Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), a true liberal believer in the basic tenets of democracy, has made just the right points about the administration's gulf policy. His statements, echoing those a few weeks ago of two fellow Democrats, Reps. Ronald V. Dellums and Don Edwards, both of California, came amid welcome signs that Congress finally is beginning to balk at President Bush's rush to war.

The "profound decision" of whether the United States should go to war "is not the president's alone to make," Kennedy said. "Congress has its own responsibility to participate in the decision on war or peace -- whether President Bush asks for our participation or not." He then rightly suggested that Bush's actions are unconstitutional.

"When the founding fathers wrote the Constitution," he said in a statement Tuesday as the Senate Armed Services Committee began a review of U.S. policy, "they clearly recognized the danger that unrestrained presidential power could lead the nation into unwise wars which the people do not support.

"As a result, they divided the war-making power between Congress and the president. Article II of the Constitution makes the president the commander in chief of the armed forces, but Article I gives Congress the power to declare war.

"No one denies that President Bush has inherent power to respond to an attack by Iraq on American forces, or to deal with other legitimate provocations.

But the Constitution is crystal clear that he does not have the authority to go to war in the circumstances that prevail at present in the Persian Gulf."

In the last few weeks, the administration has won the consent of the United Nations and allies in Europe, Asia and elsewhere to use force in the Persian Gulf.

But at no time did it do what the Constitution requires: seek the consent of the American people through their representatives in Congress. This is the height of disregard for U.S. citizens.

The sad reality is that if Bush decides to violate the Constitution, neither Kennedy, Dellums, Edwards nor anybody in Congress, the Supreme Court or the American public could stop him. For while there may be sanctions against a president violating the law, there are no sanctions against a president violating the Constitution.

His oath to uphold the Constitution is only as good as his principles -- in this case, not very good.

We've been taken down this road before. In order to evade the Constitution, we have had the Korean "police action," the Vietnam "conflict," and the Panama "invasion." But by any other name, these battles still had all the consequences of war: Lives were lost and families were separated.

As Iraqi spokesmen and American observers have pointed out, Iraq is not Grenada or Panama, and a war 6,000 miles from home against a genuine military power could produce casualties of 2,000 a day, far worse than the casualties in Vietnam.

I cannot ignore the fact that in each of America's undeclared wars in this century -- Vietnam, Korea, Grenada, Panama -- this country has been invading the nations of non-white people and disproportionately using non-white people to do the invading.

The outrage is growing that Iraq is an elitist situation in which rich old men are sending disproportionate numbers of non-white and poor people, many of whom are in the military because they could not make a living in civilian life, to be cannon fodder.

Bush administration officials do not have the right to open the gates on the potential of so many fatalities. It is not unreasonable under these circumstances to want a declaration of war, as the Constitution requires.

Says Kennedy, "If {President Bush} refuses to come to Congress, Congress must go to him -- by adopting our own resolution that spells out whatever authorization, if any, he should have to undertake offensive military action against Iraq."

To stem such mounting criticism, Bush plans to meet with bipartisan congressional leaders tomorrow. But that is not enough.

Bush needs to go to the well of the Senate and clearly delineate the reasons he feels America should go to war, subject himself to questions and then listen, through the votes in Congress, to what the American people, marked and scarred by all the undeclared wars, have to say.