Seize the Day

For more than a generation the atmosphere of United Nations headquarters has been redolent with intimations that its very air conditioners have been fueled with sleeping powders. Inanition is a habit that dulls the senses. The UN has been a resigned underreacher too long to recognize quickly that the world has changed and that it may once again be relevant in history.

Far from peaceable resolution though his affairs yet lie, Saddam Hussein appears already to feel the punishment that the new international order may now appoint for overreachers. Nothing could more clearly signal this awareness than his offer to settle his border disputes with Iran on Iran’s terms. Only the desperation of loneliness could have compelled Hussein this cavalierly to liquidate the victory extorted by hecatombs of Iraqis through eight years of war. But then fear of him had already dissipated what wisps were left of the myth of Arab unity, made rather a moderate of Muammar Qaddhafi, and all but united the nations of the world in that never before noticeable phenomenon, an apparently effective boycott.

Hussein has thus found himself isolated in a new world created by Mikhail Gorbachev’s decision to sign a separate peace. The Soviet Union and the United States had been the two great overreachers of post–World War II history; and the flirtings of both with Saddam Hussein had been one of their less savory competitive exercises. If the Soviets were still in the game, the UN Security Council would likely be as paralyzed in this emergency as it has so long been in all others.

But then Gorbachev stopped overreaching when his common sense taught him that he had lost. The United States would profit abundantly from the equal common sense of recognizing that it had won and had no further need to overreach.

During the first three weeks in August the administration displayed a curious compulsion never to let a day pass without a headline proclaiming an increased measure of force against Hussein. Yet all that is practical had already been done; and what is thereafter impractical ought not to be thought of. The United States does not appear to have enough troops available to fight a ground war to drive the Iraqis out of Kuwait. Short of that or some other unhopeful adventure, we shall have to wait Hussein out; and there is little assurance that he will fall soon in a world where governments have a way of enduring with few visible means of support. Patience is our only useful posture from here on in; and the sooner we settle into it the better.

The President showed heartening signs of appreciating that necessity in his news conference on August 22. We may assume that he was pressed on one side by a war and on the other by a peace party; presidents, after all, invariably are. Until August 22 there had been some smell of the war party in his rhetoric. He had spent too long in excessive demonstrations…

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