The easiest job in the world is to call for a military intervention in a foreign land when you're five minutes removed from the danish tray in the TV studio's green room.

It's much harder when you're the actual president of the United States. Or the Secretary of Defense. Or the Secretary of State. The situation in Libya is so fluid and confusing -- is Gaddafi really offering to step down??? -- that part of the job of U.S. leaders is to avoid making the situation worse or do anything to bolster the anti-American factions across the Middle East.

That's a tricky business over there and I'm glad it's not my job to figure out what to do. But here's a more general point, one that's been on my mind since writing about the oil spill: Another part of the job of U.S. leaders is to know when to turn off the TV. The pundits and politicians, and most of all the presidential contenders, score points for sounding tough and burly and resolute and iron-fisted and jut-jawed when there's sound of gunfire in the distance. There are no consequences for most of them when things don't turn out as planned. They have a limo waiting.

There is enormous pressure, always, for people in power to do something big and dramatic to solve a problem. But plans backfire. They rarely survive contact with the enemy. It takes a certain level of political courage to remain cautious in crunch time.