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.