From one year out, the American triumph in the Persian Gulf appears more and more as one last fling. With the Pentagon budget plunging at an ever-accelerating rate, the United States probably will be unable by mid-decade to put together an expeditionary force half a million strong to deal with a regional conflict on the other side of the globe. More than that, you have to wonder whether American clout will be such that our Cold War allies, now changed into fierce trade competitors, will again be willing to pick up most of the tab.
If these uncertainties materialize, the U.S.-led coalition put together to defeat Saddam Hussein's Iraq may not be a prototype for the future but a nostalgic evocation of military might. If the United States is to play a credible role as Superpower No. 1, it will have to rely on a new sense of shared responsibility at the United Nations.
Indeed, of all the results of the gulf war, which started at 6.30 p.m. one year ago this evening, the emergence of the U.N. as a more effective institution is the most encouraging. This was partly due to President Bush's bold leadership in insisting that Iraq's seizure of Kuwait "will not stand." But would he have succeeded without a surprising partner -- the former Soviet Union?