It seems that the short list of war aims approved by the United Nations, centering on liberating Kuwait, was a victim of Saddam Hussein's intransigence and was set aside even as the first bombs fell on Iraq.

In its place President Bush is now well on the way to substituting the long list embraced by the United States, centering on getting rid of Saddam Hussein, his army and his arsenal. His announcement of attack on Jan. 16 made clear that nothing less would justify the expenditure of blood and treasure about to follow. Public anger over Iraq's Scud strikes and mistreatment of POWs broadened public acceptance of the president's new approach.

Assuming allied military success, the switch transforms the postwar political scene. The first difference is that Saddam and Iraq, far from being restored to the circle of those making decisions on the future, are likely to have little or no place at the table and to be much more an object of the circle's decisions than a participant in making them.

The second difference is that inevitably the victorious allies are going to be more interested in the Arab-Israeli end of peacekeeping than the Persian Gulf end. This has some particular consequences for the Gulf.

Everyone will breathe a sigh of relief if Saddam and Iraq are cut down to size. But one major Gulf party, Iraq, will be left to a succession struggle that promises to be messy if not prolonged. Iraq's neighbors may be tempted to intervene in this struggle to affect the outcome, or to keep the pot boiling or otherwise to assert an interest, even a territorial one. An unstable region may become more unstable.

In the Iran-Iraq war, outsiders, including the United States, got careless about maintaining a regional balance of power and allowed Iraq to end up too much on top. The understandable and necessary drive to reduce Saddam could revive the same carelessness now. Yet though the United States is aware of this risk, it cannot possibly want to take on the lead job of policing or organizing the postwar Gulf. It is not our job, it is not our Gulf. Neither the Arab nor the American publics can possibly care to see an extension of the American role.

The thankless task of asserting the international interest in settling down the Gulf is a natural for a United Nations restored to able political duty by its experience in the current crisis. With the passing of the special explosiveness caused by Saddam's special ambition and weaponry, the region can perhaps be given over to others' running care.

The Arab-Israeli dispute is another cup of tea -- an American cup of tea. The historical American interest in Israel makes it so. Political rewards, as well as perils, beckon. In turning to this issue after the war, Bush would be renewing his own, war-interrupted policy focus. But he would be doing so with several enormous new advantages.

As leader of a successful alliance to defend Arab states, he could expect recognition as a potential peacemaker, if not in the Arab "street" (whatever its weight turns out to be), then among those states, which will carry the prime burden of Arab conciliation with Israel. In Israel he could expect similar recognition on the basis of having successfully assisted in the country's defense and displayed exceptional American constancy.

Bush could build first on the war's demonstration, if it comes to that, of implicit Arab-Israeli strategic cooperation. Arabs constitute the first regional line of defense against Iraq, Israel is the last; both of them prefer stability, fear radicalism and tilt to America and the industrialized democracies.

Will there be worthy negotiation-minded Palestinians available to pick themselves up out of the debris of defeat in which the PLO and its leadership, by embracing Saddam, have left the Palestinian national movement?

Will there be worthy negotiation-minded Israelis available to rise above the debris of an alliance victory? To move on to the hard decisions of territorial renunciation and political compromise that Israel must take if it is to meet its overwhelming opportunity and obligation to welcome a million new Soviet Jewish immigrants?

On the military front now, officials insist that everything is proceeding "on schedule" and "as we expected." You don't have to accept all these assurances uncritically to want to see some more specific evidence of anticipation emerging on the political front. Is it wishful to think a historic moment may be coming? Or is it myopic not to?