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Canada's role in the Libyan intervention: An ill wind that blows no good

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Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi

With its intervention in Libya, the West is on the brink of another historic failure in the Muslim world.

As usual, Canada is there, ready aye ready, to sacrifice blood and treasure in a doomed effort to take sides in an oil-rich country's civil war -- regime change that, despite credulous claims to the contrary, we'd have no interest in if it weren't being fought atop a resource-rich piece of real estate.

One is tempted to ask, "When will we ever learn?" Except, of course, we already know the answer to that question: Never. We are deeply in the American orbit now. A Liberal government under Michael Ignatieff or even an NDP government under Jack Layton would behave no differently than Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government.

It is well known that the Libyan leader, Muammar al-Gaddafi, is an obvious nutter, and not a very nice one at that. As Robert Fisk observed yesterday in the Independent: "Gaddafi is completely bonkers, flaky, a crackpot on the level of Ahmadinejad of Iran and Lieberman of Israel -- who once, by the way, drivelled on about how Mubarak could 'go to hell' yet quaked with fear when Mubarak was indeed hurtled in that direction. …

"The Middle East seems to produce these ravers -- as opposed to Europe, which in the past 100 years has only produced Berlusconi, Mussolini, Stalin and the little chap who used to be a corporal in the 16th List Bavarian reserve infantry, but who went really crackers when he got elected in 1933 -- but now we are cleaning up the Middle East again and can forget our own colonial past in this sandpit."

Still, it's an ill wind blows no good, so it's worth reciting a few of the many reasons why this particular intervention is a bad idea:

First, a no-fly zone is neither easy nor simple to maintain. Journalists, who usually believe the press releases they are sent by ambitious politicians and high-tech arms manufacturers may tell you otherwise, but military men who know what they are talking about advise caution.

This, of course, is why the already vastly over-extended U.S. armed forces dragged their feet so long about this dangerous scheme. But let's say we manage to achieve a no-fly zone over Libya without losing a single multi-million-dollar warplane. What then?

Second, there is no guarantee the no-fly zone alone will result in the overthrow of Gaddafi, whose armed forces do not depend on air power alone for their advantage on the battlefield. So what will we do then?

Western politicians like no-fly zones because, while they are acts of war, they sound like something more benign to the Western public. You know, just protecting human rights from the tyrant! But let's say Gaddafi continues to attack his foes with tanks and ground troops, and continues to win, as he very well could. What do we do then? Give up, or escalate?

What we will do is escalate, of course, because no foolish politician wants to admit that he is a fool, and thus we never consider backing down until it is too late. So we will begin to bomb his tanks and troops in hopes of achieving victory for the side we are backing in the civil war, whoever they may be. Indeed, this already seems to be happening.

Third, escalation may not work either. OK, what then? Who among us understands the Libyan political situation on the ground well enough to say with confidence our schemes will work? The CIA? Gaddafi is certainly a tyrant and possibly a lunatic, but he has remained in power as long as the Alberta Conservatives. In other words, like them, he has friends. So he may fight on and continue to win. If so, what then? An invasion?

The word for the moment is that no ground troops will be involved. But how long will that resolve persist in the face of our Western hubris if the Libyans do not roll over, or if, God forbid, they manage to strike back in the Mediterranean or Europe? Faced with failure, the pressure for boots on the ground will grow.

This too raises questions, though. I don't know if you have noticed this, but the U.S. armed forces are somewhat overstretched right now. So are our Canadians, mired in Afghanistan. Who is going to mount this invasion? The Israelis?

Seriously, people, what are we going to do if this no-fly zone fails to produce the results we want in a few days or weeks? We could starve the population of Libya for a decade, one supposes, and kill their children to get at their repellent leader as we did in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. If we do, we'll probably enjoy about the same degree of success, and win as many friends in the region.

Fourth, maybe you've been asleep for the past decade, but an invasion doesn't guarantee victory either. What do we do if we invade and the forces loyal to Gaddafi fight on? Right now he says he's opening his armouries to people loyal to his rule.

Well, never mind that, we're sure to be told -- our Western soldiers will wrap the whole business up in hours. You know, just as they did in Iraq, just as they did in Afghanistan.

Fifth, this is a civil war and Gaddafi’s foes are almost certainly not very nice people either. Do we have any idea whom we are backing in this fight? Presumably someone who offers to charge oil royalties as low as those in Alberta -- well, maybe not that low!

Will our Libyans end up acting like the man they ousted once we've installed them in power? Probably. Will they be any friendlier to us than America's clients in Iraq? Probably not.

Sixth, there will be blowback. Depend on it, the Muslim street will view this as an invasion to steal oil, and they may not be that far off. The fig leaf offered by the United Nations, or even the Arab League, will mean nothing to them. People who are our allies today will turn on us tomorrow. In the mean time, those who we have made our enemies will feel justified fighting back, just as you would in their boots. You might want to rethink those Italian holiday plans!

Inevitably, moreover, our bombs will cause civilian casualties. This would be true even if Gaddafi's supporters were not acting as human shields around his headquarters. Even if we succeed in our short-term goals, there will be a price to pay for this over time. Every time we enthusiastically take sides in a foreign civil war we increase the chances of terrorism at home.

Seventh, it will cost a fortune. We're already broke, supposedly -- but that, of course, is only when it comes to things that benefit working Canadians, like public health care, social services and job creation. The money available to squander on foolish wars abroad appears unlimited.

I guess if your kids don't have a job, they can join the army.

And it doesn't matter what you think. We'll be there with bells on anyway. The bells of Hell.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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