GENERALS, it is often said, are always trying to fight the last war over again. It seems the peace movement is prone to the same error. ``Stop the war,'' the placards say. ``Bring the troops home.'' The signs could be dusted off relics from the Vietnam era.
But an approach suitable for an unpopular and protracted war seems unsuited for the Gulf war.
This country had five months to deliberate its course of action. Before the first shots were fired, Congress authorized the use of force, as the president requested. While the vote was not unanimous, it was more than the majority our constitution requires. The US - for better or for worse, but in any event, after full deliberation - made its choice.
No one will bring the troops home now. Having committed ourselves to make the leap into a forceful solution to the crisis, there's no chance we'll stop halfway and say, ``We've changed our minds. We're stopping.''
Certainly, the decision may have been a terrible mistake. It is understandable that those who opposed it would be even more distressed than those who supported it by the destruction now being unleashed. But the die is cast, and the same democratic logic that requires us to obey laws that, however much we may dislike them, received majority support in Congress makes the war - for now - a fact of life.
IF the war is not resolved within months, one premise of our national decision will have been proved false and our national commitment to the war might then be reconsidered. At that time, the new war might be enough like the old war that the old slogans might apply.
In the meanwhile, those who want an end to war should adopt a strategy matched to the present conflict and to the opportunities it presents. Instead of trying to stop this war, the peace movement should be working to harness this war to build the structures for enduring peace.
In the months leading up to the attack on Iraq, President Bush spoke frequently of a ``new world order.'' And indeed, never in the history of humankind has the whole world community responded in so concerted a fashion to stop the aggression of a powerful nation against its weaker neighbor. Here's another way this war is not like Vietnam: In this case, far from being castigated by other major powers, we are acting in concert with them.
But the removal of the Iraqis from Kuwait and the dismantling of Saddam Hussein's military machine, by themselves, create a new world order. Just how will we use this time of extraordinary fluidity in the international system to reshape the world?
Here is where the peace movement can play a constructive role.
Since Jan. 16, our leaders speak not of world order, or new eras, but about the mechanics of defeating Saddam. Such a preoccupation may be understandable. But it raises the question whether the high-sounding rhetoric was honest, or just window-dressing for muscle-flexing.
We should press President Bush to articulate further what he means by a ``new world order,'' and how he intends for the US, in the aftermath of this war, to lead in its creation.
What does he propose to do to change the way countries and corporations traffic in armaments, so that future Saddams cannot hold the world at bay with weapons of mass destruction?
Will the present calamity yield a system to protect even countries that, unlike Kuwait, are vital to no one's interests but their own - a system that frees poor nations from the need to waste scarce resources in regional arms races?
Does the new world order he envisions have the US becoming a world policeman, or does he hope to institutionalize a global system of collective security?
Does President Bush envision the United Nations playing a more central role in protecting world peace in this new order, as might be inferred from his repeated references, throughout this crisis, to UN resolutions in order to justify the US position against Iraq? If so, does he intend now to pay the more than half billion dollars in arrearages the US still owes the UN?
These are some of the questions on which the achievement of real world peace depends, and now is the time when they need to be addressed. The generals spent five months planning this war. Surely the diplomats should waste no time planning the peace.
The forces of war are already unleashed. Even as they destroy, they also create opportunities. Rather than telling the winds of war to stop blowing, the peace movement should be trimming its sails to use those winds to reach its desired destination.