Mark Shields {"I Miss the Gipper," op-ed, Dec. 25} makes the excellent point that President Bush has personalized our conflict with Iraq and in so doing has trivialized the possibility of war.

Mr. Shields quotes President Bush on the Iraqi dictator: "He's going to get his ass kicked." This convenient metaphor ignores the thousands of Iraqi people (including children in the all-out war threatened by President Bush) and American soldiers who will suffer much more violently than Saddam Hussein if we go to war. It also suggests that the Framers of the Constitution knew what they were doing when they gave the power to declare war to Congress.

War is much too "brutal, serious and despicable," to use Mr. Shields' precise language, to be left to one person to declare, especially a person who seems ready to sacrifice thousands of innocent people to get at one man.

CHARLES LUND Chevy Chase

At first I could not believe President Bush's remarks to a congressional delegation that Saddam Hussein is "going to get his ass kicked" when I read them in Mark Shields' column. Then I became angry and afraid. How can the president espouse such thoughts when young people like myself, at age 20, frequently contemplate the possibility of dying as a draftee in the Arabian desert. Young Americans, including soldiers already serving in Saudi Arabia, do not wish -- nor do they deserve -- to be a tool to "kick ass."

In a time when one man, ignoring the constitutional power granted to Congress to debate and declare war, can commit this nation to war, President Bush does little to separate himself from the authoritarian Saddam Hussein. I can only hope that President Bush listens to his military leaders like Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf and political leaders like Senate Majority leader George Mitchell (D-Maine) who are urging restraint. The president's decisions should be based on mature intelligence, not juvenile attitudes. No young American wants to be killed in a war in the Gulf.

Mark Shields is right; we should miss the Gipper. War "is too important to be personalized by anybody, especially the president of the United States." We should fear a president who bases his decisions on such personalized attitudes, because he might be the one who gets "his ass kicked," and we as a nation might follow.

MICHAEL R. MITCHELL Annandale