With its exquisitely timed peace plan to head off an allied ground assault against Iraq, the Soviet Union seeks to distance itself from the United States, play a major role in postwar Middle East affairs, refurbish its image among the Muslim masses and placate Communists unhappy with the Kremlin's rebuff to its old allies in Baghdad.
The Bush administration may have mixed feelings about the Soviet intervention, coming at a time when weather conditions and force readiness are near optimum levels for launching a ground war. But if Mr. Hussein accepts the Soviet demand that he withdraw unconditionally from Kuwait, the savings in American lives would compensate a hundred times over for any losses in the diplomatic power game. In addition, Washington surely knows the United Nations Security Council would never have approved the international use of force against Iraq without Moscow's policy turnabout.
President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's peace plan, if early leaks prove correct, attempts to give Mr. Hussein some reassurance about his personal fate. A Soviet spokesman told British television that "this man (Saddam) needs a kind of plan to save his face and at this stage it may be time to tell him maybe not he but his administration will survive." A German newspaper said the Gorbachev proposal would guarantee the state structure and the borders of Iraq, pledge Soviet resistance to any punishment of Mr. Hussein personally and put the Israeli-Arab dispute on the diplomatic agenda.