"I'll see to it that prices remain stable. That's what I have my storm troopers for."

-- Hitler, on inflation

Hitler analogies are not to be used lightly. To be compared to Hitler is too high a compliment in evil to pay to most tyrants. The time has come, however, to bestow the compliment on a tyrant who is truly a nightmare out of the 1930s: Saddam Hussein, president (soon for life) of Iraq.

Hussein has a million-man army left over from the war he started with Iran, and he is itching to do something useful with it. So last week he threatened to attack a defenseless Arab neighbor, Kuwait, over a dispute he concocted about cash.

Kuwait, together with other Arab gulf states, sustained Hussein through his eight-year Iranian war with tens of billions of dollars in loans. Gratitude is not one of Hussein's strong points. He now accuses Kuwait of stealing Iraqi oil, and, together with another local pygmy (the United Arab Emirates), of destroying his economy by overproducing oil, thus driving down prices. His tiny neighbors are to return the stolen oil, unilaterally cut oil production and forgive all war debts (estimated at between $30 billion and $60 billion). Otherwise, he promises that "Iraqis will not forget the saying that cutting necks is better than cutting {one's} means of living."

What raises Hussein to the Hitlerian level is not just his unconventional technique -- violence -- for regulating prices. Nor is it merely his penchant for domestic brutality -- the wholesale murder of political opponents, the poison gas attacks on his own Kurdish minority, the "Republic of Fear" (as a now anonymous expatriate calls his book on Hussein's Iraq) that he has constructed.

What makes him truly Hitlerian is his way of dealing with neighboring states. In a chilling echo of the '30s, Iraq, a regional superpower, accuses a powerless neighbor of a "deliberate policy of aggression against Iraq," precisely the kind of absurd accusation Hitler lodged against helpless Czechoslovakia and Poland as a prelude to their dismemberment.

The diplomacy practiced by the fascist powers of the '30s was to accumulate massive military power for translation into immediate gain -- territorial, economic, political -- through extortion and, if still necessary, war. Hussein has mastered the technique. As one Iraqi expert says, "Hussein has never met a weapon he didn't use."

Whether Hussein will in fact use his weapons against Kuwait will depend purely on whether or not he feels that he needs to occupy Kuwait in order to turn it into a vassal state. The threat alone might make it submit. But Kuwait is not Hussein's ultimate objective. Saudi Arabia is. The Saudis have a long history of acquiescing to regional bullies. If Hussein can successfully bully Kuwait and the Emirates, the Saudis will follow.

Saudi production decisions alone can make oil prices rise or fall dramatically. If Hussein could dictate not just Iraqi production but Saudi, Kuwaiti, Emirate and the rest of Arab gulf production, he would realize his fondest ambition. He would become not just King of the Gulf but King Oil.

Why should Americans care about this? Because King Oil's hostility to America is today unmatched in the world, except possibly for that of Iran, from whom the United States helped save Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war. (The gratitude problem again.) Hussein's declared objective is to raise oil prices to at least $25 a barrel. Last week oil was $14 a barrel. Such an oil shock, not seen since the '70s, would be ruinous for Western economies, and in particular the U.S. economy, which now imports half its oil.

Last week's thuggery finally jolted the Bush administration out of its policy of craven appeasement of Iraq. It had been resisting congressional efforts to punish Iraq by stopping subsidies for American-Iraqi trade. Perhaps now it will consider supporting Sen. Daniel Inouye's (D-Hawaii) bill denying all assistance and banning all trade with Iraq.

Hussein is roughly $80 billion in debt, and banks are not lending to him because he doesn't feel he has to pay loans back. It is because Iraq is hurting economically that Hussein has decided to solve his problem with storm troopers. A quarantine would kick him while he's (financially) down, which is the best time to kick a bully. Once he gains control of world oil prices, he will be much harder to stop.

Even if a quarantine does not stop him, however, there is an important lesson to be learned from Hussein's emergence as a world disturber. With the collapse of communism, it has become fashionable to believe that the use of force as a means to achieve political objectives has become obsolete. Force may indeed be obsolete in some places (Western Europe, for example). The Persian Gulf, however, is not such a place. And while Iraq begins its thrust into the Gulf by sending 30,000 troops and tanks to the Kuwaiti border, Congress debates how much to cut the U.S. carrier fleet, our best deterrent against such regional thugs.

"The day of the dictator is over," declared President Bush in his Inaugural Address. In many places, yes. But it is precisely because in some places dictators remain, massively armed and practiced in Hitler's formula for turning arms into power, that this heady time is no time for disarmament.

Hussein will undoubtedly be appeased this time. But there will be a next. Like all bullies, he will in the end be deterred only by superior force. We had better make sure we have it.