Into Rough Water

How the U.S. found itself in a Persian Gulf minefield

For 40 years, American warships have been plying the Persian Gulf, symbolizing and substantiating the nation's role as a global power. Never before, however, have those vital waters seemed so treacherous. By blustering into an open- ended commitment to provide convoy protection to eleven reflagged Kuwaiti oil tankers, the U.S. now finds itself embroiled as a halfhearted belligerent in a seven-year-old struggle between Iran and Iraq and once more rattling sabers with Tehran's fanatic mullahs.

Worse yet, the U.S. military again looks like a gawky Goliath, beset by poor planning, faulty conception and just plain bad luck. Last week the Bridgeton,...