ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT -- In his first interview since the Arab summit, President Hosni Mubarak warned against allied war aims that seek too much from Iraq's Saddam Hussein.
''If he withdraws, the whole world would accept it,'' Mubarak told us in a small, comfortable vacation hideaway near this ancient metropolis. Does that include President Bush? ''Yes, including President Bush.''
But the U.S. president has strongly suggested that withdrawal from Kuwait is only the beginning of American demands. Bush insists that the Al Sabah royal family be restored to the throne. He hints that he also wants the bad man of Baghdad stripped of power. Therein lies a potentially poisonous web of problems for the future: How and when does the American-led coalition declare victory if its separate members disagree on what it is?
Mubarak, the self-effacing former air force pilot who has made dramatic efforts to build a new Egypt -- on a shoestring -- praised Bush and excoriated Saddam. But he did so impersonally, as though the Iraqi strongman's attacks against him were the natural moves of somebody caught in a trap.
Bush has been anything but impersonal. The Egyptian sees the drama of Saddam's probably fatal overreach as a matter for statesmen of the world to resolve dispassionately. The American's response seems a personal crusade. This could become a costly difference in view of Bush's reliance on Mubarak as the one Arab leader he must have in the anti-Saddam camp.
Mubarak and his men do not conceal their scorn and anger for Saddam. A Mubarak aide told us his chief is aghast at evidence of the official corruption that is said to surround Saddam. Villas and palaces, the aide said, were constructed around man-made lakes at the height of the Iran-Iraq war.
Mubarak himself told us ''my mind was jammed'' when he was awakened on the night of the invasion of Kuwait. ''Saddam Hussein had told me, 'I have threatened, but I have no intention to attack Kuwait,' '' Mubarak continued. ''I believed him.''
At 6:30 that morning, Mubarak told us, Bush informed him over the telephone he had already made his decision to go to the United Nations for sanctions against Saddam. If the United States failed to move fast, ''Bush feared that other powers'' might ''play the area,'' according to the Egyptian.
But the allies must measure their war aims with a long view to the future and the necessity of keeping stability in the region. Asked how he thought the United States would be able to ''get out'' of the Gulf if Saddam agreed to vacate Kuwait but continued to keep power in Baghdad, Mubarak said he did not ''want to speculate on that.''
However, Mubarak did say that if the Iraqi dictator were persuaded to leave Kuwait, he would not be fool enough to ignore that ''good lesson'' in the future. In short, his grandiose, aggressive designs would be permanently curbed.
If Bush has a similar view of Saddam remaining in power after a diplomatic settlement of Kuwait, he has yet to express it. His denunciation Wednesday of Saddam as a liar, a threat to the ''Arab nation,'' a killer using poison gas and a purveyor of ''brutality'' and ''atrocities'' defines an international villain incapable of being taught new lessons.
In regard to U.S. aims, Mubarak dissented from a view widely held in the Middle East that behind Bush's anti-Saddam crusade lies an intention to move toward ''internationalization'' of Persian Gulf oil. ''I do not think that,'' he said.
On where the gathering of forces in the Gulf shall lead, Mubarak seems to feel that at least war is still avoidable. Even though some of his generals would like a quick U.S. air strike at Baghdad, Mubarak sees avoiding war as essential for him to continue to build and modernize his country at a pace never tried before. He has spent $35 billion on this massive undertaking the past eight years.
Well, Mr. President, you are a military man. Will it be war now or peace? ''The more time that passes, the more complicated it becomes,'' Mubarak replied. ''War or peace? I keep it to myself.''