THE HISTORICAL revisionists are already at work. Last year's triumph in the war against Iraq, they claim, has turned to ashes. We won the war only to lose the peace. But the naysayers who make this argument too cavalierly dismiss the strategic and diplomatic benefits produced by Operation Desert Storm.
To be sure, the fact that Saddam Hussein remains in power is deeply disturbing. But this hardly constitutes an argument against the war, particularly since he would still be comfortably ensconced in Iraq and Kuwait if we had not moved against him.
Perhaps the war's most significant achievement has been the extent to which we have substantially set back Iraq's efforts to obtain nuclear weapons. We now know that Iraq was far closer to developing them than was believed a year ago. Had we not been willing to use force, Saddam Hussein would undoubtedly have obtained a nuclear arsenal, with grave consequences for the region and the world.
But there were other benefits. By liberating Kuwait from the clutches of a Mesopotamian megalomaniac, we prevented Saddam from getting his hands on the economic jugular of the world. We demonstrated that powerful countries will no longer be permitted to take over weaker ones. And we opened the way for a Middle East peace process that has made it possible, for the first time in over 40 years, for Israel to negotiate directly with its Arab neighbors.
While reasonable people disagreed about whether sanctions would be sufficient to force Hussein out of Kuwait, it seems clear in retrospect that economic pressure alone would not have done the job. Even now, after we have destroyed much of his military machine and economic infrastructure, and with sanctions still in place, Hussein remains unregenerate and unrepentant. His refusal to comply with the cease-fire agreement is clear evidence that continued sanctions would have been a formula for failure.
The opponents of war also told us we would get hopelessly bogged down in a desert war with massive American casualties. Yet we won the war in six weeks, with fewer than 150 American fatalities. We were cautioned that the Arab masses would overthrow Arab governments courageous enough to oppose Iraq. Yet every one of our Arab partners is more stable today than if Hussein had gotten away with the annexation of Kuwait.
We were warned that a war would divert tens of billions of dollars from pressing problems at home. Yet virtually the entire cost of the war was paid by our coalition partners and other friendly countries.
We may not have accomplished everything we hoped to, but there can be little doubt that the gulf and the world are far more congenial to American interests and values than they would have been had we acquiesced in Saddam Hussein's brutal aggression against Kuwait.
Stephen J. Solarz, Democrat of New York, is a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.