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Moment of Triumph--and a Grim Reminder : Bush gets a welcome in Kuwait; Saddam Hussein looks on

April 18, 1993

Former President George Bush was given an understandably emotional welcome in Kuwait last week, two years after the coalition he was instrumental in forging drove Iraq's occupying army out of the emirate and rescued its 1 million citizens from a brutal occupation. Few world leaders ever have the privilege of being genuinely hailed as a liberator by a grateful people. Certainly this was a moment of sweet triumph for Bush. But certainly it has been an uncomfortably poignant one as well. In the aftermath of the swift military triumph of Desert Storm, opinion polls put Bush's popularity among Americans at a record high. His reelection seemed assured. Yet only 20 months after that victory Bush failed decisively in his bid to remain in the White House.

Adding to the sting of that rejection was the grim fact that the tyrant whom Bush had at one point vowed to drive from power continued to exercise a near-absolute and remorselessly cruel control over Iraq.

Saddam Hussein has defied the expectations--or at any rate the hopes--of most political experts by surviving the humiliating defeat that was inflicted on his army and the harsh sanctions imposed on his regime by the United Nations. He has ridden out these external pressures by applying the same ruthless tactics that have served to perpetuate his power for more than a dozen years. He has waged no-quarter war on rebellious Shiites in the south and Kurds in the north. He has unhesitatingly killed or locked away anyone suspected of being a dissident or a potential rival.

While Saddam Hussein could not prevent popular discontent from boiling up over the shortages created by the U.N.-ordered embargo, he has kept it from becoming a threat to his regime by using spare-no-expense material favors to buy the loyalty of his soldiers and secret police.

Iraq, after its defeat, no longer presents a clear and present danger to its neighbors, at least for now. Much of its fearsome military machine was destroyed by allied planes and troops during the brief Gulf War. Much of what survived of Hussein's programs to build nuclear, chemical and germ weapons has been ferreted out and destroyed by U.N. inspectors. But the cat-and-mouse game goes on. Iraq is strongly suspected of still trying to hide and protect illicit arms, like Scud missiles, and the means for producing unconventional weapons.

Hussein has calculated from the beginning that his international opponents would in time grow weary of this contest and adopt an indifferent posture toward his regime. At the same time he has stepped up propaganda efforts to portray himself and his people as victims of Western vengeance. This bid to reclaim the sympathy of a good part of the Arab world has met with some success. Kuwaitis will never forget what Hussein did, but Arabs who have not been his victims may be in a more forgiving mood.

George Bush's deserved warm welcome by the people of Kuwait recalls a justified intervention to repel aggression. But it also serves as a grim reminder that although the dictator in Baghdad has been defeated in battle he has not been destroyed, and that his menacing reappearance on the international scene one day cannot be ruled out.

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