Among Saddam Hussein's many miscalculations was his evident assumption that he could exploit the hostage issue to torture America much as Iran had done during its seizure of the U.S. Embassy staff a decade earlier. He was as wrong here as he was in failing to anticipate that the United Nations -- with the new American-Soviet partnership in the lead -- would mobilize world opinion against his occupation of Kuwait.
It's not hard to understand how the Iraqi dictator made his mistake. During the period when American foreign service personnel were held hostage by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his Iranian mobs, the Carter administration allowed itself to be immobilized by concern for their welfare and trapped into a humiliating year-long negotiation.
Mr. Hussein also may have been led astray by President #F Reagan's highly personal involvement in the plight of a handful of American citizens held hostage by Arab extremist groups in Lebanon. But what Mr. Hussein failed to understand, in the words of foreign policy analyst John Newhouse, is that "eight hostages constitute a human tragedy, whereas a few hundred, or a few thousand, are a statistic. They add to his problem." Mr. Newhouse is not being callous; he merely is confining his judgment to the diplomatic impact and implications of what the Iraqi aggressor has done. Mr. Hussein is now hostage to his hostages.