Though Kuwait is liberated and Iraq is convincingly beaten, the withdrawal of American forces promises to be protracted - perhaps not to be total for many years.

In occupied southern Iraq, our troops must stay on for what may be a difficult period of negotiations with Baghdad on terms of a permanent cease-fire, followed by the completion of new security arrangements for Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.The government of Saddam Hussein, brutally fighting off two major insurgencies in the rest of its territory, apparently will not give in easily to American-proposed peace terms.

These include the destruction of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons and impoundment of a portion of future Iraqi oil revenues to pay reparations for war damages. Gen. Colin Powell says the need to maintain pressure on Baghdad to accept such peace conditions will require U.S. troops to stay in Iraq "for some months to come."

Even with a permanent cease-fire in effect and a chastened Iraq unlikely to repeat its aggression anytime soon, the U.S. military presence in the gulf is expected to remain larger than it was before Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait.

Larger naval forces will be maintained than the few U.S. ships of the past four decades. Combat planes will be based in the area, and the Pentagon now contemplates moving part of the headquarters of the U.S. Central Command from Florida to a gulf site.

The United States has discovered that it is easier to make a large military commitment than to unmake it and that military success does not necessarily bring stability to a region.