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Enemies list.

The betrayal of the Kurds, while it may not altogether extinguish the afterglow of Desert Shield, will certainly shorten and diminish it. A Gallup poll conducted April 4 to 6 shows a 14 percent drop in public support for George Bush's handling of events in the gulf, and by the time the election season comes around-assuming the Democrats can find a candidate-the benefits of the war may not count for much.

As George Will has noted, there were two Vietnam Syndromes-the fear of quagmires and the reluctance to use force. V.S.I may have led Bush to withhold support from the Kurds. But this only produces a greater clamor from his critics on the right-who compare the abandonment of the Kurds to the Bay of Pigs-for the endlessly repeated purging of V.S.II, with the punitive military strike as a basic instrument of post-cold war policy.

A dilemma, however: The payoff from these splendid little wars in general fades faster than the victors anticipate in their first flush of triumph. (Iraq, given the immense scale of the operation, might have proved the exception, but then came the Kurds.) This in turn gives rise to fresh spasms, the interval between them shrinking along with the public attention span: Grenada 1983, Libya 1986, Panama 1989, Iraq 1991.

Second dilemma: Where to find new targets of opportunity in the post-communist world, given the dismaying shortage of renegades as obliging as Saddam Hussein. It's necessary here to go back to July 1985, when the Reagan Administration issued its list of "outlaw states." Five countries were listed as members of what Reagan-or Peggy Noonan-called the "strangest collection of misfits, Looney Tunes and squalid criminals since the advent of the Third Reich." One, Iran, seems to be on good behavior these days. Another, Nicaragua, is, as they say, history. Which leaves three-Libya, North Korea and Cuba.

Now, the curious thing is that each of those three has appeared, in the short weeks since the war, in what may be seen as trial balloons floated into the columns of major newspapers by disgruntled conservatives in and around the Administration. First, on March 17, a New York Times story cited "intelligence information" suggesting that Libya was increasing production of nerve and mustard gases at its Rabta chemical plant. An attack on Libya seems unlikely, however, since the 1986 airstrikes still count in Washington's official history as a success story, and as a closed chapter.

On April 10 came an intriguing column by the Times's Leslie Gelb on the threat posed by North Korea, "perhaps the most dangerous country in the world today." That piece gave voice to the warning of Defense Secretary Dick Cheney that North Korea, which is soon likely to possess nuclear weapons, is the most probable source of "a no-notice attack against U.S. forces:' Yet the notion of North Korea doing anything so foolish seems implausible.

Sandwiched in between, and perhaps most ominous of the three, was an April I column in The Washington Post by Jeane Kirkpatrick, prompted by the defection to Key West of a Cuban MIG-23 fighter pilot. But was it really a defection, she wondered, or a Cuban probing of U.S. air defenses? To Kirkpatrick, the incident made sense only in the context of two additional facts: the reports last year that Fidel Castro had urged Nikita Khrushchev to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the United States in 1962, and the near completion of Cuba's nuclear power plant at Cienfuegos, which one quoted official had said "could be used to produce weapons-grade plutonium."

Weapons of mass destruction, and the willingness to use them-those are the common notes that these alarm bells sound. Will Saddam Hussein in the end be the man to place the crown on George Bush's head in 92, or might it yet be someone else? Qaddafi? Kim II Sung? Castro? You choose.
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Title Annotation:betrayal of Kurds
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:editorial
Date:Apr 29, 1991
Previous Article:'We're no. 1! We're no. 1!' (US social conditions against backdrop of US military status after Persian Gulf War) (editorial)
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