Vastly outnumbered (it probably never consisted of more than a few columnists and editorialists), Washington's War Party has lost out. The Peace Party, which wants to drive Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait without firing shots, is, for now at least, firmly in command. Secretary of State James Baker presented its platform Tuesday to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

It was as thoughtful a presentation as Washington has seen in a long time. The strategy presented was coherent and comprehensive. In the end, however, it was not quite convincing.

The immediate objectives are two: defending Saudi Arabia by means of American arms and dislodging Iraq from Kuwait by means of blockade. So far, so good. This is a reasonable policy with a firm consensus behind it. If the blockade is not going to work, we will know soon enough. We will then have to decide whether to go to war over Kuwait. If we are going to war, now is not the time. One doesn't start a war with one's best tanks still at sea.

Assuming the blockade will work, the big debate now is what to do after Iraq has left Kuwait. It is becoming increasingly clear that a simple withdrawal leaving Saddam and his military-industrial complex intact is no solution. What to do about Saddam and his bombs?

On Saddam, administration thinking is that unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait -- yet another military adventure with no gain -- will lead to his fall. That is probably true. Though to make sure, we should quickly adopt as an American objective a demand passed last week by the Arab League: that Iraq not just return to the status quo ante but pay reparations. The point of the reparations is not the money but the humiliation, the surest way to bring Saddam down.

Saddam's bombs are a more difficult problem. The threat is an Iraq equipped with chemical, biological, and soon nuclear weapons. The choice: to disarm or to contain. Baker, speaking for containment, outlined a three-part plan. First, a "security structure," meaning a kind of NATO-like alliance in the region to deter any possible use of chemical or nuclear weapons by Iraq. Second, more arms for Iraq's neighbors. And third, some kind of Arab-Israeli peace to pacify the region.

The key element (though within 24 hours Baker began hedging the point) is the security structure. The administration's idea seems to be to turn the current alignment of forces -- Egypt, Morocco, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States -- into some kind of permanent alliance structure to counter Iraq. It's a great idea, but it won't work. The region is too unstable and the regimes too weak and unreliable.

Syria in a pro-U.S. alliance? When President Assad dies, Syria could easily change sides, since much of Syrian-Iraqi animosity derives from his personal vendetta against Saddam. Yesterday King Hussein was our best pal in the area. Who's side is he on now?

The NATO analogy is misleading. NATO is an alliance of stable, like-minded countries. The current anti-Iraq alliance is not. Moreover, NATO analogues have been tried before and failed. John Foster Dulles invented SEATO (our umbrella for getting us into Vietnam) and the Baghdad Pact, an alliance of Britain, Pakistan, Turkey, Iran and, yes, Iraq. Iraq quit after four years. The Pact lived another 20 (as CENTO) and accomplished nothing.

Apart from being fickle, the region's regimes are unstable. A coup in Jordan or Egypt or Morocco could easily result in a change of sides. Which is why the second part of the strategy, heavily arming our friends in the region, could also backfire. We should have learned that with the Islamic Revolution in Iran, which bequeathed to Khomeini a huge arsenal of American weapons. Now Iraq has the Hawk antiaircraft batteries and Stinger missiles that we had given Kuwait. They will now be turned on us.

The final element of the post-Kuwait strategy is Arab-Israeli peace. That is always a good idea, now more chimerical than ever. Even the most unreconstructed doves are going to have a hard time figuring out how Israel is to make a peace with the Palestinians of, say, Jenin, who took to the streets days after the invasion of Kuwait chanting "Saddam, you hero, attack Israel with chemical weapons." (West Bankers then demanded that Israel supply them with gas masks.)

Every element of Baker's containment plan is problematic. It is, nonetheless, a serious search for a solution short of war to the long-range Iraqi threat. In practice, however, the post-crisis containment of Iraq will require a fourth, most unpleasant element: a cordon of American troops. Such a containment force will have to be large and its stay long. It will be a second Korea in the Arabian desert.

Containing Iraq will require permanent American military engagement. Yet disarming Iraq would require war and many American dead. Neither is a happy prospect. Is there a third alternative? Perhaps. The answer might come from Iraq's neighbors. Prime Minister Turgut Ozal of Turkey has explicitly said that Saddam Hussein must fall. The Saudis and Egyptians say the same more discreetly. Israel's attitude toward Saddam and his nuclear ambitions was made clear in 1981.

Let America contain Saddam and his neighbors disarm him. The United States could begin at the Helsinki summit. We should press the Soviets to join us in declaring that after withdrawing from Kuwait this "predator state" (Eduard Shevardnadze's phrase), which has already used proscribed weapons in war, must submit to international inspection and dismantling of its weapons of mass destruction. At the appropriate time we should declare that a refusal to do so be taken as a sign of renewed aggressive intent and that the United States would view any attack on such weapons as an act of self-defense.

Israel is likely to take the hint.