As the evidence mounts that President Bush was party to the policy that deliberately armed and financed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein -- in effect, making Saddam our man in the Persian Gulf before he tried to grab Kuwait -- the White House must be spooked by the specter of Ross Perot. Unlike Bill Clinton, who has tip-toed ambiguously on Iraq as he does on so many issues, Mr. Perot has been devastatingly blunt in his criticisms of Reagan-Bush policy before, during and after the gulf war.
Now a prospective independent candidate for the presidency, a fellow who beat both Mr. Bush and Mr. Clinton in the latest Texas Poll, Mr. Perot could turn Mr. Bush's greatest triumph against him.
After all, Saddam -- the "butcher of Baghdad" -- remains in power and is likely to be there in November. The White House is in no position to deny reports:
* that the administration ignored urgent warnings about Iraq's ominous nuclear buildup a year before war broke out;
* that it furnished economic assistance to Saddam almost to the eve of his invasion of Kuwait;
* that it led the Iraqi strongman to think Washington would not object if he seized Kuwait's northern oil fields, and that it allowed Saudi Arabia to funnel arms to him despite congressional restrictions on shipments of U.S.-supplied weapons to third countries.
Asked the other day about past policies toward Iraq, the president replied that if he had "90-90 hindsight . . . I'd certainly rethink our position." Interestingly enough, a year earlier Mr. Perot had mocked the administration's tendency to say if it only had had "20-20 hindsight" in the gulf it would have done things differently.
"In the last ten years we created [Hussein]; we made him what he is today," Mr. Perot said in April 1991. "Our country gave him billions of our taxpayers' money. We sold him any weapons and technology he wanted. . . Like Noriega he was our dictator of choice. . . So after fighting the war we have now chosen to leave him in power. . . He is alive and well and and up there killing his people. . ."
Mr. Perot's opposition to the use of force against Iraq plus his advocacy of more aggressive measures to get rid of the Iraqi dictator could whipsaw the president and cause him campaign damage.
We agree with many of Mr. Perot's criticisms of Washington policy before and after the war. But this newspaper continues to believe Mr. Bush was right in mustering an international coalition to stop an aggressor who had seized the territory of a United Nations member. The doctrine of collective action, engagement and security had to be upheld.