Now that allied forces seem assured of sweeping victory in the Persian Gulf, the resulting elation must not obscure a painful fact of international life:
Victory in war does not automatically translate into victory in the ensuing peace.What must be done now to help assure that the military gains purchased at such a great price in blood and economic sacrifice do not turn to ashes later?
High on the list of post-war objectives in the gulf is, of course, the reconstruction of ravaged Kuwait. It is a massive and potentially lengthy task that has been tragically complicated by the scorched-earth tactics of the Iraqi invaders before they withdrew.
Since the liberation of Kuwait was an international undertaking, it logically follows that the reconstruction of Kuwait should be a multinational effort, too. It's also clear where the main responsibility lies, morally and financially. Iraq should be made to pay for the reconstruction effort even if that involves reducing Iraq to an international pauper. But outright pauperhood seems unlikely in view of Iraq's rich oil resources.
Of more immediate concern is the agonizing dilemma of what should be done with Saddam Hussein.
If Saddam is allowed to remain in power, it would make a mockery of the sacrifices of allied forces and raise the possibility of his future troublemaking.
But if Saddam is in any way turned into a martyr, his fate would inflame those who insist on seeing the United States as a global bully and could set off a new wave of international terrorism.
Perhaps one way to resolve the dilemma would be to let Saddam flee into opulent but impotent exile.
Even if the fate of Saddam is resolved satisfactorily, the victory in the Persian Gulf could still turn sour unless the allies make a major post-war effort to deal with that perennial source of tension - the Palestinian question.
Yes, it would smack of appeasement to link the Palestinian problem with diplomatic negotiations while the fighting in the gulf is still going on.
Yes, the Palestine Liberation Organization squandered what little respect it had in the West when it backed renegade Iraq in the war with the unique alliance between the West and much of the Arab world.
But the fact remains that the 4 million Palestinians scattered about the Middle East have legitimate grievances and legitimate ambitions for a homeland of their own.
The fact also remains that the PLO, despite its affinity for despots like Saddam, its long embrace of terrorism and its own splintering into a variety of often-conflicting sub-groups, remains the only organized voice for most Palestinians.
Moreover, Palestinian grievances and ambitions can be ignored only at the price of continuing peril of everyone in the region, including Israel.
That's why Egypt, a key part of the coalition against Iraq, has already said that despite its differences with the PLO it will seek to place the Palestinian issue high on the agenda after the war.
That's why West European nations are united in calling for a Middle East conference to deal with the Palestinian issue once the war is over.
The United States also has strong new incentives to come to grips with the Palestinian issue. That would be one way for Washington to repay some of its partners for their support during the gulf war. It would also be a way to defuse the anti-American sentiment that seems bound to flare up in much of the Middle East after the humiliation of Saddam.
Even such Israelis as former Defense Minister Ezer Weizman are calling for the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
By itself, a settlement of the Palestinian problem won't bring lasting peace to the Middle East, which will remain riven by plenty of inter-Arab rivalries as well as a sick obsession with Israel.
But the fact remains that if the world keeps heaping humiliation and indignity upon the Palestinians, there will be no shortage of other power-obsessed, land-hungry despots trying to fill the shoes of Saddam.