IT IS difficult to understand why the United States-led coalition needed to launch a large-scale ground campaign again Iraq forces. In fact, President Bush failed to understand that America already had won the war in the Persian Gulf.
Saddam Hussein had been forced to give up what he most wanted and vowed never to return -- Kuwait. Virtually all of Iraq's advanced weapons manufacturing capabilities have been destroyed, and damage to the civioolian and military infrastructure has been considerable. It will take years for Iraq to rebuild its shattered economy.
By the same token, Bush has kept the alliance together militarily and politically. At home, America is united behind him.
Those who favor an invasion of Iraq and Kuwait to force Baghdad to accept all U.S. conditions should understand the risk of agreeing to much higher casualties on both sides solely to obtain better terms for withdrawal. Why not continue the air war, which has already forced Saddam to give up Kuwait, rather than pursue the ground offensive as well?
Indeed, Iraq has already been defeated. Muslim extremists will continue to sing Saddam Hussein's praises. But most Arabs know that the U.S. and its partners in the region have come out on top. Iraq's Middle East "friends" -- principally Jordan and Iran -- will never enter into meaningful alliances with Saddam, who knows better than anyone how vulnerable he has become.
As for trepidation about working with the Soviets, administration sources have said there is little reason to fear that Moscow is trying to mediate the conflict in order to play a potentially troublesome role in the Middle East.
President Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev, while not necessarily agreeing on all aspects of a solution, have remained cordial and in close touch. That the final version of the Soviet-Iraqi peace proposals dropped any references to the talks on an Israeli-Palestinian settlement probably came because of Washington's objections. Gorbachev will continue to urge Iraq to do enough fast enough to satisfy most U.N. and alliance demands. In the past 10 days, Moscow persuaded Iraq to accept an increasing number of U.S. terms.
The Soviet leader desperately wants to be seen as a peacemaker. Still, after the war, he will not renew former close military ties with Iraq because he needs Western help and economic progress much more than he needs Saddam.
The best way to make the Iraqi ruler a major world troublemaker again and to help vindicate his actions in the eyes of his followers is to act as if he is still capable of seriously threatening allied interests. The truth is that Iraq is significantly less dangerous today than it was when it invaded Kuwait. We already have cut Saddam Hussein down to size.
The writer is president of the Council on Foreign Relations.