The unrelenting aerial bombardment of Iraq and renewed talk of ousting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein or holding him accountable for war crimes have raised fresh questions about the ultimate aims of the allied coalition in the Persian Gulf War.
The stated goal of the United States and its partners is to liberate Kuwait as called for by the U.N. Security Council. Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reiterated yesterday that "the military operational objective that we set out to accomplish . . . is simply to eject the Iraqi army from Kuwait."
But to facilitate the battle for Kuwait, much of the military campaign so far has been aimed at weakening Iraq's forces and facilities outside Kuwait with aerial attacks -- including bombardment of the elite, armored Republican Guard. This first stage of the war has raised the possibility of achieving other ends, such as drastically reducing Iraq's military might, destroying its capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction and bringing a new, less threatening leadership to Baghdad under either a chastened Saddam or a new leader.
All of these additional goals have been on the agenda of the Bush administration and its allies since the beginning of the crisis. Now it appears -- assuming the coalition forces prevail -- that the war may bring about what diplomacy and international sanctions did not.
Some analysts said the aims of the war will inevitably expand as the conflict's financial and emotional costs increase.
At the time of the invasion of Kuwait, President Bush said his objectives were the unconditional withdrawal of Iraqi forces, the restoration of the legitimate government of Kuwait and the establishment of peace and stability in the region. This last goal, while never fully defined, was included in the final Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force.
U.S. officials have frequently said this goal should include neutralizing Saddam's chemical and biological weapons, thwarting his drive for nuclear arms, drastically reducing the size of his military and preserving the free flow of oil from the gulf.
The extent to which the war fulfills these broader goals is likely to be an important factor in the planning that is now getting underway within the Bush administration and among the allies for postwar security arrangements in the gulf.
Since the end of World War II, American policy has been to encourage a balance of power in the gulf, and one of the most important questions facing policy-makers is to what extent Iraq will remain a power center after this conflict. A number of analysts outside the administration say the United States and its allies must be careful to leave a postwar environment in which some balance remains between Iraq and its rivals, perhaps supplemented by a new Arab or international peace-keeping force, but not American ground forces.
Thus, in carrying out the war, the coalition has a difficult political as well as military task: to reduce Iraq's huge standing army and military might, eliminate its weapons of mass destruction and liberate Kuwait, but not weaken Iraq to the point that a new power vaccuum would tempt other regional powers such as Syria and Iran to capitalize on Iraq's defeat.
"Victory now means two things: it means getting Iraq out of Kuwait, but it also means leaving the Iraqi military in such a degraded state that a permanent American presence is not necessary in the gulf," said Charles Kupchan, a Princeton professor of politics and specialist on the Persian Gulf.
"We need to destroy Iraq's military infrastructure, but we need to preserve its political, economic and social infrastructure," Kupchan said. "If you turn the country into a parking lot, it could alter the alignment in the region for years to come in ways the United States may well not find advantageous."
Michael Sterner, a former career diplomat who served as ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, said, "You want to look to the day when we again have relations with Iran, and not completely destroy Iraq, where it could fragment and cause worse headaches." He added: "One reason the Iraqis could embark on this adventure was total weakness on the Iranian front. Looking ahead 10 or 20 years, we don't want to find a similar situation where Iran and Syria could embark on similar adventures."
For several months, the Bush administration has been quietly studying possible political outcomes from the gulf conflict, but much depends on how the war ends. Officials do not know if they will be dealing with Saddam, who may wind up militarily defeated but still in power, or with a successor regime. They do not know if Iraqi forces will simply be chased out of Kuwait or if the fighting will culminate in a negotiated settlement that could pave the way for a new regional security arrangement.
Senior U.S. officials have prepared option papers for Secretary of State James A. Baker III on terminating the conflict and building a permanent "security structure" in the region. Similar studies are being drafted by the National Security Council.
State Department spokesman Margaret Tutwiler, summarizing American aims for after the war, said, "What we and others ultimately seek is an Iraq secure in its own borders, neither threatened by nor threatening to its neighbors." She added that the United States intends to involve other nations in the region, not just Iraq, in setting up this new arrangement.
In congressional testimony last fall, Baker and other officials suggested that the United States and other nations would have to mount a strenuous diplomatic effort after the current crisis to rein in Saddam's ambitions to become a new Arab superpower. Baker said a global arms embargo on Iraq might have to be retained and efforts made to inspect and dismantle Saddam's chemical weapons stockpile.
Now, the allied forces have started accomplishing this goal militarily as they also seek to weaken Iraq's grip on Kuwait. Saddam's nuclear research facilities and his poison gas stockpiles were an early allied target. The Republican Guard, his elite military unit, has also been targeted, although reports are inconclusive about how much damage it has suffered.
From the outset of the crisis, the administration has flirted with the notion of seeking Saddam's ouster, but never formally embraced it as a policy objective. One reason was that it was considered impractical in Saddam's police state; in addition, many policy-makers felt such an effort could backfire and make Saddam even more intransigent.
But the talk of punishing Saddam personally escalated this week after captured U.S. fliers were shown on Baghdad television. Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney accused Saddam of violating the Geneva Conventions and committing "a war crime."
British Prime Minister John Major suggested in the House of Commons this week that Saddam must go. "It is perfectly clear that this man is amoral. He takes hostages. He attacks population centers. He threatens prisoners. He is a man without pity and whatever his fate may be, I, for one, will not weep for him," the British leader said.
Last night, Bush echoed this theme in a speech. "No one should weep for this tyrant when he is brought to justice," the president said. "No one, anywhere in the world."
A senior aide to Major said yesterday "it was difficult to envisage" Saddam surviving the war as Iraq's leader. "It seems to us at the end of this affair, the Iraqi military will be wiped out and his people themselves will have dealt with the question."
Robert O'Neill, a war historian at All Souls College in Oxford, told a hearing of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee yesterday that the allied war aims would inevitably expand in response to Saddam's behavior, including the firing of Scud missiles into civilian populations and the parading of captured airmen on television.
"Saddam Hussein has made himself intolerable not only to the West but to most of his neighbors," O'Neill said. He added that in previous Cold War-era conflicts, American war aims were limited by other major powers. U.N. forces, for instance, could not conquer North Korea because of Chinese intervention, and Soviet support for North Vietnam restricted any effort to destroy Hanoi.
"In this conflict, as long as the Soviet Union sticks to its present course, Saddam is isolated and therefore the coalition can feel on safe grounds to extend its aims to include the abolition of the regime," he said.
Francois Heisbourg, director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told the panel, "The dynamic of the war leads inevitably to the broadening of the war aims." But he and others said embracing these broader aims could make it difficult to end the conflict once Kuwait is freed.
"If the Iraqis are pushed back mile by mile to the border and still keep fighting, what do we do then?" said Yezid Sayigh, a Palestinian political scientist at St. Anthony's College, Oxford University. "Will we attempt to establish a cordon sanitaire of 20 or 30 miles inside Iraq, or will we push all the way to Baghdad?"
Staff writers Glenn Frankel in London and Jim Hoagland in Washington contributed to this report.