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Why is Canada taking sides in Libya's civil war? Because that's what it is - a civil war. The rebels for whom the coalition is providing providential help with its air strikes are armed combatants who've mounted an insurrection against the Libyan government. Who are they?

This is a legitimate question, considering past experience. When Afghanistan was occupied by Soviet troops, the United States supplied the mujahedeen with missiles and equipment. The result: a Taliban regime that provided shelter to al-Qaeda.

The Transitional National Council of the Libyan Republic was formed in Benghazi in February. It has 31 members, but the identities of two-thirds of them have not been disclosed on the grounds that their families are still in government-held areas of the country. Those who have been named include disgruntled former ministers of the Gadhafi regime; others are described as "lawyers and professors." What do they stand for? Do they have ties with Islamist radicals? Nobody knows. Of course, no one among the Western politicians who improvised this operation actually knows much about Libya, a tribal society fraught with arcane rivalries.

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What do Libyans think about the airborne invasion? Do they want power to fall into the hands of a tribe based in the eastern part of the country? Nobody knows. What's certain is that, as despotic as he is, Moammar Gadhafi wouldn't have stayed in power for more than 40 years if he hadn't been able to forge strong alliances with at least a good part of the country.

The coalition now waging war on Libya has no clear goals, no exit strategy, no coherent plan. Does it want to bring down the Gadhafi regime? Does it just want to end the hostilities, in which case Libya could be partitioned into two entities? On all these issues, the governments involved have been voicing contradictory opinions.

If the goal is to topple Colonel Gadhafi, it's doubtful that air raids will do the job. It didn't work in Bosnia, it didn't work in Iraq. So will the coalition end up sending ground troops? We know what this means: urban guerrillas, countless human casualties - more civilian deaths, probably, than would have occurred if the West hadn't interfered in Libya's internal fighting.

Neo-conservative idealists such as Paul Wolfowitz, a major architect of George W. Bush's Iraq policy, are among the most enthusiastic proponents of the intervention in Libya. These people still believe, after the Iraqi disaster, that you can push democracy on a people with missiles and tanks. No wonder that Stephen Harper, who probably would have ordered Canadian troops to Iraq if he'd been in office at the time, was quick to send fighter jets to Libya.

If the "responsibility to protect" is a sacred principle, shouldn't it be applied everywhere? What about those peaceful demonstrators who are being shot at by the Syrian army? What about the civilians threatened by the fighting between partisans of Alassane Ouattara, the opposition leader who was elected president of Ivory Coast in November, and those of Laurent Gbagbo, who lost the election but refuses to leave? What about the Shia majority in Bahrain whose aspirations to social equality are brutally repressed by a Sunni dynasty with the help of Saudi Arabia?

And what happened to the Arab League? Its members approved the idea of a no-fly zone over Libya, but, as soon as the air strikes began, its secretary-general, Amr Moussa, criticized the use of force. Only Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are participating in enforcing the no-fly zone. Why does the Arab world, which has several strong and well-equipped armies, let the West do the dirty job on Arab soil?

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