If in three short months a leader makes all the following moves, one can only conclude that he is flailing under serious duress:
Forfeits to the archenemy all his nation's gains from the longest and bloodiest conflict since World War II.
Offers to sell his only valuable commodity, the entire foundation of his economy, for about one-half the going price.
Rations that same commodity at home.
Revokes the rationing a few days later and sacks a minister as scapegoat.
Resorts to a host of clumsy media and hostage ploys as world opinion hardens.
Fires the head of his armed forces.
Saddam Hussein has taken all these steps, and more. Yet there is a curious debate in America over whether the most elaborate, airtight international sanctions in history on a country almost totally dependent on exports of oil and imports of industrial components are taking effect.
Of course they are. For proof, do not rely merely on journalistic accounts of idle factories or intelligence projections of deteriorating military assets. Look to Hussein's own actions. What more can we realistically expect in such a brief period? What more would he be forced to do were it not for the rape of Kuwait's food, material and wealth?
If a leader has taken all the following moves against his people and colleagues, one can only conclude that he is vulnerable at home:
Imposed for two decades one of the world's most brutal tyrannies and bathetic cults of personality.
Executed all contenders for power, including any generals who shine.
Gassed thousands of his country's population.
Mocked the war deaths and maiming of hundreds of thousands of citizens in a population of only 17 million.
Provoked almost universal hostility and a costly embargo.
Sapped both his people's morale and his nation's strength.
Survived a series of assassination attempts.
Saddam Hussein has been through all of this, and more. Yet there is a curious debate in this country over whether he is popular, or at least secure.
Of course he is neither. Common sense and history give ample proof. Do not rely on absurd theories like ''my leader right or wrong'' or naive interviews with Iraqis asking whether they support their ruler -- wrong answers augur years in prison, if not death. As we learned in Central Europe, as we will learn in Cuba and North Korea and China, the peoples' views can only be revealed when they no longer need to enact charades imposed by fear.
As for security, let us recall Romania. Even as all the other European Communist dominoes were falling, the experts claimed that Ceausescu would survive because of his reins of terror. Then one day, a crowd's cheers turned to boos and within weeks the tyrant was gone.
Does all this mean that we can expect Hussein to back off in the near future or we can count on his being removed? Of course not. But given the clear evidence of three months, surely there are grounds for hope if America stays the course.
To do so requires preserving domestic consensus and international solidarity. Both will be difficult. But much less difficult than sustaining American support when thousands of our youth, joined only by British and token Arab forces at best, perish in distant sands. And much less difficult than sustaining global support when the world wonders why America lost faith prematurely in a collective endeavor that is promising not only for this crisis but future crises.
President Bush responded decisively to threats that endanger both international stability and prosperity. He has skillfully assembled and nurtured an unprecedented alliance. His recent military, diplomatic and psychological escalation has prompted Hussein to announce the prospective release of all hostages. The president's policy is working.
Henceforth, any course teems with risks. But if the merits of persevering are debatable, the costs of preemption are calculable.
In assessing stamina, we should recall that our problems are aired while those of Hussein are buried. The president should soberly articulate his goals to Americans. He should scrupulously engage Congress. He should rigorously shore up the global coalition. He should rotate the troops.
Let us hunker down for the long haul.
The writer has served as U.S. ambassador to China, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and director of the State Department policy planning staff.