As of this writing, President Bush seems to have opted for war in the Persian Gulf. He has said publicly that if after midnight on Jan. 15 Iraq isn't out of Kuwait, full sanctions will be employed. That's about as clear an ultimatum and announcement of war intentions as anyone could make.

For that reason, you ought to know what a mess he's getting us into and how foolishly unprepared we are.Iraq's borders with Syria, Turkey and Iran are virtually undefended, and what that tells you is that Saddam Hussein does not fear a flanking attack from any of those countries. He has his forces concentrated in the south facing Americans.

On the other hand, our flanks are unsecured. On one side we have Egyptians and Syrians. The Syrian president has stated publicly that if Israel is drawn into the war, Syria will fight alongside Iraq, which means Syrians will fight Americans. The Egyptian president has stated publicly that Egyptian forces will not attack Iraq. The Saudi Arabians have said they will not attack Iraq. Furthermore, if the Israelis get into it, the Saudis may also switch sides.

Finally on the eastern flank is Iran, a powerful country, which hates our guts; despises the idea of infidels violating Moslem holy ground; and has a great fear of a permanent U.S. military presence so near Iran's borders. In short, Iran may also come in on the side of Iraq, their past war notwithstanding.

Thus, the Pentagon's neat little plan of five days of aerial bombardment followed by "mopping up" operations by the ground forces rests on the assumption that the war can be neatly contained to Kuwait and southern Iraq and the coalition will hold.

I wouldn't bet 50 cents on that assumption much less thousands of American lives. It also rests on the assumption that aerial bombardment will virtually destroy the Iraqi forces, and I wouldn't bet two cents on that assumption. I just talked with an active duty Israeli military intelligence officer who shares my opinion on the ineffectiveness of aerial bombardment of the Iraqi positions.

The Israelis, by the way, fully believe they will be drawn into the war. Once Saddam faces destruction by the U.S. forces, what's he got to lose by firing missiles at Israel? Nothing. But he has a lot to gain. True, he will add Israeli forces to the American forces arrayed against him, but he will definitely subtract the Syrians and quite possibly the Egyptians and Saudis. In short, he will destroy Bush's coalition with one shot and completely re-draw the parameters of the war.

Instead of Americans vs. Iraq, it will be Americans and Israelis vs. the Arabs. Instead of a neat little war confined to Kuwait and its immediate environment, it will be a larger, messier war stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean. Instead of a short war, it will be a long war. Instead of a few thousand American casualties, there will be many thousands of American casualties.

It's interesting to me that the Israeli intelligence officer says exactly the same things about Saddam Hussein that my Arab sources say: he is a serious man, he is a man who does what he says he will do, he is a man you had better not underestimate, he is a man who cannot be bluffed out of Kuwait.

If Bush has decided to play an international game of chicken, he picked the wrong opponent. Saddam doesn't want a war, but he will choose war over surrender and defeat. Bush very foolishly has from the beginning offered him no way out which is why I think Bush either has planned to have a war from the beginning or, if he doesn't want a war, is incredibly ill-informed and incompetent.

The war will be the same disaster whether we start it on purpose or blunder into it. Thousands of Americans will die in a war fought for the wrong reasons in the wrong place, not in defense of American vital interests, but in defense of foreign and financial interests.

The aftermath will be as bitter as the war itself and far longer lasting.