IN RESPONSE to Iraq's aggression, the world's security system is now going into operation as it should. Forces are gathering under many flags, and President Bush is leading this gigantic enterprise with skill. He is going through attentive consultations with other governments, creating the consensus on which success depends and seeing to it that most of the Arabs are with him. He has been careful to see that the resistance to Iraq does not turn into a lineup of the West against Arabs or of the oil-importing countries against a major exporter. It's an alliance of all the countries with an interest in rescuing Kuwait versus a military dictatorship that now stands absolutely alone.

The forces going into Saudi Arabia -- American and others -- are defensive. They are neither sufficiently numerous nor heavily enough armed to present Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi commanders with any threat of a strike at them across the Kuwait border. These troops will be in Saudi Arabia to prevent Iraq from invading another and far richer country and to protect the buildup of the U.S. air forces that will be there. They are the visible evidence of an absolute guarantee to the Saudis of their safety -- a guarantee that is the necessary first step in the strategy to push Iraq back.

The worldwide boycott of Iraqi oil appears to be effective, and Iraq's pipelines to the Mediterranean and the Red Sea are being shut down, not by violence but because there are no ships to load. The navies of several countries have now established a presence near the terminals of those pipelines as well as around the mouth of the Persian Gulf, enabling them to set up a blockade if necessary. But so far it hasn't been necessary.

This extraordinary array of forces is drawn together from many countries by the one central conviction that it would be very bad for each of them, and for the world in general, if Iraq's invasion succeeded. Among the cooperating countries there are many differences of opinion and policy regarding the Middle East, but they appear to be together on the primary principle that Iraq must withdraw unconditionally from Kuwait.

A time of great tension now begins. It is clear that President Hussein miscalculated and that he never expected any serious reaction to his sweep into Kuwait. He will not give up his prize easily. But whether there is bloodshed now depends entirely upon him and his army. If they resort to force, they will unfortunately have to be answered with force. Otherwise the adversaries will settle down to a period, possibly prolonged, of waiting -- a time that will be a great test of patience and restraint. But as long as the oil boycott is maintained, the passage of time will not work in President Hussein's favor.