President Bush has emerged from the Persian Gulf crisis covered with glory. He deserves warm praise for his unwavering insistence that Saddam Hussein's aggression posed a threat to world peace and for his skill in assembling the multinational alliance that evicted Saddam's army from Kuwait.
With this personal triumph, George Bush steps out of the shadow of Ronald Reagan and becomes an international statesman of formidable stature. And that is all to the good, because now comes the hard part. The President will need all his skill to convert the military victory into a just and lasting peace.
In the Mideast itself, the war has unleashed passion and hatred. The Arab masses see the conflict as another attempt by the colonial West to impose its will on their region--a view widely shared by followers of Islam around the world.
It will take subtlety to stabilize such an inflamed situation. It is probably too much to expect the Middle East to move swiftly toward tranquility and some semblance of democracy. But those must be our goals. Iraq must be neutralized so that it is never again a nuclear or chemical disaster waiting to happen. And we must work to ensure that another Saddam doesn't emerge in Syria or Iran to move into the power vacuum created by Baghdad's collapse.
One source of regional disaffection is widespread resentment of the fabulously rich monarchies in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The Arab masses detest the al-Sabah family princes in Kuwait and the al-Saud royal family in Saudi Arabia. Having just bailed these families out, President Bush has the clout to prod them toward democracy.
The gulf fighting shows the self-destructiveness of the international arms trade. Saddam armed Iraq with hardware purchased from the West as well as from the Kremlin. And it is an ominous sign that Moscow is beginning arms sales to the Iranians. The alliance partners need to thrash out an agreement to curtail arms sales in the region and must find some way to get the Kremlin to go along.
The Soviet sales to Tehran are disturbing in other ways. The alliance's triumphs would have been impossible without the entente that Bush forged with President Gorbachev. And it was only by getting Gorbachev's acquiescence that Bush was able to assemble some 550,000 troops on the Soviet Union's southern flank. The ambiguous Soviet efforts to broker a cease-fire show that the Kremlin was jumpy. The U. S. should close the rift by bringing American ground troops home quickly, leaving peacekeeping to U. N.-sponsored forces.
There remains the stubborn Palestinian question. The Palestine Liberation Organization, by its zeal for Saddam, has lost its credibility as the sole voice for Palestinian aspirations. This opens up fresh avenues for coming to grips with the valid grievances of Palestine Arabs. The Saudis and Kuwaitis, as well as the Syrians and Egyptians, must be persuaded to help restart a dialogue. The Israelis, for the same reason, must do their part.
Now, with the war winding down and his domestic political prestige sky-high, George Bush has a challenge at home, too. There are all sorts of things wrong in this country: twin deficits, lack of competitiveness, the absence of a cohesive energy policy, limited opportunity for minorities. We'd love to see him shake free from the challenges of the international arena to tackle some of the pressing economic and social problems facing this nation. If he does that, he can be a great President.