AMERICANS have been given a garbled laundry list of reasons for the overwhelming U.S. presence in the Persian Gulf, but President Bush hasn't yet given the reason so clearly that a fifth-grade teacher could write on the board: "We are there because. . ."
These are some of the reasons listed so far: to defend Saudi Arabia's borders, to repel naked aggression, to preserve our way of life, to restore the emir of Kuwait to his throne, to show Saddam Hussein he can't get away with being a modern Hitler, to protect America's oil interests, to safeguard American jobs.
And a few more, no doubt, but my personal favorite is this: to ensure a new world order.
Think about that for a minute. What on Earth does it mean?
Well, to give it its most positive implication, let's say it means to prevent an international bully from invading or intimidating his neighbor by threats of violence.
It seems to me the only way to accomplish this is with police. It's the police who are supposed to keep order here at home. So it would take police -- or an army acting as police -- it's the same thing -- to do the job around the world.
There are 180 or so countries, and a good many of them are bullies. Maybe all of them. It's hard to think of exceptions, although Iceland and Costa Rica come to mind; they don't even have armies.
So we would need a pretty elaborate police force to protect our new world order, even if we could define it. And who would make up this police force?
If recent experience can be counted on, it would almost certainly consist overwhelmingly of Americans -- as the international police have been in Korea, Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, Grenada and Panama, to name a few.
Of course, the new world order we are hearing about might be to protect some countries, not all of them. Perhaps we want to protect only those we consider vital to American interests, such as those with oil or other raw materials we need for our own well-being or our own productive capacity. But then it wouldn't be a world order we were safeguarding; it would be an American order.
Maybe, then, we should ask ourselves why the U.N. Security Council is lending its support to the American effort. The other 14 members can't have the same kind of interest we do, or they would be sending big contingents of their military to help out.
If anything at all, what they have been sending is token forces. And most of them have said that their forces are in the gulf region only for defensive purposes. They would not participate in an invasion of Iraq.
The thinking at the U.N. seems to be this: It's OK with us if you Americans want to protect a new world order. We'll stand by and cheer and give you a few bucks to go along with our good wishes.
Some new world order!
On that subject, incidentally, the United States in the past has been dead set against any kind of new world order. At the United Nations 15 years ago, resolutions were introduced calling for a new world economic power, in which the United States and other wealthly Western countries would share their wealth and productive skills with poorer countries.
We turned that one down.
And then a half dozen years ago, one of the U.N. agencies, UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, proposed a new world information order, in which the United States and other Western countries would share their technological skills and provide financial help to poorer countries so they could develop their own news media.
We not only turned that one down; we were so incensed about the idea that we quit UNESCO altogether.
What is the president's game? Either he's not sure what he's talking about -- or he says he favors something he doesn't. In either case, Bush owes the nation and the world the facts -- simple, clear and unvarnished.
J. Herbert Altschull teaches in the Writing Seminars at Johns B Hopkins University.