Before the start of the Iraq war in 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell warned President George W. Bush, in so many words, that if you break it you own it.
In that case, we broke it. Nine years later, we still own it.
As some around the world recently called for a no-fly zone over Libya to help protect anti-government protesters and rebels from dictator Moammar Gadhafi, Defense Secretary Robert Gates counseled President Barack Obama and the American people that such an undertaking would be a major operation.
"Let's call a spade a spade," Gates said. "A no-fly zone begins with an attack"-- my emphasis -- "on Libya to destroy the air defenses. That's what you do in a no-fly zone."
The no-fly zone is in effect. It indeed began with a massive attack on Libya's military weapons systems.
As an avowed, card-carrying (official draft status) pacifist, the very thought of this country firing missiles into another country causes me great anxiety. Yet, in this case, it was the right thing to do.
In fact, I am bothered more by the schizophrenia among some members of Congress and media representatives who can't decide what should be done in Libya as they unite in trying to find fault in this president, no matter what he does.
Some in Congress and the press argued that Obama was too indecisive; then, once he decided, they questioned the decision. Some don't like the idea of a mission to just provide a no-fly zone; they want Gadhafi removed even if it means killing him.
My nature makes me against political assassination -- which is what "taking out" Gadhafi would be -- whether with a bullet or bomb, in peacetime or war. It is a game this country has played before, but it is a bloody sport we should never engage in again.
The decision by the president to have U.S. forces participate in the Libyan exercise is a sound one because a majority of Arabs want it, the Arab League requested it and the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution authorizing it. The United States is part of a committed multinational coalition carrying out the mission.
Most important, it will help stop the slaughter of perhaps thousands of Libyans by a ruthless madman intent on hanging on to his power.
This is not supposed to be a longtime commitment for the United States, and coalition partners have made two things clear: The armed forces are not there to fight for the rebels and, though most want the Libyan leader gone, the mission is not to depose him.
Some in Congress say that to stop short of removing Gadhafi from office would be a failure on Obama's part. But how can that be done without killing Gadhafi in airstrikes or putting troops on the ground? Either would be untenable.
Over the years, I've maintained that the United States needs to be on the side of "the people" in oppressed countries, while acknowledging that we can't impose democracy on them. That is for them to decide.
I've also questioned why we interfere in some countries to help the people and yet sit around and watch as others carry out genocide. Of course, it is understood that neither the United States nor any other nation can intervene in every country controlled by tyrants.
As for Libya, which is caught up in the democratic fever sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa, the people have risen up, and many have paid a high price for doing so.
The coalition forces have given the disjointed bands of rebels an opportunity to regroup and regain the momentum in trying to force a regime change. It is their fight, their country, their chance to claim a new opportunity for themselves and generations to follow.
Let's give this strategy a chance to play out. We might continue to see evidence of another people in the Middle East willing to die rather than ever again submitting to subjugation.