The war in the Middle East requires prompt maneuvers - whether it be the military maneuvers of Operation Desert Storm's ground assault into Kuwait and Iraq . . .

. . . or the opportunistic marketing maneuvers of U.S. entrepreneurs.With here-at-home sentiments of patriotism riding high, there's money to be made. Just follow a reverse line of command - Private Enterprise can command Major Profits from the General Public.

It started so simply - and so quickly. "Desert Storm" T-shirts and buttons became a staple. Stores reported short or depleted supplies of yellow ribbon. And those small U.S. flag patches that previously were limited to Scout uniforms have now become standard additions to the uniforms of many high school, college and professional athletic teams.

However, a bigger profit was in the cards, so to speak. Operation Desert Storm is making another on our pocketbooks - as trading cards. The Topps Trading Co. Inc. is now marketing Desert Storm cards, featuring color photos of military personnel, warplanes, battleships and armored vehicles.

You've seen the market for baseball, football and basketball cards and the ever-escalating prices, which can take off quickly and continue to soar over the years. Long after Saddam Hussein is no longer a mainstay of media reports, Desert Storm cards will be tucked away in protective plastic sleeves, in cardboard boxes or in glass display cases at card shops.

One Orem card shop celebrated its new-location by opening last weekend with the Desert Storm cards as its featured door prize - one pack given free to each of the first 40 customers. By mid-afternoon, the shop had sold out of its remaining supply of the cards.

How hot of a commodity are the Desert Storm cards right now? Single packs - composed of eight cards and a sticker card - are selling at select stores for $1 to $1.50 each. Complete Desert Storm sets - 88 cards and the 10 sticker cards - can be purchased for $25 each.

The values of individual cards vary, since the cards are relatively new and there is no monthly pricing like the price listings for sports cards. But kids and serious collectors are already starting to pick out some favorites.

The first card of the Desert Storm set is "The Commander in Chief" - this is the George Bush card, the set's most sought-after card that commands prices as high as $4 each. Ironically, the "rookie card" of Bush, who is the highest-ranking individual of the U.S. armed forces, is still a bargain compared to that of one U.S. Navy lieutenant by the name of David Robinson, whose 1989-90 NBA rookie card is currently listed at $30.

Another Desert Storm card attracting nearly as much attention as the Bush card is "The Patriot Missile." Unlike football cards for players of an NFL team by the same name, this is one Patriot card worth collecting.

Reaching the $1 value are a couple of other cards of note - the Scud missile and the Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf cards. Also big are the U.S. flag and the Desert Storm shield sticker cards.

Other card subjects range from F-18 Hornet jets to M1A1 Abrams battle tanks, from the U.S.S. Wisconsin to a gas mask, and from helicopters in descriptions - of individual leaders, armament, equipment and various member nations of the coalition.

Card values increase with elements of importance or intrigue - perhaps the card subject is a mega-bucks superstar, a two-sport athlete, a prized rookie or a future Hall of Famer. Be it fact or fiction, be it fad or fable, even the Desert Storm cards reportedly have their own element of intrigue.

One card-shop clerk explained to a customer last weekend that the Pentagon had asked Topps to hold off sales of the cards until March 15, at which time the cards could be simultaneously released to troops in Saudi Arabia as well as patrons in the United States. But as the Desert Storm cards were being shipped overseas, a number of cases were reported as missing - about the same time as cases were being advertised on the card dealers' networks.

Continuing the sales pitch, the sales clerk said that the customer was purchasing Desert Storm cards that essentially don't exist, since they aren't to be officially released for another three weeks.

Three weeks - that's plenty of time for even non-official Bush and Patriot missile cards to increase in value.