I don't know why people think George Bush is such a brilliant statesman. He made yet another dumb mistake when he let the British talk him into establishing so-called safe havens for Kurds inside Iraq.

The Kurds, of course, are assuming the United States will protect them indefinitely. They may not believe it but it's to their political advantage to assume it.Bush, however, will have to abandon these Kurds. He could do it now or he can do it later, but abandon them he will because the alternative is a permanent U.S. presence inside Iraq.

You see, the problem for the Kurds is not Saddam Hussein. Whoever replaced Saddam would follow the same policy of not granting independence to the Kurdish minority and of crushing any Kurdish rebellion. Our Turkish allies, who have 10 million Kurds in their country, likewise don't wish to see an independent Kurdistan in Iraq or anywhere else in their vicinity. Neither do the Iranians, who also have a Kurdish minority.

That's tragic perhaps for some Kurds, but there is nothing the United States can do about it in 1991 unless the American people wish to restart the war and occupy the whole of Iraq. The American people's sympathy for the Kurds does not extend that far.

Bush's present problems stem from his own excessive and careless rhetoric. Instead of being honest with the American people about a limited objective to drive the Iraqi army out of Kuwait and create an excuse for a permanent military presence in the Persian Gulf, he demonized Saddam as some kind of reincarnated Hitler who threatened the peace of the world.

Now, of course, the American people who had only Bush's rhetoric for information think we lost the war because Saddam is still in power. For the same reason, they think if Saddam remains in power, he's going to wipe out the Kurds.

Saddam is a repressive dictator. He's cruel to his enemies and he's very quick to decide somebody who doesn't agree with him is an enemy. That said, however, the man is no Hitler. For one thing, he isn't as smart as Hitler and for another, he is far from the murderous tyrant Hitler was. When Hitler decided to rid Europe of Jews, he darn near succeeded. Saddam has never tried to exterminate the Kurds. There were about 4 million Kurds in Iraq when Saddam took power more than a decade ago, and there are still about 4 million Kurds in Iraq.

Saddam has always used a carrot and stick approach - putting down armed rebellions but otherwise courting the Kurds. He has already signed an agreement with the United Nations to facilitate humanitarian aid to the Kurds and an agreement with some Kurdish chieftains to grant some level of additional autonomy. That doesn't mean he won't make it excruciatingly painful for any Kurd his government decides participated in the rebellion, but it does indicate he has no intention of exterminating the Kurdish people or expelling them en masse. Remember, a majority of the Kurds did not flee and are living now under Iraqi control.

Sitting in the United States, you have to be careful to note the source of information. It's in the interest of Kurdish rebel leaders, as well as Iraqi exiles, to paint the government in Baghdad in the most vicious colors. After all, they would like nothing better than for the U.S. to topple the government for them. Keep in mind, too, that just because an Iraqi exile hates Saddam that doesn't mean the exile is a great humanitarian democrat or fond of the United States for that matter.

At any rate, Bush is now impaled on his own rhetoric. He should have stuck to his guns and pulled the U.S. forces out and not let TV images of human misery and bad advice from British politicians bog us down. The Kurds have to remain in Iraq. We don't.

Saddam is no Hitler and Bush is no Winston Churchill. At best, he's a Gerald Ford who kept his helmet on when he played football.