THE road leading to all-out war in the Gulf had many turns, some of which might have led to other outcomes. But this is no time to rehash past options. Coalition troops are rapidly flanking Iraqi positions in and near Kuwait. We hope, with President Bush, that these operations will be swift and decisive. A critical need, now, is to look beyond the likely coalition triumph over Iraq's battered soldiers. Pressing issues will surface in the wake of the US-led offensive. Among them:
Iraq's political future. The US decision to launch the ground offensive erased Saddam Hussein's chances of retaining a large portion of his military might. Can a leader who relies on the ruthless use of force recover from utter defeat? Iraq's capacity to replenish its firepower has been eliminated; the chemical and nuclear plants, a foundation of Saddam's politics of fear and threat, are smashed. The people of Iraq deserve much better than Saddam's discredited mix of militarism and repression.
The rebuilding of Kuwait. The emir's government has already mobilized its huge financial resources. Contracts, many with US firms, are lined up. Iraq's responsibility for looting Kuwait and murdering hundreds of Kuwaitis is unquestionable. Justice demands that Iraq help restore Kuwait, in line with United Nations dictates.
The establishment of security and peace in the region. New treaties and commitments will emerge from this war. The Arab coalition partners will have a leading role in shaping security arrangements to prevent future aggression. Potentially troublesome countries like Syria and Iran - known for their tendency to breed terrorism and unrest - will have to be involved. An effort must be made to stanch the flow of arms into the region. The US should help spearhead that effort as well as attempts to restart a broader Middle East peace process.
Pursuing a ``new world order.'' If the complex drama in the Gulf has clarified anything, it's that this new order should include unyielding resistance to aggression and strict observance of policies laid down by the UN. A critical test for the world, and for its dominant superpower, will be whether these principles can be equally honored in situations where US economic and political interests are less intense.
The war will end one sad episode in which diplomacy failed and fighting ensued.
But it could open another in which diplomacy engages more decisively in the critical work of building stability and peace in a part of the world that has long generated conflict.