Loose lips

September 19, 1990

Defense Secretary Richard Cheney was right to fire Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael J. Dugan for Dugan's injudicious public remarks about possible U.S. military options in the Mideast. Some things are better left unsaid, even if their general outlines are known.

The military has been at pains to accommodate the press during this crisis, or at least to appear to do so. Dugan probably hoped his disclosures -- most of which had already appeared elsewhere attributed to anonymous "senior military sources" -- might win additional points for candor among reporters bored with writing about the desert heat and sand.

There's a place for this kind of gamesmanship, and also for the more serious business of psychological warfare -- the kind of boast and bluster aimed at intimidating a foe that used to be called saber rattling. But Dugan overstepped the bounds at a time when the nation's civilian leaders are still committed, publicly at least, to a diplomatic way out of the crisis.

No one truly believes the general let slip information Iraq couldn't have gleaned from newspapers. Nor is it really plausible that failure to attempt his more extreme threats -- like bombing Saddam's mistress -- might be viewed as a sign of weakness. In any case, America soon will have ample means in the gulf to convince Iraq of its resolve. The size and speed of the U.S. buildup is self-evident. As diplomatic efforts proceed, that's the main message President Bush wants Saddam Hussein to hear.

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