Just in time, the United States has joined the battle for hearts and minds in the Middle East. On the very day Jordan's King Hussein accused coalition forces of trying to destroy Iraq and place all Arabs "under direct foreign hegemony," Secretary of State James Baker described American hopes for a victory without vengeance -- for regional stability in which borders would be intact and both Iraq and Iran recognized as key players.
With Saddam Hussein rallying Muslim masses to his cause from North Africa to East Asia, it is crucial to get this message across. The United States may no longer have the economic wherewithal that allowed it to restore its defeated foes after World War II. But out of that experience and its half-century as a superpower, it has much to offer the Middle East once Iraq is defeated.
Mr. Baker's post-war sketch (it is too early to call it a blueprint) calls for economic rehabilitation, regional arms control, a new security arrangement for the gulf and new efforts to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict. His vision may appear a bit saccharin, especially as war rages on, but it is at least as valid as King Hussein's apocalyptic nightmares.
Let's analyze Mr. Baker's agenda:
* Economic Development. The growing gap between haves and have-nots has created social tensions Saddam Hussein is attempting to exploit. Secretary Baker's proposal for a new Middle East Bank for Reconstruction and Development could put more of the region's oil wealth into the service of its people and help rebuild Iraq -- provided Saddam Hussein is ousted from leadership.
* Arms Control. Iraq's war-fighting capacity can be traced to the massive arms supplies and advanced technology it received from the Soviet Union, France, Germany and other countries. If Middle East states are to be safe from attack by neighbors, regional arms control is mandatory.
* Security Arrangements. The gulf will have to be a microcosm for President Bush's "new world order" to prevent Iraq, Iran, Syria or any other nation from seeking regional domination. Mr. Baker anticipates a U.S. naval presence in the gulf. Peace-keeping forces will have to be drawn from the international and Arab communities. Iran and Iraq, as the only countries with oil wealth and large populations, are destined always to be vying for power in the Persian Gulf. They will have to be kept in check and in equilibrium.
* Arab-Israeli Conflict. With Arab nations fighting Arab nations yet still proclaiming their enmity toward Israel, Mr. Baker has given U.S. support to diplomatic initiatives once the war is over.
In the post-war Middle East, the United States will have to overcome fierce animosities by giving the lie to assertions it is out to shred the Muslim world. American intentions are quite the reverse. This country has shown itself to be generous in victory (Japan and German) and grudging in standstill or defeat (North Korea and Vietnam). Iraq will be lucky to lose.