GEORGE BUSH won and Saddam Hussein lost, but there were other winners and losers in the Gulf war. They include individuals, institutions, and nations. President Bush laid to rest once and for all the allegations of personal wimpishness. He exorcised for America the ghost of Vietnam. Brushing aside the nay-sayers and the doubters, he demonstrated strong leadership in pursuit of a goal most Americans identified with - the freeing of Kuwait.
Saddam lost because of a series of colossal blunders. He misjudged American will and capabilities in defense of Kuwait. He misjudged the reaction of the world - particularly the Soviet Union - to his immoral land grab. He misjudged the temper of many of his fellow Arabs who closed ranks against him. He compounded his misjudgments with an incompetent military plan against the allies, poorly executed.
Another major loser: Jordan's King Hussein. Once an American ally, he threw in his lot with Saddam, exhibiting an extraordinary moral obtuseness to the plundering of Kuwait. American diplomats are mouthing pieties about Jordan's importance in the aftermath of the war, but they are mouthing them through clenched teeth. Americans will henceforth not be as ready to embrace this unreliable monarch.
Also a loser in Washington's eyes is Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Like Jordan's King Hussein, he backed the wrong horse. His dalliance with terrorism and his equivocal statements about Israel have long frustrated American governments, but his support of Saddam will get him even shorter American shrift. Even more seriously, his funding from countries like Saudi Arabia will dry up.
Yet another loser: the Soviet Union. Mikhail Gorbachev tried to play 11th-hour peacemaker between the allies and Iraq. Had he succeeded, the Soviets might have had a commanding role in the Middle East. But he failed. Washington is saying polite words about the effort, but there is a new wariness of the Soviet Union amid suspicion that an increasingly hardline Soviet regime was trying to save and restore its Iraqi client. Another Soviet setback: the failure of the Iraqis' Soviet-supplied weaponry and Sov iet-trained military personnel.
A loser in the United States: the Democratic Party, some of whose leading spokesmen had been gloomy about the war's outcome, and who initially withheld support from the president. Bush may now be unbeatable for a second term.
Among the winners: Generals Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf, the architects of America's military victory. They have become national heroes. There is talk of political careers leading to vice-presidential and even presidential office. Beneficiaries along with them: the American military and the concept of the all-volunteer, highly-trained force. Also, after the success of Patriot missiles in knocking down Scuds, the Strategic Defense Initiative has gained stature and credibility.
Allied nations that stood with the United States were winners, particularly Britain, as courageous under John Major as it was under Margaret Thatcher; Egypt, whose troops fought effectively; and Saudi Arabia, which found new strength and dignity in standing up to a bully, rather than trying to buy him off.
Among the media, CNN was a winner. It came of age as the principal electronic headline service. And ABC's cool and careful Peter Jennings scored for staying home and doing what anchors should do - bring a coordinating editor's eye to the news, rather than grandstanding in a bush jacket at the front.
Finally, some whose victories are tempered by question marks:
The United Nations came back into prominence and usefulness by coordinating opposition to Iraq, but failed to produce any diplomatic settlement.
The Israelis gained much American respect for restraint in the face of Scud attacks. But how will they respond in the postwar maneuvering to settle the overall Arab-Israeli conflict?
And what of the people of Kuwait? They have been liberated from a nightmare. But will their traditional rulers give them the real freedom for which America and its allies paid dearly?