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Remember Rwanda

There is a pattern to the sort of event we are witnessing, helplessly -- a self-imposed helplessness, it seems -- in Libya. The pattern evinced itself in Iraq in 1991; first, President Bush suggested that the people of Iraq's north and south rise up to defeat the monstrous dictator, Saddam. Then his general, Norman Schwarzkopf, allowed the remnant of the Iraqi air force to fly its helicopters. Then these helicopters were used to murder the rebels encouraged by President Bush to rise up. Then President Bush and his general did nothing in response. Then, after, we felt very badly about what had happened.

In Rwanda, of course, President Clinton and his advisers knew that Hutu militias were slaughtering Tutsis by the thousands, and then by the hundreds of thousands. They knew that the insertion of Marines, or a modestly-sized multinational force, would lead to the creation of safe havens for those about to be slaughtered. They knew that simply giving permission to multinational troops in the region to act against the Hutus, they would save lives. They knew that they had the power, within easy reach, to kill large numbers of Hutu genocidaires. They did nothing, as we know, and later, they felt very badly about it.

In Libya, right now, an evil man is killing large numbers of innocent people. Later, when this ends, and depending on how things go, there is a reasonable chance that the President and his advisers will feel badly about what they did, and did not, do. President Obama is undoubtedly repulsed by the actions of this evil man. He should use some of his power to fight this evil. I am not suggesting an invasion, but surely there are things that could be done, short of an invasion, that would turn the tide in this absurd and terrible civil war, such as, for instance, shooting those Libyan jets now strafing civilians out of the sky. Freezing the assets of Libyan war criminals is fine; helping the people seeking the overthrow of those war criminals would be better.