Two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff yesterday joined congressional Democrats in questioning President Bush's decision to nearly double U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf as Bush called leaders from both parties to the White House to discuss whether Congress should meet in special session to approve a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq.

The congressional resolution would be based on one expected to be approved today by the U.N. Security Council. Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), who met with Bush yesterday, said the president is "weighing the idea" of the resolution and special session and that Vice President Quayle told Lugar on Monday that he favored such a course.

Joining Lugar at the White House Friday will be the House and Senate leadership as well as key committee chairmen and ranking members. The group was organized in the closing days of the 101st Congress and has met twice with Bush on the gulf crisis since members left town.

A senior White House official said Bush is "being given a variety of opinions on whether we ought to call Congress back, when and for what" and that "where we go depends on what we hear" during Friday morning's session.

A number of senior presidential aides, this source said, "have been leaning toward the view we should go and ask Congress to give us what the United Nations gives us; that it would be hard for them to say they won't go along with what the international community agrees is needed."

Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday, retired Navy admiral William J. Crowe, Jr. and retired Air Force general David C. Jones said the deployment of additional U.S. troops could lead inexorably to a war with Iraq that would damage long-term U.S. interests in the Middle East. They strongly urged the Bush administration and Congress to give the U.N.-backed economic embargo against Iraq enough time to force President Saddam Hussein to withdraw his forces from Kuwait.

House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), meanwhile, joined a growing chorus of congressional voices urging U.S. restraint in the gulf following Bush's announcement that he will add about 200,000 new troops to the existing gulf force of about 230,000. Gephardt, the second-ranking House leader, said he opposes use of military force in the gulf at this time and that Bush should "stick with the sanctions."

"The best policy now is to enforce the sanctions," said Gephardt in a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "I am against authorizing force now."

Gephardt's remarks and the tenor of the hearings being conducted by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) are the clearest indications to date that congressional Democrats are beginning to question the basic direction of White House moves in the gulf for the first time since Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait.

Nunn said yesterday the force of 430,000 personnel called for by Bush "is much too large to be able to be sustained politically and perhaps even logistically."

The push by House and Senate Republicans to follow the lead of the U.N. could result in an unusual lame-duck session of Congress.

"Now that we expect the United Nations to sanction the use of force to dislodge the Iraqis from Kuwait, the long-awaited moment has arrived for Congress to play its appropriate role in this constitutional drama," said Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) yesterday.

Hyde wants the debate to take place when the new Congress convenes in January, but several Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (Kan.), have publicly supported Lugar's idea for a special session.

"We have Republicans who want a resolution and Republicans who don't and Republicans who do want to have to vote. There is no consensus now," said one administration official.

House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) said yesterday that he was unaware of any White House move to call a special session after the U.N. vote and that he had not yet considered it himself.

Foley said there would be some question about whether a lame-duck Congress, where about 10 percent of the membership is not returning, would be the right forum to make such a momentous decision.

He also said it might be difficult to get an early vote in January when the 102nd Congress was getting organized. Although Congress will be sworn in Jan. 3, it is not now scheduled to begin formal meetings until Jan. 21, six days after the deadline set by the draft U.N. resolution for Iraq to leave Kuwait or face possible military action.

Foley said the schedule could be changed if Bush wanted to press for passage of a resolution by Jan. 15.

The speaker added, however, that if the president at any time sought a resolution based on the U.N. action and argued that "the national interest" was at stake, it would be difficult to vote it down. However, Foley did not rule out the possibility that any resolution proposed by Bush could be amended to promote a continuation of the economic sanctions before turning to military force.

Lugar said he told the president yesterday to "take the leadership and frame the debate" for a special session after the United Nations acts so that a congressional vote could be taken before Christmas. Lugar added that appearances by Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney next Monday before the Senate Armed Services Committee and by Secretary of State James A. Baker III before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday and the House Foreign Affairs Committee Thursday would help make the president's case.

Dole, who was with Lugar during his meeting with Bush yesterday, said the odds for a special session before Christmas are now "better than fifty-fifty."

Last weekend Dole told Kansas reporters that he thought "there is a tendency for Congress to sit it out so {it} can have it both ways, but if it goes sour {members could say} we told you Bush was wrong or whatever, and if it works out well we can say we were right on."

In his testimony yesterday, Jones called on Congress to "devise some vehicle to express to the world at large . . . that the United States is patient but its patience is not inexhaustible, that we are determined that aggression against neighbors shall not be condoned, that we speak with a single voice on the essential elements of policy, and that the terms of the United Nations resolutions shall be carried out by whatever means are necessary."

Democrats on the Armed Services panel appeared visibly relieved to have two of the nation's highest ranking former military officers endorse their own views on the sanctions and the dangers of a further military buildup.

"My main concern with this latest scheduled reinforcement isn't that we might choose to fight, but rather that the deployment might cause us to fight -- perhaps prematurely and perhaps unnecessarily," Jones told the committee. "I would have stayed with the lower number until we gave sanctions a little more time to work."

"We should give sanctions a fair chance before we discard them," added Crowe, who said that any unilateral U.S. military action could seriously damage relations with the Arab world.

"Posturing ourselves to promote stability for the long term is our primary national interest in the Middle East," said Crowe. "It is not obvious to me that we are currently looking at the crisis in that light. Our dislike for Hussein seems to have crowded out many other considerations."

Both Crowe and Jones also warned that the United States runs the risk, by either unilateral military action or an expansion of its policy objectives to include dismantling Saddam's military capabilities, of seriously undermining U.S. relations with moderate Arab states.

However, former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger later told the committee that reducing Saddam's military power is critical to restoring the political balance in the Middle East.

"This opportunity should be used to restore the balance of offensive capabilities in the area," said Kissinger.

Staff writer Tom Kenworthy contributed to this report.