January 17, 1991

As war explodes in the Persian Gulf, the American people must unite not only in support of our fighting forces but in pursuit of the higher principles motivating our intervention. The day of disputing whether to act sooner or later, whether to rely on force or sanctions, is over.

This is not just a conflict over oil, although control of the world's most significant energy source is not an insignificant factor. It is not just a struggle to restore a feudal emirate to power in Kuwait or to topple the ruthless Iraqi dictator, although these objectives have merit.

Rather, it is a fight for the rule of law in a world all too vulnerable to lawlessness. It is a battle to establish once and for all that the downfall of Communist tyranny will not be followed by a power vacuum in which regional bullies can defy the United Nations, hold neighbors to ransom and mock the most essential elements of decency and civility. It is a struggle for peace, stability and order.

Almost 50 years ago, on the day after Pearl Harbor, this newspaper declared that "we cannot and will not submit to the destruction of international honor, the levying of tribute on the weak by the strong, the parceling out of the world and its resources among the self-appointed dictators of human affairs." In terms of magnitude, Saddam Hussein is not a Hitler or a Tojo. But the weapons of mass destruction today available to those with petrodollars and reckless ambition are so terrifying that rogue regimes must be kept in check.

President Bush described last night how hard the world sought peace while Saddam Hussein prepared for war. "We now believe," he said, "that only force can make him leave Kuwait." To his own nation -- a nation still troubled by memories of Vietnam, a nation whose Senate approved the use of force last Saturday by only a five-vote margin, a nation still not totally convinced its men and women should be put at risk in the Gulf -- the president renewed his pledge that this will not be another Vietnam where our forces are constrained.

Accordingly, the first assaults on Iraq appeared to follow a textbook course -- attacks on the enemy's command and control centers, on its air defenses, airfields and missile sites in an attempt to establish control of the air before the first wartime Iraqi dawn. Defense Secretary Richard Cheney told a news conference "the operation seems to have gone very well."

If he is right, much of Iraq's capacity to develop nuclear weapons and launch chemical and biological weapons is history -- a laudable war objective in itself. Later will come the use of air power against half a million Iraqi troops dug in north of the Saudi border and only then, if necessary, would come ground assaults with their danger of large casualties. Iraq's power of retaliation, of ruthless resort to the most loathsome of weapons, cannot be dismissed. But it must be overcome.

This is a moment for prayer, for steadfastness, for belief in the rightness of our nation's cause. We go to war reluctantly but resolutely.

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