IF YOU ARE wondering why the United States does not leap into war as enthusiastically as it once did, it could be because our Secretary of Defense, William Cohen, writes poetry.

And we are not talking Robert Frost or T.S. Eliot here, folks. We're talking bad poetry, the kind of poetry you might expect from a lovelorn eighth-grader who ate too much pepperoni pizza and ice cream for lunch and now has to take a math midterm for which he didn't study.That kind of poetry.

While a senator from Maine, Cohen used his poetry to further his image as a sensitive, New Age kind of guy. Although he once said his poems were too personal to interest the general public, Cohen published 36 of them during his campaign for the Senate in 1978.

Many of Cohen's poems express his deep, undying love for his wife, Diana, whom, of course, he eventually dumped and replaced with a TV tootsie from Boston. Diana was undoubtedly moved to the point of demanding more alimony when she read this particular Cohen poem:

Diana,

a quiet bubble of life.

Somehow you pushed through

the concrete that surrounds

my soul.

Perhaps Defense Secretary Cohen is suggesting that Diana's Bubble of Life would be more effective than smart bombs in punching a hole through Saddam Hussein's reinforced bunkers. Or perhaps he is saying something else entirely. It's really hard to tell.

One might think, or hope, that Cohen would use his poetry to express his thoughts on national defense, since that is, after all, his job. Unfortunately, that particular topic either holds no interest for him or he is incapable of thinking about it due to his recurring mental image of smashing his ex-wife's bubble head through the wall of an Iraqi communications bunker.

All we have to go on is this brief, semi-comprehensible, Cohen rumination on the Strategic Defense Initiative:

Before they unleash

hurricane winds,

Before they breathe

through nostrils red

beyond all Fahrenheit,

Turn them to endless

ash, yes, save us from

their savagery.

I expect that once Saddam Hussein reads this, he will not only come out with his hands up, but will probably also give the U.S. several million barrels of free oil and admit that he, personally, hired Monica Lewinsky to rape the president.

Napoleon had better things to do than write poetry, though he did find time for a few memorable remarks, including "England is a nation of shopkeepers" and "an army marches on its stomach."

Gen. George Patton wasn't a poetry kind of guy, either. He is better remembered for whipping Nazis, slapping soldiers and saying great military-guy stuff like, "We shall attack and attack until we are exhausted, and then we shall attack again."

In the movie about Gen. Patton, he's referred to as "Old Blood and Guts."

If they ever do a movie about William Cohen, which I doubt, it is unclear what they'll call him.

Perhaps "Old Iambic Pentameter."