A Nation Transformed

March 07, 1991

Not since Harry Truman lauded American forces on the day after Japan's surrender by proclaiming, "What a job you have done!" has a president been able to enjoy the triumph George Bush had last night. The intervening 46 years saw stalemate in Korea, defeat in Vietnam and success at last in the long Cold War. But it took a clear-cut victory on the battlefield against Iraq to "transform" the nation (Mr. Bush's word) in ways only dimly remembered.

Just as Mr. Truman rallied the country for the great struggle to secure a peaceful Europe, Mr. Bush advanced a peace plan for the Middle East. Of the initiatives he announced to a cheering Congress, none is more important than his call for a new security system in the Persian Gulf and settlement of the long smoldering Arab-Israeli dispute.

While Mr. Bush said members of the anti-Iraq coalition will have to take on the bulk of the security task, he said the United States stands ready not only to continue its long-standing naval presence but to participate in "joint exercises involving both air and ground forces." This would represent not only a greater peacetime U.S. involvement in the area than ever before, but also a radical change in attitude by Saudi Arabia.

an Israel and Saudi Arabia, or Israel and Syria, hitherto mortal enemies, really learn to coexist? Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir hinted in a Wall Street Journal interview this week that he might be willing to discuss confidence-building measures, such as water distribution and trade, with Arab countries before obtaining diplomatic recognition. A WSJ commentator quoted an unnamed but supposedly influential Saudi diplomat as designating Jordan as a Palestinian state -- a line long promoted by Israeli rightwinger Ariel Sharon. There also has been talk of an Israeli-Syrian accommodation on the Golan Heights. Fanciful as such ideas are, they are no more fanciful than the late-1970s notion that an Egyptian president might visit Jerusalem and make peace with Israel.

Mr. Bush's other two goals for the Middle East are more universal in scope. He would like to stop the huge arms trafficking in the region, especially in regard to Iraq. And he would seek economic freedom and prosperity for the region, an objective that could be achieved only through a hugeshare-the-wealth program by the oil-rich gulf states.

Just as President Truman spoke of a better America for returning veterans of World War II, President Bush held out the hope that Operation Desert Storm had "transformed" the nation on the home front. The domestic initiatives he outlined, however, were boilerplate repetitions of his state of the union address. When the cheering stops, Mr. Bush will have a lot of domestic business to do if he wants to cap his presidency with success. Harry Truman would tell him that, too.

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