The time has come to "out-Gorbachev" Mikhail S. Gorbachev. The Soviet leader, master of diplomatic orchestrations, should be challenged to join with President Reagan in bringing the Iran-Iraq war to a peaceful conclusion.
The war, approaching its eighth year of carnage, must be stopped. More than a million lives have been lost on the battlefields and in urban attacks, a statistic that only tightens the grip of human suffering around the belligerents.
The precedent for peace talks mediated by the two superpowers was created in October when Secretary of State George P. Shultz proposed American and Soviet oversight responsibility for negotiations on another Middle East conflict, this one between Israel and Jordan. King Hussein vetoed the idea, but a new model for superpower cooperation was thereby established.
So far, all efforts to resolve the Iran-Iraq war have failed. The Reagan Administration charges that Moscow is one of the principal obstructionists.
Although Gorbachev has been making many constructive overtures throughout the Middle East (including Israel), he has directed a clearly disruptive policy in the Persian Gulf. Moscow is a major arms broker and trading partner to Iraq, while simultaneously assuming the role of Iran's ace-in-the-hole against the United States.
Moscow recently advised Washington that it would be compelled to abide by a dust-laden 1921 treaty with Iran, which empowers the Soviets to send troops into Iran in the event of third-party aggression.
The Iranians and the Soviets are already sharing intelligence information picked up in the gulf from electronic listening posts. An agreement was recently reached in which Iranian crude would be piped to the Black Sea, ensuring a steady influx of money into Iran. A railroad link also will be established between the two countries, giving the Soviets much-desired access to a warm-water port.
Some Western analysts believe the Soviet plan is to render both Iran and Iraq economically dependent on the Soviet Union, thus giving Gorbachev the means (and glory) to force both to a Moscow peace table.
If true, Gorbachev's plan could take years to gel, by which time several million Arabs and Persians will have killed and maimed one another.
Discussions regarding the gulf war have, to this point, focused on strategic and political dimensions of the conflict. Many Westerners, understandably weary and cynical, have concluded, "This war couldn't be happening to a nicer bunch of guys."
But there is a bigger price for the world to pay as this war drags on. Our children, and children of the gulf war, will bear a cruel burden.
Studies of the long and bitter civil wars in Northern Ireland and in Lebanon conclude that there is an exponential increase in the probability that children exposed to terrorism turn to terrorist activities themselves.
The last thing the world needs is a bolstering of the ranks of the next generation's terrorists and malcontents.
The economies of Iran and Iraq also have been devastated by the war. Before 1980, Iraq held more than $30 billion in currency reserves. Now Baghdad is steeped in debt exceeding $50 billion. How will Iran and Iraq bankroll the staggering cost of domestic reconstruction, while caring for millions of broken families, the injured and permanently disabled?
And there is yet another long-term effect of the war that should concern us--the ecological balance of the Persian Gulf.
A very shallow body of water, the gulf is vulnerable to serious environmental damage from the greatly increased traffic and the tanker attacks.
Although no major spills have occurred recently, the Iraqi ambassador to the United States, Abdul-Amir Anbari, claims that a few major oil spills could irrevocably pollute the Persian Gulf.
From an environmental perspective alone, the continuation of the war could have catastrophic effects on the world community.
The December superpower summit is an opportunity for Reagan to challenge Gorbachev to wield collective influence in bringing this war to a close. Human stakes should outweigh political considerations.
In short, Gorbachev and Reagan can ensure that a precious body of water will not become irrevocably polluted--and more important, that emotionally scarred children be given the chance to heal and to play.