NOW that allied planes have started to bomb Iraqi troops and defense installations, the time for prayer has not ended. No, prayers for peace - in which so many people around the world have joined earnestly in recent days - are needed more urgently than ever. Those prayers should not be for victory in a strictly military sense. Mere triumph of arms will be ephemeral if it is not accompanied by a heightened world commitment to justice, compassion, and international understanding and cooperation, and to the amelioration of those conditions that produce war: hatred, poverty, ignorance, fear, mad ambition.
We hope for a quick cessation of hostilities. In particular, we hope that the present air phase of the Gulf war will, with minimal loss of life, prove decisive, making unnecessary the clash of huge land armies.
But we also support the success of the forces allied in support of the United Nations. Their goal of enforcing UN resolutions and reversing the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait is just.
Sadly, warfare takes on a dynamic of its own. The destructive force of modern weapons and the speed and maneuverability of modern forces have slashed the margin of error and the time in which to make military decisions.
As the United States unleashes massive firepower against Iraq, the need to use force effectively and to protect allied troops may not permit the fine military calibrations one would prefer. Civilians in Iraq and Kuwait may suffer grievously. To the greatest extent consistent with the safe accomplishment of their mission, American commanders must not use force wantonly.
Planning for political and security arrangements in the Middle East after the war must move into high gear. Among the great postwar imponderables are the extent of demoralization and political collapse within Iraq and the reaction of Arab masses to Iraq's defeat. So planning for many different possible outcomes is needed.
America's leaders must also resolve to make this war a catalyst for the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The US correctly resisted formal ``linkage'' in its dealings with Saddam Hussein. But in fact, linkage exists and will remain.
The US will have a moral and political obligation to moderate Arabs resolutely to broker a just solution. The defeat of Israel's most dangerous enemy in the region should ease its security concerns. Conditions could be ripe for a settlement, but it will require firm US involvement.