The public indictment was delivered on the front page of The New York Times by "one ranking policy-maker" in the administration who charged that the Democrats "have decided this is the issue which will break Bush's presidency." The "this," of course, is current and future United States policy in the Persian Gulf.

Sorry, Mr. Ranking Policy-Maker, but that dog simply won't hunt. Democrats overwhelmingly endorsed the introduction of American force into that combustible area. Yes, it is true that direct questions are being asked by Democrats on Capitol Hill about the wisdom and the efficacy of the means the administration advocates to achieve the consensus national objective of getting Iraq out of Kuwait. But as Democratic analyst Geoffrey Garin rightly points out, "It's not like America is on one side and the Democrats are on the other; no, these very same questions are being asked on every Main Street." Nor do the Democrats asking those questions come exclusively by any definition from the dovish left of the party. Nobody has ever accused Sam Nunn of being a soft-lining, unilateral disarmer. Daniel Patrick Moynihan is no fuzzy-thinking one-worlder, and Sen. Alan Dixon (D-Ill.) is middle-of-the-road and mainstream. This is no re-run of the late 1960s.

Being required to answer these questions before the nation goes to war will not "break Bush's presidency." The administration and its cheerleaders would do well to remember the recent miracle of Eastern Europe. We cannot invoke democracy in support of U.N. resolutions and then disparage debate and dissent at home as "threats" to national unity. One guaranteed formula for breaking the presidency would be to take this nation into war without the solid support of the people.

Instead of too tough, congressional Democrats have been too timid. Republican Senate leader Bob Dole is right. Congress ought to be brought back into session to debate and to decide first of all what kind of collective sacrifices we are willing to make in support of our mission in the Persian Gulf: How much are we willing to increase our taxes? How much more are we willing to pay in fuel taxes or gasoline rationing? When are we ready to draft our sons, nephews, nieces and daughters? These are the troublesome questions still being ducked by both Democrats and Republicans.

More remain to be asked: What democratic American ideals are being promoted and projected today in the Persian Gulf? What sort of freedoms will be secure in the Gulf if we drive Saddam from Kuwait and from power? What happens when "our side" loses a popular election in the post-Saddam Hussein era in Iraq? But there is one big answer the American public insists on getting only from Congress. If there is to be a war, then Americans believe by a margin of 74 percent to 22 percent that Congress should declare it.