It is all very well to speak of having patience in the Gulf. But Kuwait is being destroyed day by day. The consequences of invasion and mobilization become increasingly dangerous to the governments of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Israel. The coalition of countries confronting Iraq becomes ever more complicated. And each day costs the United States more money.
It was hard to be patient last week.
It was hard to feel good about Iran having joined "our" ranks, or about the news that Syrian President Hafez Assad and Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani reached a "common position" on just about everything. (They didn't mention the American hostages still held in Lebanon.)
As he embraced Rafsanjani just prior to leaving Tehran, Assad told reporters: "We are in full agreement that aggression must be eliminated and that foreign presence must be eliminated." It is important to remember that when Assad talks about eliminating the "foreign presence," he is not just talking about us, but also about Israel -- which he and other "rejectionists" regard as eternally foreign to the region, no matter how long it is in fact there. Israel is "a Judeo-Christian dagger aimed at the heart of the Arab nation," a Syrian ambassador to the United Nations once said to me.
It was also bothersome to learn that, in the midst of this era of good feeling in Soviet-American relations, the Soviet government was telling the United States that there were 153 Soviet military advisers in Iraq. The Pentagon estimates that number at between 500 and 1,000. A New York Times dispatch reported the Bush administration is worried that, in case of war casualties, these Soviet advisers may become an "irritant" in Soviet-American relations.
The four-point peace plan offered last week by French President Francois Mitterrand to the U.N. General Assembly was clearly an "irritant" in Franco-American relations, more so because it seemed to depart from France's previous posture on the Gulf crisis. Until now, France has been more supportive than any European country except Britain in the effort to force Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait. Mitterrand's proposal came as the kind of surprise no government likes.
In his speech, the French president suggested Iraq could expect various rewards in return for a commitment to withdraw from Kuwait -- including an international conference linking Iraq's relations with Kuwait to Syria's presence in Lebanon and Israel's control of the West Bank and Gaza. "Everything would be possible" if Iraq were to withdraw, Mitterrand promised.
Still, Saddam Hussein showed no inclination to respond to the threats and promises coming his way. On American television, he used a 20-minute condensation of a 1 1/2-hour speech to threaten: "We will be more violent."
But his convoluted effort to prove that the Americans were the invaders and Iraq the victim was wholly unpersuasive to American audiences. His Nielsen ratings declined. He and his TV spokesman are wearing out their welcome in U.S. living rooms.
Meanwhile in Washington, rumors and published reports citing anonymous sources multiply saying President George Bush and his team want to work through the United Nations on a solution to the Gulf crisis -- seeking, it is said, a Security Council authorization for military action under Article 42 of the U.N. Charter. No action has been taken under Article 42 since June 1950, when the Security Council -- then boycotted by the Soviet Union -- authorized military force to turn back the invasion of South Korea.
But 1990 is light years from 1950, in the United States and in the world. Today, a war under U.N. auspices would almost surely involve a degree of U.N. control and a U.N. commander who would be more attentive than the United States to the sensibilities of countries in the region (because that is the way the U.N. works).
Could the United States, which has far more troops in the Gulf than any other country, accept international control of its forces? Indeed, has the U.S. president the legal power to relinquish command of American troops to U.N. control? If the Bush administration relies on the Security Council to authorize the use of force, will it delegate to the Security Council the power to set the terms for ending such a war?
In considering the options, Bush and his advisers will surely remember that, while a president may be able to delegate control over a war, he cannot delegate the responsibility.
It was the president who responded in force to Iraq's invasion. It was he who dispatched 100,000 American troops and rallied an international coalition in support of this action. It was he who invested U.S. power and reputation in the Gulf. And it is he who will be praised or blamed by the American people for its outcome.