Winners and (Mostly) Losers in the Gulf War



WASHINGTON — Washington. -- Wars change the world in unexpected ways. Often, their consequences are wholly unintended by the victors.

World War I gave the world the Bolshevik revolution and the Soviet Union, an embittered Germany, a disillusioned France and Britain, and a U.S. with a taste for world affairs. It laid the groundwork for World War II, which not only destroyed fascism and the Nazi regime, but opened the way to Josef Stalin's conquest of Eastern Europe and to the Cold War.

The Gulf War has already changed the balance of power in the Middle East and altered some widely shared assumptions about the region and about Arab politics. There were, of course, winners as well as losers. But it remains the case that every government in the region was weakened -- though partisans of this and that regime seek to deny it.

The war devastated Kuwait. That formerly rich, peaceful kingdom that lived so well off oil revenues and foreign labor will never be the same.

The war defeated Iraq, which may or may not finally survive with its ''territorial integrity'' intact. It is estimated that the cost of reconstructing the country and compensating Kuwait will take all of Iraq's oil revenues for at least 25 years. Iraq will not soon recover its standing as a regional power or a leading ''rejectionist'' state, a prominent exponent of Arab nationalism or a military threat to its neighbors. Saddam Hussein proved to be no Saladin. Efforts to salvage his reputation have already been begun and have already failed.

Saudi Arabia was diminished by the war, forced to abandon its cherished insulation from the West, unable to defend itself against an aggressive neighbor, its longstanding policies of support for Mr. Hussein and for the PLO revealed as colossal errors.

The Palestine Liberation Organization was weakened not because it ''bet on the wrong horse,'' as so many have put it, but because PLO leaders very publicly and very clearly made common cause with the butcher of Baghdad. They rallied behind him and put their forces at his disposal. PLO leaders who had strained to ''renounce'' terrorism in conversations with Americans in 1988 announced now that they would support a worldwide terrorist offensive. In the process, the PLO lost rich traditionalist friends in the Persian Gulf who had bankrolled the organization since its inception. Saudi and Kuwaiti officials indicate that their government will never forgive the PLO betrayal.

Palestinians were losers throughout the region either because they supported Mr. Hussein or because they failed to support the governments allied against him.

Jordan was damaged when its king and its government so clearly tilted toward Iraq -- on CNN with the whole world an audience. The king proved himself neither so moderate nor so pro-Western as supposed. Other moderate pro-Western leaders in the region will be a long time forgetting his unreliability and his dependence on Jordan's Palestinian majority.

Though victorious, the government of Egypt was also weakened by the war. The government's sense of vulnerability to fundamentalists and radical causes was manifest in its careful -- maneuvers designed to placate supporters of Mr. Hussein's version of Arab nationalism.

Israel, too, was weakened as the world watched Scud missiles fall on Tel Aviv. In politics as in business, image is very important. The image of a passive and vulnerable Israel thrilled her enemies and will not soon be forgotten.

Even Syria and Iran were diminished by the war in which they felt it necessary to ally themselves with historic enemies. While both can take satisfaction from Iraq's defeat, neither can be happy to see the new U.S. role in the Gulf.

Of all the countries in the area, only Turkey enjoyed an enhanced reputation at the war's end. But that gain was quickly jeopardized by its initial policy of turning back waves of desperate, haggard refugees who arrived freezing at its borders. The displacement of two million Kurds may hold still unknown consequences for Turkey. Turkey's military role in the war was one of several reminders of the importance of non-Arab peoples -- Turks, Persians, Jews and Kurds -- in this region we think of as an Arab area.

The only reputations enhanced by the war were those of the leading Western partners in the coalition. The European Community, however, failed the test of the gulf crisis. France and Britain made their own decisions, cast their own votes in the United Nations and dispatched their own troops. As former French President Valery Giscard D'Estaing said: ''The gulf war returned us to the Europe of states.''

The U.S. reputation in the world soared. American weapons dazzled all observers. So did American military skill and political will. The French biweekly Le Point reported that in this post-Cold War, post-Gulf War period the French have succumbed to a case of ''Americanophilia.'' Eighty-three percent of French in a national poll described themselves as having a high opinion of Americans.

Their new enthusiasm for U.S. competence in international affairs has not, however, changed their view that France's future lies in the construction of a united Europe and not in some privileged relationship with the United States.

The end of the war is less an event than a process. This process will continue as Riyadh, Cairo, Damascus and Amman forge new relations with each other and with non-Arab peoples, including the U.S. The process has already produced some surprises and disappointments, for Secretary of State James Baker, among others. Stay tuned. Further unanticipated consequences will most surely follow.

Jeane Kirkpatrick writes a syndicated column.

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