Twice in two weeks [op-ed, Jan. 28; Outlook, Feb. 9], Jessica Matthews has laid out her case for delaying action against Iraq. But the history of patience is not the construction of a multilateral alliance for "truly muscular inspections," as Ms. Matthews claimed. The history is withering resolve to do much of anything.

In the second half of the 1990s, allies faded in their support for U.N. sanctions. Short of a videotape showing Saddam Hussein brewing anthrax, no way was Secretary of State Colin L. Powell going to convince the ostrich crowd.

If advocates of delay have their way, they will end up granting a free pass to Saddam Hussein and other rogues to acquire weapons of mass destruction. As a result, they will devalue the worth of a U.N. resolution to the worth of a declaration by the League of Nations against Benito Mussolini's Italy. That's not the world I want for myself and my children.

GARY CLYDE HUFBAUER

Washington

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Jessica Mathews thinks her plan for inspections is better than going to war with Iraq.

But her position does not address the risks that would remain during the inspection period. Biological weapons are easy to hide, and the risk would remain high that Saddam Hussein would provide them to a terrorist group before the inspectors uncovered them all.

Also, Ms. Mathews mentioned the downsides of going to war, but she did not mention the downsides of leaving this ruthless dictator in charge. Although the world has other ruthless dictators who also should be ousted, removing even one ruthless dictator would make the world a better place.

W. ARTHUR RUSSELL

Nellysford, Va.