From the moment the first cruise missile struck Baghdad six weeks ago, there was never any real doubt as to the final outcome of the Persian Gulf war; there was only the question, how many lives would be lost? Now that the final thrust has begun, there is reason to hope that American losses may not be measured in thousands or even hundreds but maybe in the dozens. The vaunted Iraqi military has turned out to be just a herd of docile lambs, almost eager to surrender.
War has a way of becoming self-justifying. When victory comes quick and easy, it seems to settle the question of whether the war was necessary to begin with. In short, might does make right. Probably not even history will be able to say definitively whether Iraq could have been forced from Kuwait through more patient application of non-violent economic sanctions. Nor can we know whether Iraqis and Kuwaitis, not to speak of a yet-to-be determined number of Americans, might have been spared further death and destruction if the U.S. had been willing to accept the peace plan devised by Mikhail Gorbachev.
Some maintain, of course, that Gorbachev was just "interfering." Baloney. The Soviet Union was a vital voice in the United Nations in ordering Iraq out of Kuwait. Gorbachev had as much right to pursue peace as George Bush did to pursue war.
So in the end the struggle came down to differing visions of the world: Mikhail Gorbachev's "New Thinking," which seeks to resolve disputes with minimum use of force; and George Bush's "New World Order," which embraces Bismarck's dictum that ultimately all issues are settled by "blood and iron."
But the acid test of Bush's "New World Order" will turn not on the outcome of the Persian Gulf war but rather on what follows in the Middle East. We have a disquieting feeling that if that "order" means imposing American notions of morality through military force, the world will be neither new nor orderly.
Would that it were so simple, that everyone, everywhere would embrace our "morality" -- starting, by the way, with the medieval monarchies of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia we fought this war to make secure. No, the real question will be whether, in time, the United States will cease to be seen as the world protector and become instead the world bully -- running around "kicking ass," to use Bush's vulgar term.
Yes, we probably can impose a "New World Order" for a time. We can always find sympathetic people in any region who will do our bidding, for a price, but in the end these people almost always come to be regarded as puppets if not Quislings.
Perhaps the saddest aspect of the outcome is the position of the Palestinians who have groaned under Israeli occupation for nearly a quarter of a century now. Having backed the wrong horse, so to speak, in their sympathies with Saddam, there will be a powerful inclination -- especially in Israel -- to say that the Palestinians deserve nothing. But no attitude could be more dangerous. The "linkage" of this war to the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank was not a concoction of a cynical Saddam Hussein; it is a geographic and historical fact, and it is a cancer which must be excised. If we do not swiftly resolve that issue, we will inevitably be spawning future Saddam Husseins in the Middle East by perpetuating the indignity and humiliation heaped upon the Arab people for so many centuries.