By blowing up an oilfield in Kuwait this week, Iraqi forces have made good on another of Saddam Hussein's wild threats.
This sad episode, like the firing of Scud missiles into civilian areas of non-combatant Israel, lends weight to other Saddam Hussein threats - including a widespread terrorism campaign plus the use of chemical and biological weapons.More immediately, the smoke from the oilfield fires makes it harder for allied pilots to see and hit some of their targets.
But don't miscalculate the psychological effect of this latest Iraqi outrage. Instead of demoralizing the allied forces arrayed against Iraq, it could easily strengthen their resolve not just to expel the invaders from Kuwait but to overrun Iraq, too, and oust Saddam.
Moreover, don't overestimate the impact of the oil fires on the environment. Yes, some of the consequences could last for many years. But some environmentalists are being irresponsible with their exaggerated suggestions that a huge oil fire in Kuwait could send so much smoke and soot into the air that it could block out the sun and cool the entire northern hemisphere.
Such warnings are more guess-work than science. A more believable scenario comes from scientists at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory near Berkeley, Calif. who have been using computer models to test what would result from massive oil fires in Kuwait.
They found that even if Iraq could ignite every single oil well in Kuwait - something the experts consider impossible - the fires probably would not have any impact beyond the immediate region. The smoke would drift for around 10 days before dissipating and could cause some regional cooling, as did the plume from the Yellowstone Park forest fire in the summer of 1988. But there would be no larger consequences.
What about the oil lost to the flames? The damage would be sharply limited because only surface oil could be consumed. Fire would be extinguished by the lack of oxygen in lower levels of the earth containing the greatest deposits of oil.
What about the impact of such fires on oil prices? Again, there's likely to be no lasting effect because Kuwait stopped exporting oil after it was invaded in August and the resulting slack was taken up by other petroleum producers. Indeed, world oil markets - not known for their muted reactions - already have shrugged off the implications of possibly losing Kuwait's production for an indefinite period after the war ends.
Meanwhile, the world had better brace itself for fresh expressions of Iraq's brutality. But then such outrages as the burning of Kuwaiti oil wells also show Iraq's increasing desperation. That desperation, in turn, can be considered an indication of increasing effectiveness of the war against the outlaw regime in Baghdad.