I can hope the world might grant a former navy frogman the gift of independent thought, but it probably won't. The more I read and hear about the current flap with Iraq, Saddam Hussein, and how America immediately and alone should proceed to Baghdad to complete the job we didn't do in 1991, the harder it is to hold my tongue.

During the Persian Gulf War, I read numerous publications and carefully watched TV programs, presented quite differently by CNN and the major networks, and even wrote a little book about it. As a consequence, I was forced to do some research on Iraq's eight year war with Iran, the subsequent problems Iraq had with Kuwait, and our involvement in more of it than I cared to read. After mulling it around in my head for weeks, I arrived at three conclusions.

The story as I see it, and there is always a story perceived in one way by some, differently by others, in hindsight is simple. After WWII, the United States gradually became involved with Iran and supported its young Shah in his attempts to modernize the country. We sold him weapons in return for his oil money, and propped up his regime. In fact, I recall as a frogman in the late 50s that we trained Iranians in SCUBA and reconnaisance techniques. Soviet Russia, which also wanted access to Middle Eastern oil, successfully set up a sphere of influence in Iraq.

Over several decades, the aristocratic Shah of Iran and his secret police became highly unpopular, and strong internal opposition arose against him. Ultimately, fundamentalist Muslims managed to overthrow the Shah, and took power in Iran when the Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile in Paris. America's benevolent sponsorship of and military assistance to Iran began winding down. Iran ultimately became America's enemy when an Iranian mob stormed our embassy in Tehran on November 4th, 1979. They held 52 American hostages for over a year until the day of Ronald Reagan's inauguration in 1981. Their clerics gave us the name of the Great Satan, and America lost a window into the Middle East. We looked for another horse to back.

For better or worse, when Iraq attacked Iran in 1980 over a territorial dispute, we aided Iraq covertly with weapons and unpublicized finance schemes for agricultural aid that freed Saddam's money for his war efforts. We did this despite Iraq's long-standing, close ties with Russia. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, whose governments would be jeopardized by a dominant fundamentalist Muslim presence in the Middle East, also aided Iraq with large sums of money. In effect, Saddam protected both of their feudal monarchies by using Iraq's blood and their money to conduct the war. He was their thug, but he also was ours.

We pampered, coddled, provided radar equipment to detect Iranian planes, satellite information, and spoiled Saddam Hussein during the years Iraq fought Iran. He became accustomed to the support and assistance of an indulgent America.

After Iran and Iraq fought that war for eight costly years, with neither clearly having an advantage, they agreed to a truce. Iraq found itself deeply in debt to both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. From what I have read, the Kuwaitis asked Saddam for repayment of their debt. He reminded them that much Iraqi blood had been shed to protect Kuwait, said that he needed time to replenish his treasury with sales of oil, and tried to defer payment. There also were rumors that Kuwait underpriced its oil, pumped more than its OPEC quota, and was slant drilling into Iraqi oil fields. Moreover, landlocked Iraq historically had claims on a parcel of Kuwait that opened to the Persian Gulf. From Saddam's point of view, he was provoked. The story I read, which I cannot verify, said Kuwait continued to demand payment of the debt. Saddam threatened military action unless Kuwait backed down, was rebuffed, and the rest is history.

What is certain is that just a few days before he invaded Kuwait, Saddam Hussein had a meeting with America's ambassador, April Glaspie. The minutes of that meeting were subsequently sealed for 25 years by James Baker, our Secretary of State. A summary of the discussion that took place was later circulated in the press. Its accuracy is unknown, but the summary said the following. To Saddam's inquiry concerning the position of the United States with reference to his quarrel with Kuwait, Ms. Glaspie was reported to have said the U.S. had no interest in the boundary dispute. The inference was that Saddam took this as a tacit acceptance America would not interfere if he invaded Kuwait. In this he was mistaken, but the U.S. apparently did not take strong exception to his probing. Where the truth really lies in the matter may not be known for a quarter of a century, but one wonders why Mr. Baker sealed the proceedings.

Following the brief Persian Gulf War, in which Iraq was pushed out of Kuwait, but coalition troops did not continue on to Baghdad, the victorious United Nation allies demanded the right to inspect Iraqi facilities for weapons of mass destruction. They included nuclear research and development, chemical and bacteriological weapons laboratories, and factories that built or assembled SCUDS. Besides these overt operations, our CIA covertly supported and funneled tens of millions of dollars to the Iraqi National Congress, comprised of dissident members of Iraq's Shiite and Sunni Muslim groups, and Kurds. From safe bases in northern Iraq's no-fly zone, they beamed TV and radio broadcasts into Iraq, published a newspaper, and conducted military raids into government territory. Their purpose was to overthrow Saddam Hussein. These operations finally ended when the Kurdistan Democratic Party, one of two Kurdish factions fighting for control of northern Iraq, invited the Iraqi army in to restore order. Iraq's army captured and executed 96 members of the Iraqi National Congress, forcing hundreds of others to flee to safety, many of them to the United States.

Now, with this long preface, let me say that I in no way support Saddam Hussein, his regime, or feel that his policies have benefitted Iraq or the entire region. I am not an apologist for him. If he were not ruthless, willing to use terrorist tactics, including murder, and been nimble in molding popular opinion, he'd long ago have been overthrown and put to death. He is a survivor. In my view, he is also responsible for the deaths of a million Iraqis and Iranians. Many Americans devoutly believe the world would be a better place without him. Accordingly, for the last seven years, our government and media statements have demonized Saddam, deliberately making him appear even worse than he is. But I give the devil his due. Anyone who believes Saddam Hussein has reason to respect or acquiesce to the wishes or demands of the United States, particularly after what it lately has tried to do to him, is dealing from a deck far different than mine. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that if our intelligence had been able to locate him during the Persian Gulf War, or perhaps even later, it would have taken him out with one of the large, deeply penetrating bombs we quickly developed at that time.

For a number of years, America's unstated foreign policy appears to have been a willingness to lift UN sanctions on Iraq as soon as Saddam is removed from power or dead. After six and a half years of sanctions, Saddam is securely in command, but the United Nations has reported half a million Iraqi children have died from malnutrition or inadequate medical provisions and medicine. Children are not my enemies, nor are they yours. Only the most callous can say Saddam is entirely at fault, and I am not one of them. I will not accept the thesis that because Saddam was unwilling to abide by our dictates as we tried to both overthrow and kill him, he alone has been responsible for the deaths of these children. The story is more complex than that.

We have stated that before the present sanctions can be lifted, Iraq must destroy, and the United Nations must so verify, all weapons of mass destruction. The term includes chemical and bacteriological weapons, which we believe Iraq possesses, as well as nuclear weapons and delivery systems, which we think he does not. Our TV and press have recently drummed up something resembling a war hysteria, in which Americans are said to greatly fear Saddam will use these terrible weapons of mass destruction to attack his neighbors or even ourselves. Has anyone besides myself ever thought that these sentiments coming from a nation that had enough fission and fusion nuclear bombs to blow a foot of ground off all developed land areas on the globe, with huge stores of chemical(nerve and mustard gasses) and bacteriologica(anthrax, etc.) weapons, are the pot calling the kettle black?

I have not once lately heard or read that Iraq possessed these same weapons during the Persian Gulf War and, so far as we can determine after careful monitoring and analysis, did not use them on either the coalition or Israel. The reason is simple: had Iraq done so we would either have retaliated in kind or reduced Baghdad to radioactive nuclear rubble. Those who call Saddam a madman do not choose to recognize that from his perspective his behavior is rational. It is unquestionably cruel to both his enemies and his people, but it is rational.

Iraq exists in the Middle East where its potential enemy, Syria, and the country with whom Iraq just fought a war lasting eight years, Iran, have the resources to develop chemical and bacteriological weapons, and to do nuclear research. Both of those countries pursue their own interests, and have been accused of harboring terrorists who have performed attacks on U.S. citizens. Another of his avowed enemies, Israel, situated in the middle of millions of hostile Arabs, has both nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. My guess is that Israel also possesses chemical and bacteriological weapons. Just because the United States does not want Saddam to have such weapons has little bearing on his feeling justified in developing them. It would be irrational for him not to want them. His neighbors represent a real threat to Iraq.

Saddam may be doing nothing more useful than tweaking the nose of America to prove his independence and manhood, but requesting equal numbers of inspectors from each of the five members of the security council seems reasonable to an unbiased observer. And that is the way much of the world, including Arab nations, Russia, France, and China, may view it. They feel Iraq has been punished enough, are aware of mortality data on dead Iraqi children and, to some degree, hold America responsible for it.

In looking objectively at what has happened in Iraq since the Persian Gulf War, I am not proud of a foreign policy whose most significant result was the deaths of many thousands of children. Frankly, I don't see how any American could be. We have been using that policy as a lever in an attempt to force the tyrant of a nation one tenth our size to submit to U. S. will, which we have couched in terms of United Nations sanctions. Regardless of our intentions, what has been achieved in Iraq is shameful. The situation has degenerated into a test of wills between stubborn men on both sides, and it is wrong. Statesmen negotiating with good will do not hold children hostage, and a way can be found to at least permit medical supplies into Iraq.

My conclusion is that the time has come to forget our personal vendetta with Saddam Hussein, take the steps to make America's widely extended and strung-out defenses strong, cease playing policeman for the world, and allow Iraq a rational way to reenter the community of nations. Rather than unite the Arab world behind Saddam as we have done by starving Iraqis, why don't we make his neighbors, including the Saudis and Kuwaitis, Iran, Syria, and Israel, worry about ways to contain him. Make them aware we will no longer come to their rescue. Their necks are on the line, and the Arab world will find effective ways to control him.

In parallel, America can focus its modern oil technology on a different geographical area. Large petroleum deposits exist in Russia which should be developed to assure ample world oil supplies for the future. We can assist Russia in bringing these supplies to market. America badly needs an option from today's almost total dependence on the Middle East for its gasoline.

Sam Orr