SADDAM HUSSEIN understands more clearly than most wartime leaders that his target is the will of the enemy. He still believes he can win -- regardless of the superior weapons assembled against him -- by subverting the determination of his opponents.
To this end, he conducts a relentless campaign designed to weaken the unity and clarity of his adversaries. He relies on diplomacy and propaganda. His campaign is pursued in the United Nations, in foreign capitals and in television studios around the world. The key elements of are now clear. They include at least the following:
* Confuse the issue. From the outset, Saddam Hussein has refused to discuss Iraq's invasion of Kuwait except to affirm from time to time that Kuwait is part of Iraq. In the same spirit, he has consistently declined to focus on the existence of the dozen U.N. resolutions that call for withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait and restoration of Kuwait's legitimate government.
Mr. Hussein has instead sought to redefine the issue as "the situation in the region," as he did in the communique on the meeting between himself and Soviet envoy Yevgeny Primakov. The communique emphasized that "Iraq is always ready to work for attaining a just and honorable solution to all regional problems in such a way that will protect the rights of Iraq and those of the Arab nation, particularly in Palestine, and will also safeguard the Arab nation's dignity, its free will and its independence."
The real issue, Mr. Hussein insists, is "the U.S. imperialist-Zionist bid for dominating the region." Baghdad Radio quotes him (Jan. 30) as saying, "This is the battle of Zionism, but Zionism is fighting us with your (American) blood."
* Divide the enemy. As Mr. Hussein ignores the invasion of Kuwait, he also takes no public note of the broad international coalition assembled against him. Nevertheless, he works ceaselessly to undermine its unity.
To France and the Soviet Union he addresses special reproaches. Early on, he condemned France for being a false friend. To Mr. Primakov he said, "The Soviet Union has a legal, political and moral responsibility" for the U.S. destruction of Iraq, noting that the Soviet Union voted for the U.N. resolutions under which the U.S. now carries out its war effort.
To the governments of Saudi Arabia, Syria and Egypt he addresses special threats. To the Arab masses and to all Moslems everywhere he makes special appeals. He encourages diplomatic initiatives by the governments of Jordan, Iran, Yemen and Algeria. Just out of public view, Iraqi diplomats work ceaselessly to split Arab members from the coalition.
* Make Iraq the victim and seize the high moral ground. In Saddam Hussein's fantasies, and in the propaganda of Iraq, Iraq is the victim in this conflict in which Kuwait does not even figure. Iraq is the victim of American aggression -- "aggression aimed at killing the sons of the Iraqi people and destroying the civilian infrastructure built by the Iraqi people, such as their economic, cultural and scientific property as well as their religious centers."
He says Americans are beasts who are less interested in military targets than in bombing powdered milk factories and nursery schools; the U.S. is guilty of "savage crimes"; its actions are wholly illegitimate.
The heavy emphasis in recent days on American "war crimes" and Iraqi government-sponsored trips of foreign journalists to view war damage in civilian neighborhoods suggests that Saddam Hussein has now targeted American consciences. Especially painful was the sight of the bodies of women and children being carried out of a shelter recently bombed.
Baghdad radio reported 42 allied raids on civilians in a single night last week. Iraqi media complain that the bombing of bridges threatens to divide the city of Baghdad, to separate families and disrupt transportation. There is a systematic campaign by the U.S., the Iraqi Information Ministry complains, to destroy Iraq.
"Why is America killing us?" Iraqis ask. These Iraqis who speak to journalists in censored interviews often seem surprised that the violence their government inflicted on Kuwait should have consequences for them. They seek to convince Americans and the world that it is unreasonable and immoral to conduct the war in this way.
Saddam Hussein's hopes of splitting the coalition, confusing the issue and intimidating partners are not far-fetched.
In the past week, Mikhail Gorbachev has expressed concern about coalition attacks on Iraq. A stream of speakers at the World Council of Churches' conference in Canberra, Australia, found the war effort "disproportionate." As the war continues, Israelis are reported to worry that Mr. Hussein is gaining points in the Arab world. In Washington, sophisticated observers speculate about whether the majority in the U.N. Security Council will last.
With his accusations and defiance, Saddam Hussein tests our clarity of vision and purpose. He challenges us to remember that this war is indeed a contest of wills, a contest in which his will to conquest is pitted against our will to create a less dangerous, more lawful world.
Former U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick writes a column on international affairs.