Who's more immoral - the mugger or the bystander who refuses to help the victim? It's an interesting question and one that Congress, as the bystander to the mugging in the Persian Gulf, ought seriously to consider.

From the beginning of the Persian Gulf crisis, manufactured by George Bush, Congress has tried to run from its responsibility. It's been equivocating. It has tried the we-support-the-president's-moves-so-far bit. It has expressed support for sanctions and questioned the need for too-sudden a military move. Finally, it's resorted to hearings. All cop-outs.Congress ought to swim or get out of the pool. It ought either to give Bush the green light for war or it ought to rule out war as an option. One or the other.

I point out Congress' failure to act on this critical issue just so you can add it to your notes on the decline of the United States. Put it under the category of political cowardice with cross references to political opportunism and lack of any real convictions.

Congress, it seems, would prefer to see a war start and then criticize Bush for starting it than to prevent a war and thus take on the responsibility themselves. That's encroaching on journalism. Criticizing but having no responsibility to act is what we do. But then we don't occupy a seat in Congress, nor do we ask the people to entrust the destiny of their country into our hands. We sit in the bleachers with the people, as powerless as our readers, except to yell at the players and the umpires.

But if you are going to go out, raise a bunch of money, and persuade a majority of voters to let you govern, then you ought to govern.

As most of you know, I don't think we should be in the Persian Gulf, and I believe a war against Iraq would be a catastrophic blunder, not to mention immoral.

But what I think doesn't amount to a cup of rice. The only people in this country with the power to stop Bush from going to war are our friendly U.S. senators and representatives. You know, the crowd with the pretty teeth and the talent for posturing and pomposity.

The question they are running from is plain and simple: Is Kuwait's occupation by Iraq worth the shedding of American blood? If it's not, then war should be ruled out as an option. The goal of getting Iraq out of Kuwait could then be pursued by diplomatic means. If it is worth the blood, then Congress should declare war on Iraq.

Either way, Congress should make the call, not the president, and Congress should act decisively one way or another before the president and perhaps events or provocations from third parties set off a war.

Congress is far too expensive an organization for us hard-working taxpayers to tolerate their running away from the decisions we pay them to make. They've had enough time to agonize and to raise questions and to have serious reservations and to hold hearings. It's time to act.

If they fail to act and war comes, then the blood of thousands of Americans and Iraqis will be on Congress's hands as well as on the hands of Bush and his buddies in the banking and oil businesses.

The history of governments is largely a history of evil, venality, and greed with generous portions of stupidity and brutality thrown in for seasoning. It has produced over the centuries a poisonous stew of slaughtered people and ravaged landscapes.

Thus the past offers not much encouragement about the future. Yet, as wise men say, we have the power to construct both our past and our future by acting in the present, for that is where both are made.