Ploy for Peace WAR IN THE GULF

February 22, 1991

Final U.S. judgment on the Soviet-Iraqi peace scheme awaits further study and consultation, but even a cursory look at the eight points outlined by Moscow shows why the White House feels it raises "serious concerns."

Not least of these concerns must be the severe pressure President Bush will be under to delay or scrub a ground war designed to finish off the Iraqi army and perhaps lead to the deposing of Saddam Hussein. Nations lacking the commitment of the United States and its closest coalition partners might be willing to accept what amounts to a conditioned compromise so long as Kuwait is freed.

Flaws are apparent in the Soviet-Iraqi proposal to cancel all pending U.N. resolutions on the gulf crisis once Iraq has completed a phased withdrawal that might give Saddam time to pull his armor out of Kuwait. Having thus escaped sanctions, reparations, embargoes and even the U.N. mandate to "restore peace and security in the area," the Iraqi dictator then might have the forces to remain in power and threaten neighboring states.

If there was one positive element in the Moscow formula, it was the omission of the repeated Iraqi attempt to link its rape of Kuwait with the long-standing Arab-Israeli struggle. President Bush reportedly was adamant on non-linkage, but whether this would be enough for Israel was doubtful. After taking repeated Scud attacks on Tel Aviv and other other population centers, Israel's vow to retaliate at a time and place and circumstance of its own choosing remains outstanding.

In terms of military tactics, the new peace gambit would raise real complications. Ignoring U.S. demands for no cease fire and a four-day withdrawal, it asks for a two-day cease fire before a withdrawal of unstated duration. The withdrawal would be "monitored" not by the nations that have put their forces on the line for Kuwaiti freedom but by countries (unnamed) that have stood aloof. It would even lift U.N. economic sanctions when the withdrawal was only two-thirds complete.

Despite all these drawbacks, it is clear that Iraq has blinked -- and blinked again. Its bluster about the "mother of battles" has turned into a diplomatic scramble to wrest victory from defeat, relying on a Soviet ally that had condemned its aggression.

Mr. Bush's responsibility is to deny Iraq even so tawdry a triumph while taking every care to avoid a ground war with a potential for heavy casualties. Such a sacrifice might have been justifiable in order to liberate Kuwait; it would hardly be politically tenable in pursuit of goals beyond Kuwait's liberation, however important they might be.

The United States retains enormous leverage despite the Iraqi-Soviet ploy. Mr. Bush can continue the air war and block any backtracking from U.N. resolutions until his "serious concerns" about the Moscow formula are eliminated. This seems a worthy and attainable objective.

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