If it had been a fight, they'd have stopped it. It was a fight, and maybe they have stopped it. Or maybe not.

By the time you read this, the war in the gulf may be over. As I write this, though, it isn't over, not just yet. The Iraqis would like it to be over, that's for sure. They've had quite enough, thank you. They're pulling out, their announcements say; they're heading home. "No mas."That's the worst news the allies have heard in days.

Don't give up now! the allies are thinking. Just give us a little more time, and there won't be an Iraqi tank or artillery piece (let alone an Iraqi soldier) still standing anywhere in the Middle East.

So they've taken the phone off the hook, the allies have. Not good enough, said Marlin Fitzwater at the White House when Baghdad radio first announced the pullout; we need to hear it personally and publicly from Saddam Hussein himself. (Nobody had made that a condition before.) So then Saddam went on the radio himself and called the troops home, personally and publicly. Not good enough, said Fitzwater.

And from the British: Not good enough - the Iraqi soldiers have to lay down their arms and walk away. And then from President Bush: Not good enough -"an outrage," in fact. Saddam isn't "withdrawing"; he's "retreating."

I can get into it. I mean, this close to landing the big one, why let the fish wriggle even partly off the hook? Why not go for a few more conditions?

For instance: It's not good enough for Saddam to go on radio and simply announce he's surrendering. He'll have to personally apologize for all the damage he's caused.

Not good enough. He'll have to go on TV to apologize, and he'll have to recite the full text of all those U.N. resolutions he's been ignoring.

Not good enough. What about all his troops? How can we tell a mere "retreat" from a true "withdrawal"? How about this? All Iraqi troops have to put their left legs in, then their left legs out, then their left legs in, then shake them all about. You get a few hundred thousand Iraqi soldiers Hokey-Pokeying their way out of Kuwait, that would send a pretty clear message.

Not good enough - it's Saddam we're after. So: on TV, reciting the U.N. resolutions, balancing the egg in the spoon, and wearing Mickey Mouse ears.

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Pretty good, but what if he agrees to it? Okay: the resolutions, the egg, the ears, and he promises to pay for all our surplus yellow ribbons.

Not good enough. He's desperate; he'll learn "The Star Spangled Banner" if he has to. No - it's got to be even more humiliating than that. It's got to be something that'll strip away every last shred of his authority, his self-respect.

I've got it.

The mustache. The mustache has to go.

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