or the past week or so, editorial writers all over the country have taken pot shots at United and at the Air Transportation Stabilization Board and more than a few of them seem to think we'd all be better off if both United and the ATSB went away. We lean to the view that we'd all be better off, including United, if the board went away.

Those of us who have been here before know from experience that no airline is indispensible. If the industry can survive the loss of such historic titans as Pan Am, TWA and Eastern, it can survive the demise of United. It won't be pretty (it never is), but it can be done.

But we think many commentators have gotten ahead of themselves. The choice isn't between a government-backed loan and the graveyard. The ATSB may hold a key to United's survival, but there is more than one key (there always are). Even without a government-guaranteed loan, United can survive. And we believe it should.

For that to happen, United would have to be smaller, its employees and retirees would have to endure further reductions in benefits, and its banks would have to open some lines of credit without a government safety net.

United's restructuring to date has proceeded toward one goal: qualifying for a loan guarantee. That was to be the magic elixir that would enable it to emerge from bankruptcy.

In hindsight it now occurs to us that had the airline spent the last 18 months working toward a different goal, its fate would be in its own hands rather than in the hands of three government appointees. Had there been no board, no possibility of a government guarantee, United by now might have come to a better place than it finds itself today.

• • •

The Nixon lesson

he most presidential thing that Richard Nixon ever did was to make a historic and unexpected overture to China in 1972. In spite of his ultimate disgrace, even his harshest critics have to concede that he earned a place in history for opening that door, an overture from which we continue to benefit today.

This is not to say that everything that has resulted from China's evolution over the past three decades can be credited to, or blamed on, Richard Nixon. It is merely to recognize that he took that forward-looking first step.

Alas, our government's Cuba policy, by contrast, remains mired in the repressive past as the Bush administration further restricts humanitarian activities and family travel to Cuba.

We can think of very few ways in which Fidel Castro's Cuba represents a threat to the U.S. Cuba's military, economic, ideological and diplomatic influence in the world pales by comparison with the power wielded by what we used to call "the Communist bloc," but even in the darkest days of the Cold War the U.S. did not prohibit its citizens from traveling to Russia.

We await the emergence of statesmen with the foresight to turn this page and begin a new chapter.

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