Save lives, not face

February 20, 1991

It seems pretty certain that we're in the final hours of the countdown toward a ground war in the Persian Gulf, and the last best hope of avoiding that bloody spectacle is one final attempt of Mikhail Gorbachev to negotiate an acceptable plan for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait.

The most serious obstacle to that vastly preferable outcome seems to be the question of "face." Increasingly it seems that in order for George Bush to save "face" he must destroy Saddam Hussein's "face."

Given the manner in which he has personalized this war from the outset, that might give President Bush a sense of personal, not to speak of political, achievement. But that achievement would be of scant comfort to the hundreds if not thousands of American families who will lose sons and daughters if a ground war does take place.

From everything we can gather through the arcane and technical briefings given by the military each day, Saddam Hussein's military power has been so significantly diminished that there is little or no chance that he can again threaten the peace of the Middle East; on the contrary, once his own people comprehend that he has led them into a senseless and winless adventure at great cost of Iraqi life and property and that he lacks an army to protect him, there is every reason to believe they may give him the treatment the Italians gave Mussolini in the closing days of World War II. That prospect is at least as good as the alternative, which would be in effect setting up an American puppet government in Baghdad -- with all the frightful consequences that would ultimately bring.

Last Saturday The Sun published on the front page two revealing photographs: One showed an ebullient President Bush grinning broadly, fist uplifted, surrounded by flying flags as he hugged a female worker at a missile factory in Massachusetts. The other photograph showed an anguished Michigan family -- a young widow, her two sons, aged 11 and 13, and her 8-year-old daughter -- at the graveside service of a young helicopter pilot who had been killed in the gulf. When we think of "face," let us not forget the faces of those four people for whom the consequences of this war will continue far into the next century.

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