Thomas Friedman, a New York Times columnist, may have said it best. Reaching another deal with Saddam Hussein, he said, leaves him feeling "as if I had just agreed that Ted Kaczynski could be my mailman because he's promised, this time for sure, no more letter bombs."

Saddam has violated every condition of surrender in the gulf war, conditions passed as U.N. resolutions. He is, by every definition, a ruthless madman. While we share the relief that no lives will be lost over his latest refusal to allow inspectors into his palaces, we see little reason to believe Saddam means what he says. Chances are, the United States will have to stand toe-to-toe with him again.Two things are clear from the latest crisis. One is that the threat of military might is a great persuader. Saddam was the first to blink. The other is that the United States needs to do a better job of rallying the rest of the world to its side.

As to the first, the lesson is that the United States must maintain a military force strong enough and well-trained enough to be taken seriously, and it must be willing to use that force as a last resort. Diplomacy is the preferred tool for ending every crisis, but it won't work without a credible threat of force behind it. Not long ago, the Pentagon's goal was to have the ability to wage two wars at once. By most estimates, that no longer is possible. While the U.S. military remains the strongest in the world, the nation can't afford to let it slip any further.

To the second point, the United States may have no way of turning the hearts of the French, the Russians and the Chinese away from sympathy toward Iraq. But it can find a way of committing them so they would be forced to join in condemnation if Saddam acts out again. France wants the United Nations to formally endorse the agreement brokered by Secretary General Kofi Annan. If the Clinton administration agrees to this, it ought to add a clause that authorizes the use of force should Saddam fail to comply.

Of course, the United States would be better served by having a long-term strategy for dealing with Saddam. Iraq still has weapons of mass destruction. It has a nuclear weapons program, and it has a limited number of missiles with which to launch these devices. Saddam isn't likely to abandon these efforts any time soon.

The situation is messy at best. An avowed enemy, defeated in war, remains in power and is doing all he can to rebuild his arsenal. Unless the United States and the United Nations want to face these wearying crises at regular intervals, they ought to find strategies for permanently removing this threat.