walter russell mead peter berger lilia shevtsova adam garfinkle andrew a. michta
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Video of Syrian Rebel Atrocities a Sign of Things to Come

War is no picnic—and civil war is worse.

A disturbing video circulating on the web appears to show Syrian rebels executing unarmed prisoners who appear to have been members of the Barri family, an Aleppo clan accused of backing the regime and frequently attacking anti-Assad demonstrators. An agreement between rebel forces and the Barri clan, which is Sunni, broke down over the course of the ongoing battle for Aleppo, according to several rebel sources and journalists. The rebels held a “trial” for several men of the Barri family, who appear in videos with bloody faces and hands. Then they took them outside, where a crowd had gathered, and eventually unleashed a hail of gunfire that continued for almost a full minute.

One of the dead men was identified by an Al Jazeera correspondent as Zeino al-Barri, a member of parliament accused by rebels of being the leader of a group of shabiha.

Now the Twitterverse is aflame, with Syrians and others condemning the executions as human rights violations and saying the rebels are behaving no better than the Assad regime. Others cheered the killings, saying the men were criminals and their executions were deserved.

We think the human rights crusaders calling for the arrest of the rebels after these executions are barking up the wrong tree. Revolutionary Syria has no courts and no law at the moment. To speak of “crimes” in circumstances like this is to make rhetorical noise, not to enunciate valid principles of law. Aleppo is in a state of nature, where there can be no crimes and the law of the jungle is pretty much all that applies.

What we’ve seen is just the tip of the iceberg. We can be sure that far more killings have taken place off-camera, and there will be a lot more killing before this thing is done. The sooner Assad is out of power, dead or alive, the better — and the sooner concepts like the rule of law can return to the streets of Aleppo.

Adding to the gloomy prospects in Syria is today’s resignation of Kofi Annan from his position as special envoy. In a departing message to the world in today’s FT, Annan says,

For a challenge as great as this, only a united international community can compel both sides to engage in a peaceful political transition. But a political process is difficult, if not impossible, while all sides—within and without Syria—see opportunity to advance their narrow agendas by military means. International division means support for proxy agendas and the fuelling of violent competition on the ground.

The rebels, the Syrian government, and the international backers of each—including Iran, the U.S., Russia, and Turkey—have much to do to resolve the Syria crisis, says Annan.

Few serious people ever thought the Annan mission would amount to much, and it hasn’t. As is often the case in international relations, the mission was a way for the “international community” to look busy without doing anything difficult.

Sometimes stalling for time is the right thing to do; Teddy Roosevelt said that diplomacy was the art of saying “Nice doggie!” as you feel around behind you for a stick. But in this case the Annan mission only made sense if the parties were ready to make a deal. They aren’t, and nobody outside Syria is willing to knock their heads together.

More blood must now flow in Syria. Peace will come when the winners are tired of killing and the losers are ready to submit. There will likely be more horrendous footage uploaded to the internet. It’s as if the infamous women knitting in the shadow of the guillotine during the French Revolution had cell phones and streamed the bloody pictures to a waiting world. This revolution, at least in part, is going to be televised, and we aren’t going to like what we see.

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  • Anthony

    No clean hands…. And more blood will definitely flow…but can it be called a revolution.

  • Kenny

    Low class animals on both sides.

  • Jim.

    Hooray for the good guys?

  • Alex G

    I have just watched the video and what you can hear in Arabic (0:40) is that Zeino is charged with murder of 15 martyrs of Liwaa-at-Tawhid ( The Brigade of Monotheism). I don’t know whether they belong the FSA, but they are clearly jihadists-style who act in Halab

  • QET

    “To speak of “crimes” in circumstances like this is to make rhetorical noise, not to enunciate valid principles of law.”

    I take this to be a true statement. Yet I anticipate that the crowd of academics and NGO members devoted to propagating the fiction that there is such a thing as “international criminal law” will loudly proclaim the opposite.

  • Michael K

    “Aleppo is in a state of nature, where there can be no crimes and the law of the jungle is pretty much all that applies.”

    But but….Rousseau tells me that man is so good and pure in a state of nature. :)

  • Fred

    Savages are still savage.

  • http://inthisdimension.com alex scipio

    Diverse cultures at work in their own lands.

    THIS is the face of “multiculturalism,” and THIS FACT needs more attention.

    I know there are those pretending that all cultures are the same, all have the same desires for freedom, liberty, education, wealth and tolerance as the West, and that all treat their peoples the same – or would if the bad old West would go away. The Flat Earth Society also still exists…. http://theflatearthsociety.org/cms/

  • Kris

    “This revolution, at least in part, is going to be televised, and we aren’t going to like what we see.”

    Hence we will stay home, brother, and very easily cop out.

  • Mick The Reactionary

    I wish both sides many great successes in their battles and may they have ammunition and manpower for a few years of productive fighting.

  • thibaud

    Mr Mead: what do you propose US policy should be?

  • Old Gunny

    “Peace will come when the winners are tired of killing and the losers are ready to submit.” This is war the old fashioned way. You lose, you die. The winners won’t get tired and the losers can’t submit.

  • http://wwrtc.blogspot.com Art Deco

    ‘Ere writing off the Syrian rebels as agents of the coming barbarism, one might consider the following of interest:

    1. Successfully concluded elections in Libya

    2. The intensity of the civil wars in Central America. Around about 240,000 deaths were registered in three countries. The mean sum of the populations of these countries (over the period running from 1960 to 1996) was about 15 million. Syria currently has a population of about 20 million. The Central American republics suffer grievously from high crime rates (common in Latin America but not in the Arab world). They each also have functioning civil societies and a fairly pluralistic political order.

    3. Parliamentary institutions are not unknown in the history of the Levant, from the late Ottoman period onward. The government of Syria was a parliamentary state for the most part prior to 1963.

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