BY ALTERNATELY pouring an offensive force into the Persian Gulf and proclaiming his devotion to sanctions as the answer, President Bush is:
a. Trying to bluff Saddam Hussein out of Iraq?
b. Reassuring us there will be no body bags?
c. Changing the subject from his budget debacle?
d. Preparing Americans for war?
The answer is e -- all of the above. As usual, our leader whirls this way and that, reefing to whichever breeze chills his pollsters' fingers. This is far too serious a matter to be left to image-smiths, however. It's life and death for a lot of kids too precious to be pawns in a game. With the facts gradually becoming unmistakable, there's no excuse for not laying them all out.
Saddam isn't about to give back Kuwait short of force or conviction it's about to be used, for example. He won't be convinced until we've made up our mind to go. The embargo can't bend him in less than 18 months, if then. Bluffing merely makes Bush sound silly.
The options are simple: 1) Back down and bring the troops home after negotiating the best deal we can get. 2) Maintain a huge army in the desert for at least two years. 3) Invade around the first of the year when enough armor is in place.
The first would be a mistake, I think. It would crown Saddam top gun of the Arab world, in control of 45 percent of all oil, a mortal threat to his neighbors, including Israel, and to the international economy.
The second would do fine but assumes the alliance against Saddam can be held together indefinitely, and that the U.S. public will be equally constant -- both long shots.
The third, unless it caused Saddam to cave in at 11:59, as the new cliche goes, would cost American lives. If all went well, nothing like the 30,000 someone estimated, but none is cheap.
President Bush ought to be laying this out to the American people in just such stark terms, making plain his exact goals and what's at stake as he sees it.
He needs to let the world know, too, that we expect to leave a sovereign Iraq, with or without Saddam, and have no desire to rearrange the geography of the region. He should list the safeguards we'd demand on Iraqi chemical, biological and nuclear arms.
He ought to be equally open with Congress. If and when he decides only force will work, far from shrinking from a formal declaration, he should demand it. It would be foolish to go to war without the support of Congress and the American people.
We have to be just as frank with the rest of the world. It's clear the allies will not move without a U.N. resolution. Gimmickry won't produce one. Only the hard truth can sell it. Unless we get agreement, we may as well forget the whole business. Going it alone would create more problems than it could solve.
All the hysteria about "Hitler" is as unnecessary as it is silly. If the facts of the situation weren't compelling, it would be foolish to think of invading. What remains is for Bush to trust us enough to tell us why he thinks those facts add up to war.