I saw my son's still-damp footprint upon the bathroom tile . . . Later, in the twilight, he slept in my arms as I watched the evening news. The broadcaster described the blockade against Saddam Hussein that was gathering itself like a jelling thunderhead; even so, I tried not to dwell upon Iraq. We were on vacation, driving through Ireland and a countryside which wearies the eyes. We traveled with no particular agenda. Down a secluded road we stumbled upon the country's only factory--little more than a garage, actually--devoted to the production of hand-painted, toy, lead soldiers. We purchased a set of the troops from the battle of Waterloo where Napoleon was defeated by Wellington, a man born in Ireland.

But you could not wander far enough to escape the events of the Middle East.

It was revealing to observe the foreign media coverage of Iraq and even enlightening to witness American commentary without one's own flag slapping in the background.

On Saturday, September 29, the English papers, quoting Congressional and Pentagon sources as well as a report jointly prepared by the CIA and its British equivalent, MI6, predicted war would erupt after America's November elections. In other words, President Bush will give the orders to start the killing once Republican officeholders are safe from the parents whose children will be returned to them in body bags for the sake of Exxon.

One week later, the International Herald Tribune carried American columnist Michael Kinsley under the headline: War Is Hell But The Fight Can Be Grand. Arguing against those "isolationists" who oppose this adventure in the desert, Kinsley speaks up for the possibilities in the Gulf: " . . . Americans want to live in history. They want their lives to have meaning beyond having lived, prospered amid family and friends, and died at a ripe age . . . "

Unfortunately, Michael Kinsley is just a little too old and perhaps a little too weedy to actually live in the history of Kuwait personally, so he must content himself with volunteering your children.

Of course there are values worthy of picking up arms over; I am not a pacifist.

But while oilman George Bush was putting in Kennebunkport, I wondered what the hell our troops were doing digging trenches in Saudi Arabia.

Are we there for justice? Then when will American leaders guarantee that Palestinians have a homeland, too?

Are we there to preserve peace? Then where were we when Iraq and Iran fought for eight years, slaughtering one million people?

Do we care about the hostages in Iraq, yet tolerate those missing for years in Lebanon?

If Saddam Hussein is a madman today, what was he when he murdered his own countrymen, the Kurds, using poison gases assembled with components shipped to Baghdad by our allies? During the genocide, President Reagan blocked even the mildest economic sanctions against Hussein.

Bush is not deploying Americans for moral purposes. We march for oil. Of course, this is the same reason Hussein marched.

The English papers were aboil with oaths about the bloody Iraqi wogs. Beneath an astonishing turn-of-the- century photograph that depicted British officers being carried ashore upon the backs of Kuwaitis lest the proper lords get their fine leather boots wet, a writer explained how the sheikdom was stolen fair and square for the Queen Mother.

In the Sunday Correspondent of September 30 appeared an article on British ambassador Michael Weston's ordeal as a captive in Kuwait. While intended to present a picture of the man as a heroic standard-bearer for Protestantism in the face of the infidels, the story was dotty enough to have flown on Monty Python's Flying Circus.

" . . . Mr. Weston and Mr. Banks are said to be suffering badly from heat rash and sores. Without electricity or candles, they have to go to bed and rise with the sun, a disruption of sleeping patterns that has disoriented both . . . "

"Plaudits for Mr. Weston from colleagues read like a head boy's report card: `steady and unflappable,' `a good man to be stuck in a hole with,' `clear-minded and competent.'"

"As Sir Reginald Hibbert, his ambassador in Paris, put it: `He's not excitable, a good steady type. Sensible but not brilliant.' . . . "

"The failure of his marriage is the only blot on an otherwise faultless diplomatic career. Mr. Weston was sent back from Cairo after an affair with a member of staff, to whom he is now married. . . . "

"While not trained to make valiant last stands in embassy buildings, Foreign Office employees seem to have a knack for doing exactly that. In 1963, our man in Indonesia, Andrew Gilchrist, faced up to a mob attacking the embassy gates by having his military attache give them a blast on the bagpipes. The mob promptly burned the embassy to the ground. Mr. Gilchrist was knighted."

"Now retired and living in Scotland, Sir Andrew feels considerable sympathy for Mr. Weston's plight: `There's no justification for imposing martyrdom on the man, but it's up to him to decide whether to stay or go. Sometimes, you just have to grin and bear it. I don't advise him to start playing the bagpipes though.' . . . "

When I'd read all the English newspapers, I switched on the cable and discovered a dispatch from South America where, amid pomp and loud martial music, two warships were steaming out of a harbor on their way to the blockade. With enormous satisfaction and a straight face, the Argentine ambassador explained that the navy made it possible for his country to shed its Third World image and to take its rightful place beside the important nations in this grand undertaking in the gulf.

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