Permissions: Why Saddam and Qaddafi did what they did

These cases are instructive. Like criminals on the pettiest scale, criminals on the biggest operate on “permissions.” They do not act irrationally, but instead quite rationally, in calculating what they can get away with. Sometimes, as in the case of Saddam, or Mullah Omar of Afghanistan, they miscalculate. A very large part in the art of keeping the peace consists of helping any potential criminal avoid miscalculation. It consists of making crystal clear, “If you do this, we do that.” And then doing it, when necessary, to maintain the credibility of the threat.

This may sound like “simplisme” to my more sophisticated readers. Yet many who demand action on Libya today have not merely opposed but demonized western governments who took action in the past, in circumstances of equal or greater moral clarity. (This criticism does not apply to Dallaire and Segal.) I prefer simplisme to comprehensive hypocrisy.