THE WORLD FROM.Washington Triumph of 1989 Revolutions Recedes as Conflicts in Gulf, Baltics Rivet World's Attention

Article excerpt

In a corridor outside one of the Pentagon's biggest lunchrooms there's a slab of the Berlin Wall, backlit and mounted behind glass as an exhibit to the end of the cold war.

Last year, when it was erected, it was a big draw. Now few people stop to admire its graffiti. They hurry past, with other things on their mind.

History has returned to Washington with a vengeance. No one here really expected the golden glow of the end of the cold war to last, but few were prepared for the suddenness with which the weather turned. The Gulf crisis and the Soviet crackdown in Lithuania have already made the Eastern European revolutions of 1989 seem distant.

Once the potential power of a reunited Germany was America's biggest international worry. Now officials are transfixed by a Mikhail Gorbachev they no longer understand, and an Iraqi leader they believe they understand too well.

The fate of the Baltics may be more important in the long term, but it is still a sideshow to a city caught up in a Gulf standoff marked by intense, personal rhetoric. President Bush says he's "fed up" with Saddam Hussein, then complains he's been given a a "total stiff arm." The Iraqi leader responds in kind, threatening that Americans will "swim in their own blood, God willing." At times the pair sound like professional wrestlers, pounding their chests and posturing for the camera.

But unlike wrestling, the threats aren't for show. In recent days, war gloom has descended on the US capital as the failure of the Geneva talks and of UN Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar's last-minute mission to Baghdad convinces people that Saddam Hussein positively wants to fight.

It no longer seems probable that Iraq is counting on the US being unwilling to use force. …