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Gulf War Scorecard

High marks for US foreign policy and armed forces; low marks for some military policies

IT will take diplomatic and military historians years to piece together the full story of the Persian Gulf war, but we can already make some preliminary assessments. To begin with, give George Bush an ``A'' for foreign policy. It was right that he opposed the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and did something about it.

Give the United Nations Security Council an ``A'' as well, for behaving like the framers of the Charter intended it to. The credit for making this possible goes to Mikhail Gorbachev. The Kuwait crisis marked the first time the Soviet Union was cooperative instead of obstructive in the Council.

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Give Mr. Bush another ``A'' for the diplomacy which built the allied coalition in the Gulf war and held it together. The staunch international support underlined the basic rightness of the American and UN position and has done much to shore up the international political position of the US. This is all the more remarkable when one considers that it brought together military forces from such disparate countries as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, France, and Great Britain, and political support from the Sovie t Union, China, and even Iran. This task was made easier by the foolishness of Saddam Hussein, but give Bush full marks for taking advantage of Iraqi mistakes.

Bush does not get full marks - maybe a ``C'' - for the parallel diplomacy of trying to settle the matter without a war. In fact, his diplomacy on this track was so obtuse that it raises the question of whether he ever really wanted to settle it without a war.

One of the principles of diplomacy is to leave as many options open as possible. Yet the record of American diplomacy in the Persian Gulf from August 1990 to February 1991 was one of steadily narrowing choices until finally there was only one left. At the same time, although there were frequent expressions of hope from the White House that Saddam would come to his senses, little was said to encourage him to do so. The president scoffed at the notion of saving face for Saddam and used other intemperate l anguage (``kick ass'') unbecoming a president of the United States. In the end, when Iraq began to make some concessions, they were rejected out of hand instead of seized as the basis for negotiations. What a contrast with the way Kennedy handled the missile crisis.

GIVE the US armed forces - Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines - an ``A+'' for their logistic and combat performance. They moved half a million people halfway around the world in short order and then put on a virtuoso performance with high-tech weapons most of which actually worked like their designers said they would. This is truly awe-inspiring.

It is a performance that will not be lost on others. The hard-line Soviet military officers who want to revive the cold war must be wondering if they could match it. Almost certainly they are concluding they could not. Other countries are probably thinking that it's good to have the US on their side. And half-baked third-world dictators are probably deciding now that it is not prudent to knock off their small neighbors.

Herein lies a danger. It is good that the rest of the world is impressed with the US and is maybe even in awe of Americans. The danger is that the US will be too impressed with itself. At one point in his campaign to denigrate Saddam Hussein, President Bush vowed that Saddam, and by extension the world, would learn that ``what we say, goes.'' That is a thumbnail description of imperialism which most people think has gone out of style. It ought not to be brought back now.

The armed forces get a ``C'' - maybe even a ``D'' - for their public relations. Generals think reporters are a nuisance. Under the guise of protecting lives and military security and deceiving the enemy, the military (and its masters in the Pentagon and the White House) have tried to control the news of the war from the beginning, even going so far as to impose a complete blackout at the start of the ground war. Eisenhower managed to invade Normandy without doing this; there is no reason General Schwarz kopf couldn't have invaded Kuwait the same way.

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Finally, the armed forces get an ``F'' for the personnel policy which sent both parents of young children to war. The mistake was to accept both parents for service in the first place. One can argue that the parents knew, or should have known, what they were doing, but the military has some responsibility here, too. It's bad enough to leave two- and three-years olds with aunts or uncles or grandparents, but it would be incomparably worse to make orphans out of them.

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