IF WINNING means surviving, staying in the fight and continuing to work for chosen objectives, then Iraq won the Gulf War. Though its army was defeated and its population suffers still, a decade later Saddam Hussein remains in power and in pursuit of the deadly weapons the world's nations ordered him to yield. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee made a quick tour of the possibilities the other day and came up with the grim message that there is no easy way out.
In the U.N. Security Council, Russia, China and France are ready to peel back the economic sanctions voted in the war. But, eyes on narrow strategic and commercial prizes, they are not ready to demand that first Iraq disarm and submit to international inspection. The United States and Britain go at it from the other direction: first, inspections to make sure Iraq has eliminated its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and then suspension of sanctions for renewable periods to ensure compliance. This is the better way -- the only way, in fact, to keep these weapons out of irresponsible hands.
Somehow split the difference? This sounds reasonable but carries the seeds of deception. An arrangement that rested on expectations of good-faith behavior would invite Saddam Hussein to prolong the violations and lies that have marked his approach to disarmament from the start. It is so that international inspectors have not been permitted to return to the job for almost a year -- a long time in which to build and hide illegal weapons. But the answer cannot be to swallow what former chief inspector Richard Butler calls Saddam Hussein's "counterfeit bills."
That leaves the United States and Britain to continue containment by economic sanctions and military pressure. The deeper requirement -- to oust Saddam Hussein -- shimmers beyond the reach of the Western countries and assorted other fatigued allies. The alternative is to show the patience for a policy of the long haul.