Libya Update: The West is killing civilians to protect civilians

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in Paris last weekend for a photo op with French strongman Nicolas Sarkozy. No pictures were available at posttime, so we used this old shot of President Sarkozy in a photo op with some other guy. Below: Libyan strongman Muammar al-Gaddafi, who seems to have as many uniforms as the British royal family, although not nearly as nicely cut.

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. Echoing former U.S. vice-president Dick Cheney, he’s vowing a “long war.” Indeed, one could surmise that it’s quite possible Col. 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,” Col. 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 Col. 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.

Col. 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 Col. Gaddafi that has the potential to be a real catastrophe for the West. With no credible Libyan leaders to replace Col. 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

8 Comments on "Libya Update: The West is killing civilians to protect civilians"

  1. Jan says:

    Give it a rest David. Those of us who knew you at UVIC in our 70's days have grown-up. The world is not the same. Flowers and free love no longer rule and Vietnam is a lesson we have all learned from.
    Do I agree with your analysis–in some ways, yes I do. War is never kind to anyone. However, that said, a statement needs to be made. Not for the oil companies, not for the oligarchies that influence Canadian politics and resource management (Packard, Turner, Soros, Rockefeller "foundations", as I am sure you are aware), but for the simple, perhaps altruistic message, that in one small corner of the world, we stand for freedom. Would you die for that David? Until the answer is yes, your credibility is a moot point. If your answer is no, then what exactly do you stand for?

  2. Anonymous says:

    Jan, if we're 'standing up for freedom', why hasn't anyone helped the Bahrainians out? The atrocities there are far more severe and frequent than in Libya. It's politics, not altruism. Is it fair to die for the freedom of people in one country, but not those in others?

    The baby-boomers ruined this world for us. Now my generation has to come in and clean it up.

    If you don't believe me, take a look at at this article by CNN:

  3. Anonymous says:

    I wonder what your response would be if the world (the UN security council resolution is not "the west") would once again ideally stand by and let a genocide happen as it did in Cambodia and Rwanda?

    The Arab "street", especially the one were it really counts, in Libya)are grateful that a murderous regime is being restricted by anyone, even if that anyone is the "great satan" himself.

  4. Filostrato says:

    The local CBC affiliate (not a CBC station) has a little poll on their website asking if the reader supports Canada's invasion and bombing of Libya. (They didn't put it quite that way, but that's the meat of it.) As of this morning, somewhere north of 75% do, which makes the self-selecting clickers more bellicose that most Americans on this subject.

    Maybe they had a few bombs whose "use by" date was rapidly approaching. Maybe the F-18 pilots needed some real-world war experience. Maybe Harper was looking for a cheap poll-bounce (not to be confused with pole dancing) when he was seen getting his war on. Heck, he probably got a few extra votes when he said he agreed with capital punishment. There's always a bit more down there if you scrape the bottom of the barrel thoroughly.

    I like the after-the-fact vote, too, which disgusted me with all the parties. There wasn't very much coverage on how the Bloc voted. Must do some research.

    Western countries act like ancient gods, assuming superiority and raining death from the sky on a whim. I wonder how long it will take to turn the numbers around on Libya. It took years before most of us saw the bloody fiasco that is Afghanistan for what it really is.

  5. Carlos Beca says:

    I am A Filostrato Fan. LOL
    Great post especially the not to get confused with pole dancing. You are absolutely right. I have never seen such obvious opportunism. It is mind boggling. Harper is looking for votes and war is always a great poll improver. We never have money for anything but suddenly we are in a war and no one questions the costs. Somehow there is always money for weapons. This is going to be another fiasco. They are already arguing as to who owns it. The US cannot afford another one and French of course do not know how to run one so we are stuck. We will get out before the fiasco so that Harper does not lose the election. He is even dealing with Jack Layton this morning so he can get in no matter what!!

  6. Carlos Beca says:

    I liked your post again David. You are right on.
    Jan if we want to make a statement why don't we bomb China where the human rights are as bad or worse than Libya? We need them though to keep our inflation down. After all when it comes to take away workers rights to manufacture our ipods and all the trinckets we need even our beliefs change dramatically. Do you really believe that Mr. Harper stands for freedom? He stands for his chances of a majority and Libya is an esy target. In the meantime another 100 million dollars down the drain and more to come. That along with the 20 billion we have already wasted in Afghanistan would have been enough to take every single senior out of poverty and build homes for the homeless. We are no longer into that though, image is the name of the game now. Next year we will pay this adventure by cutting on health care.

  7. jerrymacgp says:

    DAvid, I think what would be most interesting would be for you to tell your readers under what circumstances you think military action is justified… or are you simply one of those true-blue pacifists who think nothing justifies military action?

    I think where the civilized world failed in Libya is in not acting sooner, while the rebels against the odious Ghadafi regime were in the ascendant. A no-fly zone, imposed as soon as the tyrant started bombing his own people to get them to settle down, combined with materiel support, might have given the Libyan people a fighting chance to toss him out in shot order. Of course nobody knows what kind of government would have emerged in his place, but it could hardly have been worse than the status quo. However, now I fear that the UN-blessed intervention is too little, too late, and we may indeed see a long, drawn-pout civil war in North Africa as a result of the prolonged dithering.

    One of the many things we can blame G.W. Bush for, is poisoning the political environment for reasonable military intervention when it is truly called for. Clausewitz said, "war is the continuation of policy by other means". The policy of "duty to protect" is worthy of support by "other means"; it is the Bush-era mendacity about non-existent WMDs in Iraq that has left such a bad taste in the public's mouth.

  8. Dhakshi says:

    But do you not wonder how many more will have died if it wasn't for the intervention from the west?


You must be logged in to post a comment.