At this late stage -- with the deadline of Jan. 15 fast approaching -- there is not much point in revisiting the pro-war or pro-peace arguments. But it may still not be too late to give a last chance to a final effort at finding a non-violent solution. The case for such a minute-to-midnight undertaking emerges with greater force from a brief consideration of the possible alternative outcomes to the continuing crisis and of their probable consequences.
Basically, one can envisage one of the following four outcomes emerging from President Bush's strategy of giving Saddam Hussein an uncompromising choice of either war or capitulation:
1) Bush persists in making his daily threats in vowing war and in demanding an unconditional surrender. At the last minute, Saddam Hussein caves in and capitulates abjectly. To good measure, he not only evacuates Kuwait but also offers to pay reparations and voluntarily dismantles his military machine and war industry. Bush is acclaimed for his toughness and skill.
2) Saddam is not intimidated, and not long after Jan. 15 Bush launches his military onslaught, "suddenly and decisively." Within just a few days, after massive air bombardment, with minimum American casualties (the Iraqi ones are not counted), the Iraqi army crumbles, Saddam is overthrown, and the result is the same as under 1 above. Bush is acclaimed as a hero.
3) Saddam does not yield, and the air assault does not give the United States an instant victory. Consequently, U.S. ground forces, with some limited British participation, grind out a bloody but still relatively swift victory, much to the applause of the Kuwaitis, the Saudis and the Israelis, all of whom welcome the resulting destruction of Iraq. The American public is somewhat divided but, on the whole, relieved that the worst seems over.
4) The ground victory takes much more time (weeks or even months), and is very costly both in American blood and financially. An American backlash develops against those states that urged America to go to war. Europe privately scoffs at American naivete in volunteering to serve as the world's policeman. The Arab world seethes with hatred for America. The American public is bitterly split, with much recrimination directed at the president, at the pro-war advocates as well as their foreign friends and at the failure of the much oversold international coalition to share fairly in the burdens of war.
Since the president has ruled out the strategy of relying more patiently on the sanctions to achieve the attrition of Iraqi power and of Iraqi will, and since in the near future there is simply no prospect of a truly coalitionist war effort against Iraq, the above four alternatives pretty much cover the most likely post-Jan. 15 scenarios, barring some sudden change in either Bush's or Saddam's strategies.
For those who think that either alternative 1 or 2 is attainable, this should be no cause for worry. War is also not likely to be a matter of concern for those whose real agenda is the destruction of Iraq, no matter at what cost to the United States. That makes alternatives 3 and even 4 palatable to them. But for those who think that the latter two are in fact more probable than the first two, who fear the resulting geopolitical chaos in the region and who find the likely costs for America disproportionate to any possible gains, even alternative 3 and certainly 4 do not represent an acceptable outcome.
It follows that unless one expects -- indeed, unless one is almost certain -- of an easy victory, one should welcome a last-gasp effort for peace. A confidential discussion between the United States and Iraq would be preferable to the public Washington-Baghdad grandstanding that occurred this December. The Arabs presumably are conducting some quiet discussions, though one is justified in suspecting that Arab animosities make a purely Arab solution not very feasible.
Better still, the Europeans and the United Nations should get into the act, for the crisis should not be a purely American-Iraqi affair. The Europeans are very much an interested party. Not only are they much dependent on the Middle Eastern oil, but Europe's Mediterranean countries are highly sensitive to any instability in the Arab world. Hence a European effort to find a formula for implementing the U.N. resolutions on Kuwait, including a comprehensive follow-up on related issues, would certainly be in order.
Similarly, the secretary general of the U.N. has the obligation to make a last effort to establish whether a non-violent formula, based on the U.N. resolutions, can be contrived. Given the stakes as well as the possible dangers inherent in the conflict, surely no reasonable person should begrudge a personal mission by the principal officer of the world community designed to find some alternative beyond those outlined above.
Any such initiative might generate a little more time for reflection and provide a little more room for maneuver in the ominously narrow space into which both Bush and Saddam have managed to box themselves. The writer was national security adviser in the Carter administration.