President Bush's critics ended up with egg on their faces after the quick U.S. victory in Desert Storm. Has that caused them to become shy, withdrawn, chastened and embarrassed?
No, no, no and no, in that order.Bush has refused to order destruction of tanks and helicopters Saddam Hussein has now turned on his own people.
The talk shows and the op-ed pages are now filled with charges that allied forces are standing like pitiful, helpless giants while Saddam slaughters Kurds, Shiites and others who have rebelled against his government in Iraq.
The French have joined in, urging Bush and their other coalition partners to stop the killing and intervene in the civil war.
No president, however victorious and however popular, can win immunity from criticism, particularly from the French.
What is striking, however, is how few are rushing to defend Bush's decision to honor a cease-fire imposed on the Iraqis once they were defeated and chased out of Kuwait.
The case for standing pat is not being made very well, either by Bush or his supporters. Spokesmen for the State Department and White House are doing the best they can with the old adage that Iraq's internal affairs are Iraq's business.
What they are not permitted to say is that Bush cannot attack Saddam's forces in Iraq because it probably would exceed both the United Nations Security Council and congressional resolutions authorizing force. Those resolutions, by and large, are confined to the expulsion of the Iraqis from Kuwait, which already has been accomplished.
To say this, however, would be an admission by Bush that he is bound by the terms of the resolutions. He is. But he can't say so.
In the case of Congress, saying so would concede warmaking powers to the legislative branch that all presidents claim as their own, more or less. In the case of the U.N. resolutions, it would confirm the worst fears of his critics on the right, that his dream of a New World Order contemplates not Pax Americana - but Pax Americana et Terra. American world leadership will be asserted in full consultation with the U.N. and other international organizations.
Bush could seek further authority against Iraq. He might well get it from Congress, but it might be asking too much of the Soviet Union. The Soviets supported the original resolution last year with the promise that coalition forces would seek only the liberation of Kuwait, not the ouster of Saddam and the installation of a government of American choosing on their border.
The Soviets, however, are not the main obstacle to intervention. Both Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which fully backed the fight against Saddam, are reluctant to see either of the Iraqi challengers to Saddam's Baathist Party installed in Baghdad. The Turks do not want Kurdish autonomy in Iraq because it would likely inflame Turkey's own Kurdish separatists. And the Saudis do not want a second radical Shiite Muslim government. One - Iran - is enough in the region.
Arming these two groups or disarming Saddam would, thus, offend the two most important Arab partners in the coalition.
There is another alternative - for the United States and its partners to conquer Iraq and force Saddam out. What would they do with it? By now, a neat military coup led by some Western-oriented Iraqi general is a pipe dreams. Saddam has killed all such candidates. A more likely result of intervention is a prolonged and dangerous allied occupation in a tense, bitter, hungry and divided country.
There seems little for the Bush administration to do but stand fast, watch their poll numbers decline into the 80th percentile and let the criticism wash off their backs.