It doesn't help when a doctor prescribes medicine to save a patient's life when the patient has only a couple of hours to live.
If that sounds like a metaphor, it is. Faced with the urgent need to save the Libyan people, the United Nations dragged its feet as embattled leader Moammar Gadhafi ruthlessly bombed them and shelled them with tanks.
While every legislative body, by its nature, is slow to act, the United Nations must recognize it needs a mechanism to move quickly if it is to be effective when crisis arrives.
Look at how fast Gadhafi caved and called for a cease-fire the minute the U.N. Security Council passed its "no-fly zone" and "attack to save civilians" message. Libya accepted the no-fly zone over Libya and announced it would implement the cease-fire.
Still, there were ongoing reports of fighting and shelling in Misurata, another rebel stronghold in northwest Libya. The government's promises of a cease-fire may not apply to all parts of the country, as it turns out.
Gadhafi is a ruthless, dictatorial leader whose efforts against his own people must be squashed by a much stronger U.N. initiative with support from other Arab leaders.
The United Nations approved the resolution late Thursday, which authorizes the international community to take "all necessary measures," short of sending in ground troops, to protect civilians in Libya and impose a no-fly zone. The Libyan government quickly closed its air space to traffic following the vote.
The effort it would take to contain the Libyan leader has been the topic of debate among analysts. The country's military is not very impressive, but the situation is different from that in Egypt, where there was more solidarity between peaceful protesters and soldiers. In Egypt, there were no mercenaries; Gadhafi seems to be relying heavily upon them.
Libyan rebels have faced a number of defeats recently because they don't have the tanks and jets Gadhafi possesses. While a no-fly zone can end his use of air power and weaken troop morale, some experts wonder whether the United States and its allies should take bolder action.
President Obama has said he has not taken any options off the table at this point. But, as he continued, when it comes to U.S. military actions, it's a matter of balancing costs versus benefits. That's exactly right. Any further action would have to be taken only after careful, searching review.
What's needed is continued strong action by the United Nations and cooperation from other Arab leaders who understand that the instability in Libya serves no good to Libyans or the rest of the world. But timing is everything. It won't help after Gadhafi has murdered thousands more.