There are many tragic aspects of the increasingly ghastly war in the Persian Gulf area. Most lamentable is the fact that neither in the United States nor Iraq are meaningful forces at work to prevent a widening of this conflict to the point where nerve gases and nuclear weapons might be used.

Saddam Hussein is a dictator who presides unrestrained over an oxymoronic "holy war." He kills and maims babies, women, innocent old men in Israel. He defies all conventions of "civilized" warfare by brutalizing allied captives. He will use every wretched weapon he has in some moment of desperation.

President Bush is also unrestrained in his slide into a great war that many will lose and no one will win. Saddam has infuriated millions of Americans to the point where even those who opposed the use of U.S. military force in December now feel compelled to cry "patriotically" that we must "support our fighting men" and "stand by our president."

Since few in America or Iraq dare to speak the truth -- that this is a stupid and unnecessary war -- we are going to see ghoulish terrorism and military barbarism that will take the lives of civilians in Iraq, Israel and many other countries. Nothing of value will be gained by any country involved.

This war is widening because both Saddam Hussein and George Bush miscalculated grievously as they played a five-month game of "chicken." Bush thought that the U.S. military, with its technological superiority, would make Saddam and his forces capitulate after the first day of being "decimated" by U.S. air power. Bush and Pentagon leaders never imagined they'd face the nightmare of Saddam delivering Scud missiles into the heart of Tel Aviv. Saddam did not comprehend the magnitude of the violence and destruction that the United States could deliver. The Iraqi dictator surely is shocked to see his Scud missiles foiled in most cases by the U.S. Patriot missile.

But since neither man is restrained by his people, the ruling force is still macho pride, which drives each leader to escalate the war.

Some people thought foolishly that an assault on Iraq and its war-making facilities would open the way to a period of peace in the volatile Middle East. No matter how this conflict ends, the Middle East will be an area of deeper hatreds.

Some Israelis and friends of Israel thought the Jewish state would be more secure if the United States took out Saddam and his gas plants and his nuclear bomb facilities. Israel has never been more insecure in its existence.

Some assumed that a "short" war to annihilate Saddam and his forces would guarantee a supply of Persian Gulf oil to Japan, Western Europe and the United States for at least a century. Because of the hatreds and bitternesses aroused by this war, the United States may have to leave thousands of troops in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other places for a century so as to prevent a cutoff of the area's petroleum.

This Persian Gulf police action by the United States is going to cost U.S. taxpayers billions, even as we see our coffers empty to the cries of people who want better federal funding of education, health care, food and medicine for the very poor. Our money with which to fight the enemies within is likely to be buried with the bodies of brave young men and women who answered nobly when their leaders called them to duty.

This war must be ended soon, even with the Bush administration adopting the sane position that we must have a comprehensive international conference to deal with not only Kuwait, but the future of Palestinians, the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and much more. Only out of such a conference can Israel find the peace and security that military might has failed to provide.

But nothing of enduring value is possible unless members of Congress, editors and others display the guts to say what they know -- that this war is an abomination, a curse upon all involved in it.