The good news is that Washington has decided to apply "tough love" principles in Somalia, where disorder is so severe that less than half the donated food and medicine gets past warlords and looters to reach the multitude of innocent victims. The bad news is that our troops risk undertaking a dangerous mission without a clear objective. An open-ended notion of why they are there could lead them into the very quagmire everyone wants to avoid. We need to be explicit with ourselves, our allies, and Somalia that our sole objective is to safeguard the humanitarian relief operation - not to take charge of the country politically. Drawing the distinction is vitally important:
* Troops should be used to take control of ports, airfields, and storage facilities used for relief purposes; to escort food convoys and personnel; to protect distribution sites; to provide a communications network and air-mobile rescue capability; and to organize and train local civilian guard forces. And they should do so in the face of opposition from warlords, using whatever force is necessary.
* American troops should not be used to settle clan feuds, chase down warlords, or police political truces or cease-fires. The time may come when outside forces are needed for these purposes, but that is another mission, involving a different set of policy judgments.
Inevitably, the presence of an imposing modern military force will lend political stability to the situation. But for now, let's focus squarely on saving innocent lives from needless starvation. T. Frank Crigler, Arlington , Va., US Ambassador to Somalia, 1987-90 A serious peace proposal
The Opinion page article "Peace Process Hang-Up," Nov. 25, implies that Israel has made significant confidence-building moves which are not reciprocated by the Arab participants to the Middle East peace process. The steps described are largely cosmetic and aimed at the United States, not Palestinians or other Arabs.
Considering the scale on which Palestinians have been stripped of their property and human dignity during 25 years of Israeli occupation, Israel has a long way to go to convince anyone that it is serious about peace. Real confidence-building steps include: an end to torturing prisoners, collective punishments, and land confiscations; permission for diaspora Palestinians to return as permanent residents to their former homes in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem; and an end to the taxation syst em. These are reasonable expectations of a country that describes itself as a Western-style democracy. Lee Elizabeth Britton, Petoskey, Mich.
The author of the Opinion page article "In Occupied Lebanon," Nov. 25, distorts Israeli and Hizbullah policy in Lebanon.
Israel's policy is clear: It has no territorial claims against Lebanon, and its sole concern is the safety of its northern population, which continues to experience cross-border infiltration attempts from Lebanese territory. With proper guarantees and a peace treaty, Israel is prepared to withdraw from the security zone.
Hizbullah's policy is also clear: It is an anti-Western, anti-Israel terrorist organization bent on taking American and Israeli lives. Hizbullah does not accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state in the Middle East and has launched terrorist attacks against Israel's northern population.
The complexities of the Middle East must not blind observers to stark realities. The Lebanese practitioners of violence and their Syrian and Iranian patrons are responsible for delaying progress on the Israeli-Lebanese front. Bluma Zuckerbrot, New York, Anti-Defamation League