Suddenly, like the footprint Robinson Crusoe discovered, the tracks of a policy begin to appear. First came word of the victories Iranian suicide squads had achieved over Iraqi army units. Then reports of a rapprochement between the Soviets and the mullahs in Iran. Leaks to the press recounted the weapons and spare parts Iran has been able to purchase from a variety of countries. They also documented Iran's renewed campaign to destabilize the conservative sheikdoms and kingdoms of the Persian Gulf. Then came the announcement that the United States had removed Iraq from the list of nations supporting international terrorism. Within days, a trial balloon was floated speculating on what arms and supplies the United States might now be able to provide to Iraq.

It appears that the Reagan administration is attempting to woo Iraq and to take its side in the war with Iran--a conflict that Iraq started.

Three approaches are converging: the administration's anti-Soviet drive, its move to stabilize the Persian Gulf and its approach to Arab-Israeli peace. But a tilt toward Iraq will much more likely hurt U.S. interests in these areas than promote them.

Iraq is doomed to lose its war with Iran. This is not just because the Iraqi strongman, Saddam Hussein, calculated incorrectly that the Iranian regime would collapse when he struck in September 1980. It is not just because Iraq's army has proved to be no more competent against Persians than it was against Kurds or Israelis. Rather, Iraq must lose because the Iranians have a clear purpose verging on fanaticism: even when they were losing, the ayatollahs showed none of the pragmatism and "good sense" that are the indispensable precursors of an admission of defeat.

The current war of attrition is an empirical win, for the Iranians know that the longer Saddam Hussein is bled in his war, the surer are the chances that the Iraqi army will overthrow him.

America's siding with Iraq, then, will not change the political outcome of the war. It will certainly not send a message to the mullahs, who demonstrated with the seizure of the American hostages their utter contempt for the United States. Favoring Iraq will give a powerful argument to Iranians favoring closer ties to the one-time Soviet "Satan," and to Soviet diplomats now offering blandishments to suspicious mullahs. It will also give Iran a public justification for increasing its subversion of the Gulf sheikdoms.

The administration is moving toward the incredible point of rapprochement with Iraq because Washington's petrodiplomatic complex of Arabists, oil executives, international contractors and bankers has succeeded in establishing an image of Iraq as "moving away from the Soviets" and "not all that radical."

Curiously, this was an early Carter administration fantasy, beginning in 1977, when the rulers in Baghdad began to make major industrial purchases in Western Europe. They also moved to replace Egypt as the leader of the Arab world--this after having led the campaign to suspend Egypt from the Arab League at the two Baghdad conferences. With the demise of the shah and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (an event in which the U.S.S.R. used Iraqi facilities), Saddam Hussein began to publicly condemn the presence of any superpower in South Asia and the Persian Gulf.

Iraq's promoters in the United States, such as national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski drastically misread Saddam Hussein's intentions. Iraq opposed a Soviet presence in the Persian Gulf because Iraq itself wanted to fill the vacuum left by the shah. Iraq's oppostion to America's own policies in the area was undiminished. Iraq accepted the slightly less maximalist Arab-Israel "peace" plank at the Baghdad conferences because it was by this means that Iraq could co-opt leadership of the Arab mainstream. In his remarks to the second conference, Saddam Hussein specifically reserved Iraq's right to oppose Israel's very existence. What he pledged was to suspend efforts to overhrow Arab regimes that publicly disagreed. This was hardly genuine moderation.

Iraq today may appear less visibly supportive of terrorism and less outspoken against Israel. This is, however, solely the product of the regime's preoccupation with both the war with Iran and Iran's renewed effort to stir up Iraq's Shi'ite majority against the secular- but-Sunni Moslem ruling group of Saddam Hussein. Iraq still supports its proxy in the PLO, the terrorist Arab Liberation Front, as well as the Arab Organization of the 15th of May. Moreover, Iraq remains a violent and paranoid place. Saddam Hussein rules through terror.

In essence, Iraq repesents as bad a political investment as the United States could make. Iraq cannot, will not, help us. Liekly, it cannot even help itself.