France's attempt to link a Middle East peace conference with an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait, even as the clock ticked toward the midnight war deadline, exposed a troublesome vulnerability in the U.S. diplomatic position. The French maneuver was taken unilaterally, much to the irritation of Washington, London and, perhaps, Moscow. It could give Saddam Hussein a chance to pose as a hero of Islam willing to "sacrifice" his claims to Kuwait in the interest of forcing the Israeli-Arab conflict to the forefront of the international agenda.
As this is written, the Iraqi dictator has rebuffed even this opportunity. But until President Bush gives the order to attack (which could come at any time, even before the delivery of this newspaper), there is still a chance he could opt for what U.S. policy-makers admit is a "nightmare scenario."
Not "nightmare" in the sense of the carnage war would bring. But "nightmare" in the sense of confounding the U.S. position that Mr. Hussein must get no rewards, no concessions, no face-saving for his rape of Kuwait. It could be difficult for Mr. Bush to press the war button if Mr. Hussein at the last-minute embraces the French formula and announces at least a partial pullout. He could then claim he has established the "linkage" between the Israeli and Kuwaiti questions that the United States has refused to countenance.