US Must Consider How Far to Go in Ground War

Article excerpt

THE question of the moment is when the ground war begins in Kuwait. The next question is how and where it might end.

Few doubt that the United States-led coalition will prevail in driving the Iraqis out of Kuwait, based on the progress of the allied aerial bombardment and the defeat of Iraqi forces in early land skirmishes.

The question for George Bush then becomes whether to stop at the Iraq-Kuwait border or to push into Iraq.

Either choice carries risks and repercussions. To stop at the Iraq border could leave Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in power with substantial military firepower intact - a continuing threat. To push into Iraq could begin to kick away political support, both international and domestic, for a war that appeared to be expanding its aims and expending more casualties on both sides.

Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev gave a strong admonition this weekend that the momentum of the war was growing and leading toward the "catastrophic destruction" of the Iraqi nation.

In the latest effort to forestall the march to a military conclusion, Gorbachev emissary Yevgeny Primakov arrived yesterday in Baghdad to try to persuade Saddam Hussein to prevent the massive destruction of his armies by withdrawing from Kuwait.

Other countries are setting up as intermediaries as well. The most prominent is Iran, which held diplomatic discussions with Iraq as well as some coalition members last week. Iran is no friend of Iraq's, after eight years of war, but it seeks a political resolution that will avoid the obliteration of Iraqi strength. Iran is also interested in putting its own stamp on the postwar blueprints for stability in the Gulf.

Prime Minister Ghulam Ishaq Khan of Pakistan is facing the kinds of problems the war is presenting many Muslim leaders. As the fighting wears on, anti-American unrest grows in his country. He is traveling the Muslim world promoting his own peace plan, but such initiatives hold little promise of shortening the war. Iraq has rejected it outright, and the US also shows little interest.

The US will not accept cease-fire proposals without clear evidence that Iraq is withdrawing posthaste from Kuwait, Mr. Bush explained last week.

Most US experts consider the chance that Saddam will give up Kuwait, before being driven out, as possible but unlikely.

Laurie Mylroie, a Harvard University Middle East specialist who wrote a recent biography of Saddam Hussein, sees him giving up to the force unleashed against him only if he dies or is incapacitated. "He just feels nothing for the destruction that is being wrought," she says.

In keeping with Saddam's sense of stature in the Arab and Muslim worlds, he is deemed likely to want to inflict as much pain as possible on the powers arrayed against him. …