Lessons From the Past Should Spur US to Consider Other Options Besides Force

Regarding the opinion-page column ``Vietnam's Wrong Lesson in the Gulf,'' Nov. 23: The author incorrectly says we must put more pressure on Saddam Hussein through military means. This violates a lesson learned from the air over Southeast Asia from 1964 through 1973. The lesson is that you cannot resolve a major problem between two belligerents through the use of tactical air power. The only role for tactical air power is to destroy the enemy's air force, communication lines, and transportation centers, and to a limited extent industrial bases. Tactical air power can assist the ground war in interdiction of targets to hinder the movement of the enemy from doing the same.

In 1964 we began to carry the war to the North Vietnamese through tactical air power. Never, between August 1964 and November 1972, was direction given to the air commanders to destroy the North Vietnamese ability to wage war. Tactical air power was being used to bring the North Vietnamese to the negotiating table. How long did it take? Eight years. That is the lesson for today.

Linebacker II, which took place over the last two months of 1972, was the first serious move by our government to destroy the North Vietnamese ability to wage war. The North Vietnamese ended the bombings by bringing about a negotiated settlement, allowing the US to extricate itself from the region.

I don't believe we can do this again. The main objection to an air and missile strike against Iraqi assets is that it won't work. I shudder when politicians use the term ``selected targets.'' If we go after Saddam and the Iraqi people we had better be prepared for total war. If not, we will fail.

The American view of foreign conflicts cannot be the cause for direct intervention by US military forces, especially if the conflicts arise over racial or historic differences among nondemocratic peoples. The author rightly concludes that ``Next time, the American president may demand a politically feasible option sooner.'' R.S. Reynolds, San Jose, Calif., Colonel, US Air Force Reserve

Those of us who have worked for the last 45 years to develop the UN into an effective alternative security system were shocked by the Security Council vote. As the word ``force'' is a euphemism for war, this vote has destroyed the credibility of the UN and has revealed some of the worst features of US foreign policy. Some have praised the president for obtaining the support of other nations for his war option. But were his meetings with foreign leaders lobbying trips where every vote had a price? Is it possible that there was no connection between the decision to cancel a $12 billion Egyptian debt and Egyptian support for Desert Shield?

Selective use of force is not the way to run a world. If there is to be a new world order, it must be based on law, enforced in all cases of illegal action.

Fortunately, there are many in the UN and in nongovernmental organizations worldwide who are working for common security. Some of their initiatives are as follows: (1) The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which President Bush opposes, will be voted on in January and would halt all nuclear tests and so prevent the spread of nuclear weapons to other nations. (2) The World Criminal Court designed to try international criminals within the UN framework. (3) The Decade of International Law, declared by the General Assembly for the 1990s with the objective of having in place, by the end of the century, a world legal system. (4) The US Commission to determine how to to increase the effectiveness of the UN.

These are some of the steps to a peaceful world. Edward G. Boettiger, Woods Hole, Mass., Member, World Federalist Association

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