Securing the Peace WAR IN THE GULF

March 03, 1991

President Bush says he will work as hard to secure the peace as he did to prosecute the war. He may find, however, that he will have to work even harder and surely longer. The Middle East is a minefield atop a flaming oil well, a region blotched with deep animosities, gross maldistribution of wealth, the machinations of outside powers and, now, the debris of its most massive war.

As the victor over Iraq and liberator of Kuwait, the United States is committed for the duration. Though it has no intention, or even capacity, to finance postwar reconstruction, it now occupies a more pivotal role in the bazaar of Middle East politics than ever before.

Actually, the arranging of a cease-fire and the departure of Saddam Hussein may be the easiest part. The president can take advantage of a desire within the triumphal coalition to make sure the Iraqi military cannot be a basis for massive rearming and renewed aggression. This is not only a matter of the U.S. blowing up enemy tanks scattered around the battlefields. Saudi Arabia and Turkey have leverage to contain their unruly neighbor, controlling as they do the two main pipeline networks for the export of Iraqi oil.

Hardly had the guns grown silent when demands escalated for settlement of the Palestinian problem and the Israeli-Arab dispute. Israel should indeed be willing to give up occupied territory and permit Palestinian self-determination if its Arab neighbors will recognize its borders and right to exist. But it would be incongruous to make this the first order of business. Such a step would seemingly grant Saddam Hussein the linkage between the gulf crisis and the Palestinian problem that he could never attain in wartime. That's hardly what Israel deserves for opening itself to Iraqi Scud attack without striking back.

The Persian Gulf war occurred in the Persian Gulf. Therefore, the first order of business ought to be the creation of a new security order in that troubled region. While the United States can protect Kuwait for a limited period with ground troops and can enter a tighter defense partnership with Saudi Arabia, its own military presence will remain primarily naval. That is as it should be.

Egypt now is entitled to be the mercenary for the protection of the sparsely populated, wealthy gulf states. Having come to their defense, it can provide soldiers for an international/Arab peacekeeping force and workers whose remittances home are vital to the Egyptian economy.

Mr. Bush must watch out for the Soviet Union, which seeks a larger role in the Middle East for having turned against its Iraqi ally, and West European nations whose long ties and commercial interests rub against the U.S. presence. Unless developed nations (including the United States) can resist the lucrative business of pouring arms into the Middle East, including weapons of mass destruction, the region will remain a cockpit for crisis. Arms control is necessary to secure the peace.

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