THE United States and its coalition partners are determined to end the Gulf war in a way that leaves no doubt about who lost. Saddam Hussein faces humiliation on the battlefield and at home. Will this bring a tidal wave of resentment against US and Western influence and power? Few doubt that anger over the bombing of Iraq is strong among Arabs throughout the region and that sympathy for the Iraqi people is deep.
But will that translate into continued support for a leader whose failures are now abjectly exposed?
One can question particular coalition tactics, such as the persistent bombing in cities. But there's no question that the performance of US and coalition forces has been exceptional, and that Saddam's intransigence before this military juggernaut has been a primary reason for the loss of Iraqi lives and property.
The US could emerge from its military role in the Gulf with enhanced credibility, in some Arab eyes, as a power that keeps its commitments.
Certainly Washington will play a major role in drawing up new security arrangements for the Gulf. Some kind of long-term US presence is likely. Will this confirm the fears of many Arabs that the real American goal is not only to neutralize Saddam but to dominate the region?
The US can alleviate these fears by immediately using its postwar position of strength to encourage solutions to regional problems that helped fuel the confrontation with Iraq.
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the other Gulf states will have big bills for fighting and rebuilding. They will also have large grudges against the Arab states that opposed them during the crisis. But their financial resources are immense, and they must, down the road, take an even larger part in aiding their impoverished Arab neighbors. Washington should encourage steps to relieve the region's rich-poor tensions, which Saddam exploited.
And while the Palestinians are in utter disarray and the Israeli government is further to the right than ever, their enduring conflict could be ripe for attention. The door to normalized relations between Israel and more of its neighbors is inching open. This could work in tandem with renewed, US-backed efforts to solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem.
US power has been demonstrated. That creates resentments, but it may also win respect. It's critical that the US try to break through the resentment, and build on the respect, to address the region's underlying problems.