Stansfield Turner's excellent article "Let's Think Before We Go to War With Iran" {Outlook, May 31} makes the point that protecting surface ships in the Persian Gulf is simply not possible. He explains that President Reagan's plan for Kuwaiti ships to fly the American flag with U.S. Navy escort is tantamount to a commitment to wage war against Iran. But his conclusion, "We must be willing to escalate hostilities with Iran if necessary to fulfill our mission," is actually an argument against undertaking the mission.

Of all the likely flash points for the beginning of World War III, the Persian Gulf is politically the most unstable. Two wars are already raging in the region, one of them involving Soviet troops. Mr. Reagan's foolhardy response to the apparently accidental, but notably successful, attack by Iraq -- not Iran -- is based on a misguided assessment of U.S. strategic interests and capabilities. It is also based on childish anger toward Iran for recent insults the troubled nation has made to our fragile sense of national pride. Because Iranian militants burned our flag on television, we risk the burning of all the world.

The Persian Gulf is international water, but in practical terms just barely so. Its entrance is only twice the width of the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, and for most of its 500-mile length it is roughly the width of Lake Superior. Unilateral U.S. military actions there are provocative. In the nuclear age, U.S. policy cannot be based on pique or on a self-appointed role as world policeman. It is time to de-militarize the Persian Gulf.