Syria's 'Evil Man'

British Prime Minister David Cameron did not beat around the bush. He went straight for the jugular and called Syria's president Bashar Assad "an evil man."

Speaking on the BBC over the weekend, the British prime minister said of the Syrian president, that he had done some awful things to his people.

That is a typical British upper lip understatement.

To date more than 100,000 Syrians have been killed, more than double that number have been wounded and nearly two million turned into refugees, all in a country of 22 million people. Entire cities such as Aleppo, the country's commercial center and major towns such as Hama and Homs have been practically turned into near Dresden-like replicas. And all the more impressive is that while Dresden was bombed from the air, Hama, Homs and Aleppo have been done with smaller caliber weapons.

Quite an impressive statistic. But if the British prime minister called the Syrian president an evil man, at the same time the British leader had nothing nice to say about the opposition coalition forces either. Of them, the British leader said that they could not be trusted due to the extremist Islamist element that have infiltrated the Syrian opposition. Mr. Cameron was referring to the takfiri groups that have become prominent within the Syrian resistance.

And herein lies the conundrum that the United States and its allies in the European Union (and other friends of Syria) face when dealing with Syria issue. On the one hand the regime headed by President Bashar Assad is corrupt, ruthless, and cruel and will not hesitate to use brute force. It does not discriminate between women, children and combatants. Forces loyal to the president have killed them all with equal vigor.

Pro-government troops will use heavy artillery -- howitzers and heavy mortars -- as well as helicopter attack gunships and military aircraft to bomb positions, regardless of who is on the receiving end. They will not hesitate to resort to using torture, even on children, in order to obtain what they want. And sometimes that may be trivial. But the torture is not.

Part of the reason they are so brutal is because they want to instill fear into the hearts of their enemies. But that only works until a certain point, beyond which fear stops to work and hate takes over. The level of hate they develop for their opponents becomes so pronounced that it overrides the element of fear that the enemy is trying hard to instill.

The opposition in Syria is really not very different, for the most part, than the forces they are fighting when it comes to issues such as the respect of prisoner right, human right, etc. We have seen the horrific videos of prisoners being beheaded by Islamists who turn themselves into judge, jury and executioners.

We have the disgusting videos of prisoners being beaten up and cut to pieces, quite literally. We have seen some of the most unspeakable horrors being committed in the name of democracy.

Some people in the West were surprised that the "good guys" -- the ones the West supports -- were using many of the same torture techniques and behaving much like the "bad guys" they are fighting.

There should be no surprises really. Many members of the opposition, especially those who joined the Free Syrian Army, a group that is composed mostly of deserters from the regular Syrian military, have received the same schooling as the Syrian military. Until recently they were part of the Syrian Army. They had received the same basic training that soldiers and officers in the regular Syrian army have received. The officers who were trained by the Mukhabarat -- the Syrian intelligence service -- are unlikely to adopt democratic manners overnight. They had the same teachers, the same officers, the same professors and the same counselors. So why do we expect them to be any different? It really should be no surprise that the good guys are often as bad as the bad guys. In fact the allies and "friends" of Syria are so worried by the situation there that a previous promise of weapons has been put on hold out of fear that the weapons would fall into the wrong hands and be eventually used against the very Western forces that provided them in the first place.

The solution? It a long, long educational curve.

Claude Salhani, a specialist in conflict resolution, is editor of He tweets @claudesalhani.