'What if we win'?

December 06, 1990

When President John F. Kennedy secretly briefed Sen. J. William Fulbright on the ill-fated, impending "Bay of Pigs" operation aimed at overthrowing Castro in Cuba in 1962, the senator asked, 'My God, Mr. President, what if we win?"

That is precisely the question Sen. Paul Sarbanes asked Secretary of State James A. Baker in a tense confrontation yesterday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. If we strike, in Baker's words, "suddenly, massively and decisively" against Iraq, what do we do when the war is over?

Instead of answering that trenchant question, Baker dissembled. But we can get a pretty good idea of what might lie in the aftermath of the conquest of Iraq by looking at the shocking spectacle that occurred in Panama yesterday when American occupying forces baldly assumed the role of policeman and began arresting Panama nationals -- including some who were Panama policemen themselves. At least one person was killed and several others were injured in an operation which, in television film clips, looked like the familiar scenes of Israeli soldiers arresting Palestinians on the West Bank.

But make no mistake, Saddam Hussein is no Manuel Noriega, and Iraq is not Panama. If it takes 10,000 troops to occupy Panama -- a supposedly "friendly" country -- then how many would it take to occupy Iraq -- a hostile country five times the size of Panama? Our guess is that the 400,000-plus troops now assigned to the Persian Gulf region would be there for a long haul, and Iraqi resistance in the form of terrorism would make the Palestinian rock-throwing against Israeli occupiers look like child's play.

The nation deserves an answer to Senator Sarbanes' question: "My God, Mr. President, what if we win?"

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