for Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab states, not to mention Israel.
How should he go?
By internal coup, at the hands of his own people, would probably be the most satisfactory outcome. This would avoid the anguish of an international trial for war crimes, or worse still, a Noriega-like trial in the United States that would ignite the Arab world.
Or an Idi Amin-like flight into exile would be tolerable. It would have to be a sanctuary from which he could not rekindle his brand of international mischief.
What would be intolerable would be for his security and power base to be guaranteed by a Soviet regime that seems increasingly influenced by the military and the KGB.
If, incredibly, Saddam Hussein is allowed political survival after the war, he should not feel over-confident.
In the wings is Israel, which has exercised incredible restraint during Iraq's indiscriminate missile attacks. But the Israelis also have long memories. It is unthinkable that they would permit a threatening Saddam Hussein to remain at large. So if the allies do not ensure Saddam removal, the Israelis probably will.