From a Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff report on the Persian Gulf issued Oct. 18:

Perhaps the most straightforward explanation of U.S. purpose was offered by Secretary Weinberger in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee on June 9: "The fundamental issue is leadership, the leadership of the free world to resist the forces of anarchy and tyranny." Certainly most of the Gulf leaders with whom we met echoed the secretary's view that U.S. leadership is being tested in the Gulf, and all agree -- out of powerful self-interest -- that forces of anarchy and tyranny must be resisted. The question is how even a substantial naval force can do much more than "show the flag" and deter attacks on those vessels it protects directly.

Overall, there is mounting evidence that shipping in the Gulf is less safe now than before the U.S. naval build-up began. . . .

Prospects are for an escalating war, absent success in the peace process. Iraq will feel that it must strike oil installations and tankers to hamstring Iran's ability to pay for the land war, and there are indications that Iraq is preparing to prosecute the war in the Gulf more intensively. In response, Iran will continue to strike at Kuwait and any others seen as supporting Iraq. The Western navies will be trying to preserve order, while avoiding disasters which could befall them.

Given the vague, overly broad mission currently assigned the U.S. military operating in the region, it is unclear when that mission is to be considered accomplished. Unless the mission is redefined and narrowed in scope, the United States risks an open-ended commitment of forces in the region and the concomitant danger of expanded involvement in the conflict.