WASHINGTON — Washington. -- The White House's decision to employ the Gulf War for partisan advantage is reprehensile, if predictable. Operation Desert Storm's magnificent military accomplishments are now to be dragged through the sewer of election-year politics, cheapening the sacrifice of thousands of American servicemen and women who risked their lives in that conflict.
No less reprehensible has been the political timidity of all too many of those who, like insurgent Republican Pat Buchanan, have had their honor and patriotism questioned because they took issue with the Bush administration's behavior during the Persian Gulf crisis that followed Iraq's invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990. The war should be debated, but not its debaters' integrity.
Mr. Buchanan was hardly alone. Others who opposed war with Iraq, or at least voiced dismay over the White House's seeming eagerness for war in the fall of 1990, included such treasonable characters as former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger, Carter administration national-security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn and former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairmen Gen. David Jones and Adm. William Crowe.
To this list should be added Gen. Colin Powell, who during the early months of the crisis was known to harbor grave reservations about the wisdom of expanding the scope of U.S. military intervention beyond a defense of Saudi Arabia. (Perhaps retired Marine Corps commandant P. X. Kelley, now serving as a White House surrogate in the bash-Buchanan campaign, would care to question the judgment and devotion to country of one sitting and two ex-chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The administration appears convinced that its handling of Saddam Hussein, before and after Aug. 2, 1990, is above reproach, and further, that those who have had the temerity to exercise their constitutional right of dissent deserve to be Willie Hortonized. The facts of the Persian Gulf crisis speak differently.
Consider, for example, the White House's pre-August 2 policy toward Iraq, which arguably encouraged Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait and certainly his confidence that he could get away with it. Like its Reagan predecessor, the administration completely misread the Iraqi dictator. It regarded him as a malleable ''force for moderation'' (an accolade bestowed on Saddam by Assistant Secretary of State John Kelly), and sought to romance him into international respectability via a combination of technology transfers, massive agricultural credits and repeated professions of desire for friendship.
The White House ignored or pooh-poohed Saddam Hussein's monstrous human rights violations, including the documented torture of children, and fought tooth-and-nail against congressional attempts, including legislation sponsored by Jesse Helms, to impose punitive trade sanctions on Baghdad.
U.S. ambassador April Glaspie's servile performance during her
infamous audience with the Iraqi dictator just a week before the invasion accurately expressed an established policy of deliberate appeasement. It was a policy analogous to British and French diplomacy's supplication of Hitler in the 1930's, a likeness explicitly drawn on the Senate floor by Republican William Cohen.
Nor should the White House's handling of the war itself, to say nothing of its aftermath, inspire great admiration. Far from it. To be sure, the U.S. military performed superbly, in part because it was left relatively free to plan and conduct combat operations as it saw fit. Operation Desert Storm turned in one of the swiftest and most lopsided victories in the annals of war, and did so at remarkably small cost in American (and Iraqi) lives.
But Desert Storm was a politically hollow victory -- and wars are waged for political objectives. Desert Storm failed, notwithstanding administration expectations and exhortations, to topple Saddam Hussein from power and to eliminate most of his Nazi-like Republican Guard divisions and his arsenal of chemical, biological and nascent nuclear weapons. That must be considered a major strategic defeat -- and one for which the White House itself bears much responsibility.
It was not Pat Buchanan, but the White House which, seemingly in as much of a rush to get out of war with Iraq as it had been to get into it, declared a premature cease-fire, in the absence of any Iraqi request for terms and against General H. Norman Schwarzkopf's better professional judgment. It was not Sam Nunn or James Schlesinger, but the White House which then, having irresponsibly incited Iraq's oppressed Kurdish and Shiite populations to rise against Baghdad, stood idly by while the rebellions were brutally crushed by Iraqi army units, many of them fresh from a Kuwait from which they had been permitted to escape.