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Haven't the allies who won the war in the Persian Gulf ever heard of the folly of counting their chickens before all the eggs are hatched?

Evidently not, judging from the squabble that's arising over the prospect of an American windfall from Operation Desert Storm.Because the war was much shorter and involved much less damage to the allies than expected, some congressional experts estimate that Operation Desert Storm might cost $20 billion less than the $54 billion pledged by U.S. allies.

Never mind that this optimistic estimate comes from some of the same perceptive people who keep producing federal budgets awash in red ink. The chronic inability of Congress to add and subtract doesn't seem to bother some allies, who are starting to talk about the possibility of rebates long before a full accounting of the war's costs can be made.

Such talk is especially unseemly on the part of Japan and Germany, which sent only money rather than troops to the Persian Gulf even though they depend far more on gulf oil than do the other members of the victorious alliance.

Besides, any request for rebates would be extremely premature. As long as Saddam Hussein remains in power, Iraq will remain a potential threat to its neighbors despite its own internal turmoil. That's why the United States and some other allies are talking about keeping a small but continuing military presence in the gulf - a step that's bound to add to the long-range costs of the gulf war.

Another continuing cost involves veterans benefits and medical treatment for the Americans who served in the gulf. Still another such cost can be counted in terms of the Kuwaitis who continue to be killed by mines and other explosives left behind by fleeing Iraqi forces.

Any American windfall from the war in the Persian Gulf, then, is still elusive at best. Even if such a windfall does materialize, it would be folly to let a squabble over it do what Saddam Hussein was never able to accomplish by driving a wedge between various members of the western-Arab alliance.