Saddam Hussein, the man who isn't there, has shaped the agenda of the Group of Seven summit almost as much as the man who is there, Mikhail S. Gorbachev. While leaders of the free world democracies ponder their response to the Soviet president's pitch today for Western support of his economic reform programs, they already have put the Iraqi dictator on notice that his regime will remain a targeted pariah until he is gone or complies with the toughest United Nations sanctions in history.
The new phrase for this is "preventive diplomacy," a doctrine growing directly out of Iraq's seizure of Kuwait less than a month after the 1990 G-7 summit virtually ignored the United Nations. Had the doctrine been in effect a year ago, Saddam's aggression might never have happened. Now that it is proclaimed against a background of Security Council support for collective military action, the Baghdad leader is a threat to no one except his own people. Because their plight is especially harrowing, it could lead to a more forceful, interventionist role for the United Nations in protecting and bringing humanitarian aid to those who are victims of their own government.
Security Council Resolutions 687 and 688 already provide international legal cover for the stationing of an allied rapid response force in Turkey to guard against further Baghdad attacks on the Kurds or the Shiites and to channel relief to the beleaguered Iraqi population under direct U.N. supervision. The resolutions also probably justify further allied air strikes if necessary to eliminate Iraq's clandestine nuclear weapons program -- a move threatened anew by President Bush and French President Francois Mitterrand. The wisdom of such a move would rest on its effectiveness in toppling Saddam from power by encouraging the military coup the Bush administration mistakenly anticipated soon after the gulf war ended.