WASHINGTON — SINCE POLITICS is nine-tenths hokum anyway, it may be unfair to single out summits as pinnacles of silliness. Still, global TV does make these photo ops truly bizarre.
Politicians love them. All those imperial trappings as stage, the entire world for audience and a license to peddle whatever you choose. President Bush obviously felt a need to saturate the world's screens with cuddly images of himself and Gorby cozying up. Hence the one-day stand in Finland.
Whether it worked is another story. Saddam Hussein is no dummy. He was probably more relieved than spooked when the inescapable next question -- what to do if the embargo fails? -- went unanswered. He already knew his old buddy, the Soviet Union, was lined up against him. What he learned from the Helsinki show was that Gorby is unprepared for the sight of blood.
I'd like to be wrong, but I believe the embargo will fail and we then will have no choice but to invade. To leave Saddam in Kuwait, with army and chemical arsenal intact, would render the entire enterprise a mockery.
That doesn't mean we need to chase him into Iraq and topple his government, as New Republic magazine and New York Times columnists William Safire and A. M. Rosenthal would have us do, even before enough troops are on line. These three see the world through the prism of Israel's Likud government. Israel wants Saddam beheaded, and that's all they need to know. (The debate is waged exclusively by pundits -- all politicians having rallied behind Bush until his ratings fade.)
To go after Saddam that way would create a martyr and alienate the Arab masses. It also would waste American lives. Whatever other countries, including Saudi Arabia, contribute, it's clear we're going to have to do the bulk of the fighting.
Okay. It's worth it to keep the oil flowing and establish the principle of international order and security in the post-Cold War world.
The problem of Saddam almost surely will solve itself if he's humiliated. Defeated despots tend not to die in bed. During the war, we presumably would have destroyed his chemical and nuclear capacities. We can make it clear to his successor that these must not be revived.
The remaining problems then would become dazzling opportunities if Bush can hold together the coalition he has so skillfully cobbled. These include a permanent security force for the Gulf, under U.N. auspices, and an all-out effort to bring peace to the Middle East by resolving the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Bush has been right thus far to refuse to subordinate U.S. troops to international command. If we're to do the fighting, we have a right to do it our way. The United Nations still is too hamstrung by old enmities to be trusted with the job.
Down the road, we'll need to drop the Lone Ranger role, though, and work to make the U.N. the effective peace-keeper it was intended to be. That's the sensible, pragmatic path to burden-sharing.
We'll also need to drop our old objections to an international conference on the Middle East, with full Soviet participation. If the USSR continues to step up to its obligations, as it has lately, together we can establish the framework for lasting peace.
We can't reach that goal by imposing a Pax Americana. Even if we could, it wouldn't last.
Jim Fain is a veteran Washington columnist for the Cox newspaper organization.