Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi

Once again yesterday, Western aircraft were bombing and killing Libyan civilians to save Libyan civilians. Canada helped out, with the unanimous support of our spineless Parliamentary opposition, and Canadian warplanes and refuelling tankers were in the air over the North African country for the first time.

Canadian government talking points repeatedly stressed that we’re over there to protect Libyan civilians. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in Paris on the weekend for a pre-election photo op with our bellicose European allies, conceded that our effort to save Libyan civilians might require us to kill some Libyan civilians.

What’s with this? Just collateral damage? Or is this Vietnam all over again? Does anyone remember now how “it became necessary to destroy the town to save it”?

Meanwhile, our true principal objective, regime change, which one suspects a few of the West’s military planners and most of its politicians imagined could be achieved in 24 hours or less, remains for the moment unrealized.

Col. Muammar al-Gaddafi is still the leader of Libya. Last night he was, anyway. Channeling former U.S. vice-president Dick Cheney, he’s vowing a “long war.” Indeed, one could surmise that it’s quite possible Gaddafi enjoys more support now from his own population than he did before the bombing started. Consider for a moment the stellar success of the United States’ half-century embargo of Cuba!

However, given the state of Libya’s military, aged tanks suitable only for attacking rebels in 4X4 “technicals,” Gaddafi’s promised long war seems as unlikely as the late Saddam Hussein’s promised Mother of Battles. Indeed, it’s probable he’ll be gone from power within a few days, whether or not the Americans, who say they’re not trying to kill him, manage to kill him.

Still, given the distance of Libya from the toe of Italy, and for that matter from the southern coast of France, and given the ease with which economic refugees from North Africa are able to slip across the Mediterranean Sea, maybe we shouldn’t rule anything out.

Thus endeth the geography lesson. Now let’s consider human nature.

Let’s talk frankly about “blowback” while we still can without the filter of rage and bloodlust that will surely obscure our vision if serious blowback should actually occur anywhere in the West.

Let’s imagine Canada had been attacked by the air forces of another country or group of countries trying to oust our government for whatever reasons. Let’s also imagine civilians, perhaps our friends and neighbours, had been killed or wounded.

Now, ask yourselves these four questions:

1)    What do you think your reaction would be?

2)    Would it change your reaction in any way if the foreign aircraft had been authorized to drop their bombs by a United Nations resolution?

3)    Would you consider a violent response in the other guy’s country appropriate?

4)    If your country lacked the strength to attack using conventional military forces, would you consider unconventional attacks appropriate?

If you’re honest with yourself, we won’t need to pursue this line of inquiry any further.

Now, in the unlikely event Gaddafi manages to hang on to power, how do you think he might respond? Remember, this is a guy who apparently has a history of asymmetrical attacks on Western nightclubs and Western airliners, especially when Western air forces bomb his country and kill his family members.

If he did manage to respond violently somewhere in the West, of course, we would go completely bonkers. Rational discourse would no longer be possible. And why wouldn’t we, since we no longer seem capable of seeing any moral nuance in anything we or our governments do? (Indeed, given this state of affairs, Prime Minister Harper is probably quite right to expect Canada’s role in this business to improve his chances of being re-elected with a majority.)

In the event of an attack in Europe, there would be widespread calls throughout the West for the invasion of Libya. Alas, the United Nations resolution we are now using as our fig leaf permits Canadian and allied warplanes and naval vessels to take “all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians (by killing them, presumably) “excluding a foreign occupation force.” (And by the way, if protecting civilians is really our objective, why aren’t our jets getting ready to bomb Bahrain, Yemen or Saudi Arabia?)

Once Western populations and our media are in full cry, we would not let a UN resolution, or the lack of one, stand in our way any more than do our principal ally on this continent or our principal ally in the Middle East.

As it does when covering other parts of the Middle East and North Africa, the media would instinctively describe any Libyan civilian killed as a fighter or a supporter of the bad guys. Indeed, it’s already doing this — the Edmonton Journal Sunday captioned a photo of cars damaged by Western bombers as “vehicles belonging to forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.” They looked like old Toyota Tercels and Corollas to me.

Which brings us to the next hard lesson: How do you think the Muslim Street would react to such a development?

It seems likely they would see us for the hypocrites we are, and would see any woe we suffer as our chickens coming home to roost. That is, they would react exactly as we would if the tables were turned.

Gaddafi was in poor physical and political health and one way or the other would have departed the Libyan scene very soon anyway.

But while he is very weak, and almost certain to be brought down by this latest Western exercise in petro-state regime liquidation, his enemies are very weak also, else we would not have had to intervene to prop them up.

As Patrick Cockburn pointed out on the website yesterday, it is who comes after Gaddafi that has the potential to be a real catastrophe for the West. With no credible Libyan leaders to replace Gaddafi, the only option left may be “an old-fashioned imperial occupation.”

In which case, even though we Westerners remain as busy as beavers in Iraq and Afghanistan, we would get our Libyan invasion anyway.

Maybe that’s why the United States and its European allies were already bickering yesterday about who is in charge. “No, no! After you, Alphonse!” Remember, whoever is running things will have to wear it if this turns into another bloody fiasco.

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

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe...