In spite of the famous "fog of war," the metaphor of the month, January was a month of many clarifications.

War itself dissipated some fog, clarifying who is who and what is what. On the eve of war, some of the pond scum of politics rallied in Baghdad: Louis Farrakhan, Daniel Ortega and, of course, Yasser Arafat, head of the PLO, the State Department's chosen partner for Israel in the "peace process."

Will we be spared further talk about Jordan's "moderate" King Hussein, the least kingly king and Saddam Hussein's poodle? The Baltimore Sun recently carried this headline: "In Jordan, Even Arab Moderates Back Iraq." Well, now. If those moderates back the annihilation of Kuwait and the promised gassing of Israel, wherein is their "moderation"?

King Hussein's standing in the eyes of Western diplomats is impervious to evidence, but what of the PLO's standing? Israelis viewing the world through the plastic lenses of gas masks need no refresher course on the nature of the PLO, but what of the State Department?

In December of 1988, State Department lyricists prepared for Arafat (the Milli Vanilli of international gangsterdom) lyrics for him to lip-sync. He did, and the department declared the PLO sanitized. Actually, all Arafat did was "renounce terrorism" (he said he'd give it up, because he'd never taken it up) and say that he hoped Israel would become smaller. (That is, he endorsed U.N. Resolution 242, and the State Department declared that endorsement tantamount to recognition of Israel's right to exist.) Perhaps Arafat's support of Saddam has clarified even the State Department's thinking.

January clarified the reiterated assertion that a Gulf war would not be a "Vietnam" because America would not fight "with one arm tied behind its back." Clearly there still is an asterisk over that assertion, denoting this codicil: Using both hands does not mean using chemical or nuclear weapons.

The only time nuclear weapons were used was against the civilian population of a non-nuclear power for the purpose of saving lives. The use was morally correct: It economized violence, saving perhaps more than a million lives, military and civilian. The case for using tactical nuclear weapons against purely military targets (say, massed Iraqi armor) might be at least as strong as the case was for the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. But all post-Nagasaki thinking about the use of nuclear weapons is conditioned by the world's reaction to that use. The world has a powerful impulse to maintain "firebreaks" in war -- taboos to contain violence. Hence the Bush administration says nuclear weapons will not be considered. (The policy may be wiser than the saying of it.)

January clarified this: The man atop the Soviet Communist Party is a Communist. The man who delivers those speeches in the shadow of the giant statue of Lenin is a Leninist. Gorbachev is practicing "democratic centralism" (concentration of power) to preserve the Soviet Union's "socialist choice."

The saturation of society by the state, the permeation of life for totalitarian purposes, always involves the enumeration of "economic crimes." Hence Gorbachev's decree giving the KGB comprehensive powers of intrusion into economic life. The foundation of freedom, a large sphere for private transactions throughout civil society, remains illegal in Gorbachev's realm.

The Bush administration says postponement of the summit was not dictated by Gorbachev's aggression against Baltic democracy. That is entirely believable. American policy was not disturbed earlier when Gorbachev's troops killed civilians in Baku and Tiblisi.

As usual, Western apologists for the Soviet Union say: "Don't blame the head of the Soviet government for what that government does. Blame the 'conservatives' who menace him and who will dominate him unless Western policy props him up." Such analysis poses something like the "moderates-in-Jordan" problem: If Gorbachev can't control his government, why is it important to preserve him? Indeed, how shall we know if "conservatives" come to dominate him?

The Bush administration's moralism has been in conspicuous abeyance regarding China, where the sentencing of dissidents continued in January. Concerning the Soviet Union, too, the Bush administration has cast its lot with what will be the losing side, the government, slighting the people who are demanding democracy. Today the same sort of crackpot realism that brought on the Gulf crisis by cultivating Saddam is buying America a troubled future.

When the Bush administration made defeating Saddam such a moral mission, critics worried that the rationale lacked a limiting principle: Would America become incontinently active in attempting to right all the world's wrongs? The administration's limp response to Gorbachev's intensified dictatorship suggests that the critics can relax.

The New World Order evidently rests on a moral principle with a single application.