Of the 99 papers my international relations students turned in this week reflecting on current events in the news, 51 explored the developing situation in Libya. After class, students have come to me to ask about the Libya crisis, whether I think the international intervention is morally right and what I think the outcome will be.

Of the 99 papers my international relations students turned in this week reflecting on current events in the news, 51 explored the developing situation in Libya. After class, students have come to me to ask about the Libya crisis, whether I think the international intervention is morally right and what I think the outcome will be.

As their teacher, I feel the weight of these questions. I feel I should help them consider the most pressing global issues of our time, but I recognize the limits to my own knowledge. I have never been to Libya, I do not know anyone who is Libyan and, bad as it may sound, I have never really paid much attention to the country.

As a result, I feel ill-prepared to deal with their questions – I do not know enough about the situation to provide substantive answers. However, I have begun to realize that I can help them ask the right kinds of questions of ourselves, our leaders and the media.

Based on my experience working and researching in a variety of conflicted countries, including Afghanistan, Bosnia, Haiti, Iraq, Kenya, Kosovo, Uganda and Sudan, there are political, economic and social issues that seem to arise repeatedly across various contexts. Many of these seem inadequately explored by the mainstream news media’s coverage of Libya.

Therefore, rather than provide “analysis” of the situation in Libya, I instead want to raise questions I believe we should  consider as we read, listen to and watch the news coming out of North Africa.

We must consider what the international community will do if this week’s aerial assault fails to remove Colonel Gadhafi from power. What if it leads only to a protracted stalemate between the government and the rebels, with neither able to achieve overall victory? Would we be comfortable with a negotiated settlement between Gadhafi and the rebels?

Do we really believe that bombing will achieve the political outcome we want in Libya? Will our message that violence against civilians is unjustified be undermined when the bombing (which is never as precise as the military would have us believe) causes civilian casualties?

In many countries experiencing lengthy civil strife, the insecurity empowers people who are able to wield military force and offer “protection” (in both the positive and menacing sense of the word). We should investigate, as this crisis continues, whether the conflict is marginalizing the kind of peaceful civilian leaders who are best suited for leading a country in its post-war recovery. As a general rule, former rebels, particularly militant ones, do not have a very good record in guaranteeing democracy and human rights after they win.

We also should consider how our actions, as intervening countries, shape the potential for nonviolent politics after the conflict has ended.

There will probably need to be some form of political reconciliation between the rebels and those who support Gadhafi. The Libyan people and the international community will have to determine how far they believe guilt is distributed down the current regime’s chain of command.

Finally, we should be prepared to hold whatever government arises out of this crisis to high international ethical standards. Regime transition is not an excuse for human rights abuses, even against those perceived to have been “collaborators” with the wrong side.

We are not just consumers of news. As global citizens we have a right to be in conversation with the news – asking better coverage from our broadcasters, magazines and newspapers. We can also shape the news, by engaging with our political officials, asking questions and calling them to a higher standard.