A splendid little war



THIS IS NO time for gloating," said George Bush in the sweetest 10 minutes he ever spent on television. The Persian Gulf War NTC had been won.

Maybe it wasn't gloating. But from White House to military compound at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, vainglorious bravado about the 42-day rout was impossible to hide.

Football analogies abounded. It was a "blowout." The president made a congratulatory call to winning coach Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf. "Brilliant, superb, classic," Schwarzkopf called the game plan. The clutch play, said the general, was a "Hail Mary" pass.

Pardon me for interrupting locker room euphoria, but questions hang unanswered:

How long will U.S. troops stay in the Middle East?

Bush wouldn't say. Stripped from his speech was a line about an Arab and U.S. peacekeeping "shield" across Iraq.

Most of the 550,000 Americans will come home swiftly. But the spoils of war may give the U.S. military what it's long yearned for -- an air and land base in the Middle East. How could grateful Kuwait resist?

As the superpower guarding the West's oil flow, U.S. naval and land muscle will dominate the region into the 21st century.

What happens to Saddam Hussein?

Nothing, apparently. Bush's unstated war goal of removing Saddam came up short. A war crimes trial, pushed by such Republicans as Sen. John Heinz, R-Pa., would be a meaningless farce. How do they get Saddam in the dock? The Bush team settles for a humiliated, weaponless Saddam, and hopes for a coup. Never mind that the next Iraqi colonel may be as tyrannical.

Will Bush's "New World Order" bring Middle East peace?

Nothing else has in 5,000 years. As a reward for Tel Aviv's forbearance under Scuds, pressure to settle the Israeli-Palestinian tangle may ease. Aerial ravaging of Iraq will fester lasting anti-American fury.

Bush's speech ignored real anti-war medicine: an arms embargo, especially of nuclear, chemical and ballistic weapons, on Middle East countries. Saddam bought Scuds, Silkworms, T-72 tanks, mines and Mirage jets on the world market. So long as the arms bazaar flourishes, there'll be new Saddams.

Who are the war's economic winners?

Bechtel, Raytheon, Ford, General Motors, Motorola and other U.S. giants who won 70 percent of the contracts to rebuild Kuwait. Bomb-shattered Iraq will be another gold mine. Incredibly, Japan wants a piece of the action.

Was the Persian Gulf War really a war?

Historians may downgrade it to a battle. Blessedly, the 79 U.S. deaths were comparative to Panama and Grenada. A 100-hour ground action hardly compares to Verdun, Stalingrad or Okinawa.

General Schwarzkopf rightly brags his blitzkrieg was "superb," but basically, a high-tech U.S. air armada built to fight Soviets in Europe massacred a Third World army in its desert holes.

How many Iraqis were killed in the war?

"I don't discuss the pornography of war," snapped British Col. Barry Stevens. Schwartzkopf calls Iraqi casualties "very, very large." Estimates of the slaughter run as high as 100,000. We'll never know.

What did the victory mean for George Bush?

Bush basks in the giddy adulation -- same 82 percent approval rating -- that greeted Harry Truman on V-E Day. No more wimp. Bush is cheered for competent strength that probably cinches '92's re-election.

Will he squander his new clout? Despite pride in high-tech weaponry, the gulf triumph masked American home problems. It does zilch for the economy.

Was Bush right and 47 U.S. senators, who wanted sanctions not war, wrong?

Yes. And include this columnist.

Yes, given Saddam's intransigence and a huge U.S. buildup, sanctions would have been too slow. Yes, Bush deserves huzzahs for marshaling the coalition and running a high-tech, painless show. But don't forget Bush's cozying up to Saddam -- and America's oil addiction -- underpinned the war.

'Twas a great victory. But there'll be other Saddams, Scuds and desert rumbles.

Sandy Grady is Washington columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.

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