President Saddam Hussein cannot have been surprised at being punished for Iraq's attacks on Kurdish targets. The area he assaulted was supposed to be a safety zone for an oppressed minority. If he had got away with it, he would have recognised a green light for the re-imposition of brutal domination over other supposedly safe areas in Iraq. In domestic terms, the raid will do no harm to President Clinton's re-election chances. But, internationally, Washington could face a growing problem in mounting military measures against Iraq since it may not be able to respond with similar force every time Baghdad takes liberties in the safety zones. Though the US has held open the prospect of further attacks, international support for military action against Iraq is even weaker now than it was at the end of the Gulf War. The Arab world has lost its taste for punishing Baghdad. Russia has warned the Americans not to go too far while China and much of Asia have expressed concern at what is seen as interference in Iraq's internal affairs. The fact that Turkey and Iran have been permitted to suppress their Kurdish populations suggests a less than even-handed approach by the West. How long, one must ask, will the West be able to police Iraq without the support of the Arab world; and what is the price of such support, for instance, in relation to the Middle East peace process? The end of the Cold War has lifted the danger of a rival super-power intervening on Iraq's side in the conflict. But it has also weakened Washington's authority to take decisive action against nations it brands as 'outlaw states'. This means that Mr Clinton is likely to find it difficult to mount a sustained campaign against Iraq through raids like yesterday's. All the evidence is that a short, sharp shock makes little lasting impact on President Saddam who merely bides his time and waits to go on as before when it suits him, with scant regard for what anybody thinks. So, while yesterday's air strikes were well merited, it may be a mistake to expect much from such one-off actions with limited effect unless more sustained international pressure can be brought to bear.