PRESIDENT BUSH is helping see to it that the United States provides leadership in the pressing international project of containing and isolating Iraq and inducing this aggressor state to disgorge its conquest of Kuwait. Just as an earlier president, Jimmy Carter, understood that the United States and its allies could not allow a hostile Soviet Union to get a grip on crucial world oil supplies in the Persian Gulf, so Mr. Bush realizes that a hostile Iraq poses a similar threat. This is the geopolitical source of his policy, and the understanding of it promises to draw broad domestic and international support to a range of diplomatic, economic and, if necessary, military initiatives intended to reduce the threat.

It was particularly encouraging, for instance, that a quick consensus formed at the United Nations, where the Soviet Union showed itself commendably ready to rebuff its traditional client state, Iraq. Whether great-power agreement can force a rollback is so far unproven, but in the old bipolar world of Soviet-American global rivalry such a mission could not even have been considered. Japan, heretofore largely an international free rider, has also seen fit this time to acknowledge publicly its obligation to stand with its natural friends. Others are also coming along, some moved by the evident advantages of making economic common cause, others stirred by the flagrancy of Iraq's aggression and fear of the consequences of letting it pass with no more than a rhetorical blast.

There is but one area of major concern as international actors start positioning themselves for the formidable challenge that the arrogant and unprincipled yet shrewd Saddam Hussein has posed them. Some of the Arab governments that have the most to lose to Iraq are tending to appeasement. One especially painful form their policy takes is to shy away from direct association with the steps that their friends, including the United States, are preparing to take in their behalf. One understands their fears -- they live next to the dragon, permanently, and they wonder about the constancy and cleverness of their would-be rescuers. But for them to appear more frightened to cooperate with their friends, who are trying to arrange suitable guarantees, than to stand up to the dictator menacing them is grotesque.