Is Manaf Tlas the man for Syria?
August 1st, 2012
02:03 PM ET

Is Manaf Tlas the man for Syria?

By Daniel DePetris, Special to CNN

Daniel R. DePetris is the senior associate editor of the Journal on Terrorism and Security Analysis.  The views expressed are his own.

With insurgents from the Free Syrian Army making inroads into areas that were once regarded firm bases of regime support, states backing the rebellion against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appear to be accelerating efforts to forge an alternative leadership with the potential to take over once the uprising is done.

This task has taken on even greater urgency as more Syrian diplomats defect from the al-Assad regime, and as the Syrian National Council struggles to figure out how a post-al-Assad Syria should be governed.  With European diplomats seemingly giving up on the SNC as a force with the potential to serve as an interim government in the event of al-Assad’s fall, the United States, Europe, and Arab states appear to be searching for viable alternatives.

To date, this search has been agonizingly slow, in part because of the opposition’s failure to unify, but also because of the al-Assad regime’s stubborn internal strength. Indeed, even in the face of an armed insurgency that stretches back into early last year, the Syrian Government has managed to retain the majority of its senior diplomats.  The reality is that Syria is very different from the case of Libya, when a sizeable chunk of Moammar Gadhafi’s diplomatic corps broke away shortly into the uprising, ultimately helped form the Transitional National Council that would eventually lead the country.  As Fareed Zakaria noted last month, meanwhile, the West is finding it difficult to secure reliable information even on who exactly the Syrian opposition really is.

These challenges and intelligence shortfalls inside Syria are producing a collective sense of concern among Western and Arab officials worried about the potential chaos that could ensue if al-Assad falls. But one figure appears to have gained the attention of outside powers as a potential figure to lead a post-Assad Syria – Manaf Tlas.

Brigadier General Tlas was the first Republican Guard commander to quit al-Assad’s regime, in early July, a defection that made headlines around the world, and one which was seen by some as a potential game changer.

And, safe in exile, Tlas seems to have gotten the message.  After staying silent for weeks after his escape, he has now issued a statement appealing for all Syrians to live as Syrians rather than Sunnis, Alawites, or Christians.  Tlas blasted the Syrian government for its violent response to peaceful democratic protest, calling for a democratic and pluralistic Syria without the shedding of more blood.  He also volunteered to help the opposition, both inside and outside of Syria, strengthen and unite.

For the United States, Britain, France, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, Tlas may very well be viewed as a legitimate figure for a post-al-Assad transition – a Sunni whose experience in the armed forces could be crucial in preventing the disintegration of the Syrian military.

But for millions of Syrians, Tlas’s credentials as a freedom fighter are mixed at best.  Leaders in the Syrian National Council, for example, have been quick to note that it took Tlas more than a year to part ways with al-Assad and his regime – far too long for many of those that have been protesting since last March.

And there’s also the matter of his family’s ties to the al-Assads. Tlas’s father, Mustafa Tlas, was intimately woven into the inner circle of Assad’s father, serving as defense minister for more than thirty years.  The elder Tlas has also been accused of solidly backing al-Assad during his accession – a toxic allegation that if true would raise questions about the Tlas family’s willingness to break with the al-Assad legacy.

Tlas’s younger brother, Firas, has also allegedly profited from the al-Assad regime through a variety of business deals, some of which are said to be tied to the Syrian military.  Senior members of the SNC are therefore believed to be adamantly opposed to any transitional role for Manaf.

And yet as of now, despite his potential shortcomings, Tlas is better placed than anyone who has broken ranks with al-Assad to offer insights into the regime and the running of the military. Unless the SNC can pull together and develop a realistic blueprint for a unified Syria, the West and other outsiders might feel no choice but to lend their support to Manaf Tlas.

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Topics: Libya • Middle East • Syria • United States

soundoff (34 Responses)
  1. andres

    Is he a minority either in race or religion, is he corrupt or at least corruptable, is he mentally unbalanced. If not he is not the candidate that the US would back. It appears that we only back deeply flawed individuals.

    August 1, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Reply
    • Brian from Chicago

      Does being a minority count as "flawed"?

      August 2, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Reply
    • TC Williams

      As long as he represents U.S interests, he is their man. None of that other crap remotely matters.

      August 2, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Reply
  2. Marine5484

    I wouldn't be surprised at all if the C.I.A. has already groomed this man to be the next Syrian leader. He was most probably paid to "defect" to the West. Some people will do anything for money and power!

    August 1, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Reply
  3. poorman

    See, that's what democracy is all about. Having your political leaders picked by the governments of US, Saudi Arabia, and Israel.

    August 1, 2012 at 8:37 pm | Reply
  4. Lee

    THE MODEL ARE BEING USED IN SYRIA .THE AMERICAN USED SAME MODEL IN IRAN . JUST LOOK AT IT .The government of Iran is overthrown by Iranian rebels and the CIA in a coup codenamedOperat ion Ajax. The coup was planned by CIA operative Kermit Roosevelt after receiving the blessings of the US and British governments. Muhammad Mosaddeq is deposedand the CIA promptly reinstates Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi on the throne. The Shah’s secret police, SAVAK, trained by the CIA and Israel’s Mossad, are widely perceived as being as brutal and terrifying as the Nazi Gestapo in World War II. British oil interests in Iran, partially nationalized under previous governments, arereturned to British control. American oil interests are retainedby 8 private oil companies, who are awarded 40% of the Iranian oil industry. US General Norman Schwarzkopf,Sr. (father of the general with thesame name in the1991 Gulf War)helps the Shah develop the fearsome SAVAK secret police.Author Stephen Kinzer will say in 2003,"The result of that coup was that the Shah was placed back on his throne. Heruled for 25 years in an increasingly brutal and repressive fashion. His tyranny resulted in an explosion of revolution in 1979 the event that we call the Islamic revolution.

    August 2, 2012 at 2:10 am | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Well put, Lee. The politicians in Washington have no respect for human rights although they do make a pretense at it!

      August 2, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Reply
    • gordon

      what a great summation Lee, really well done

      August 2, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Reply
  5. melvin polatnick

    American decision makers want a pro-Western government installed in Syria and they cannot be stopped. Assad and those that have benefited from his regime have to step aside and grant the wishes of those that are richer and more powerful. It hurts to lose a good deal but it is less painful than being sodomized by a Gadhafi stick.

    August 2, 2012 at 3:02 am | Reply
  6. j. von hettlingen

    The West shouldn't repeat the same mistake as in Afghanstan. After the fall of the Taliban regime, the West was looking for somebody to be in charge. Hamid Karzai was educated in the US and had a charm that impressed. So the West backed him. Now many Afghans, especially the Taliban, reject him.
    In the case of Syria, the West shouldn't back somebody, who appeals to them. Let the Syrians decide for themselves. Indeed Manaf Tlas could play a part in the post-Assad Syria, just as anyone else. It's a new game with new rules.

    August 2, 2012 at 5:11 am | Reply
  7. Syrian

    He is not Clean and his hands are bloody.

    $ talks

    August 2, 2012 at 9:40 am | Reply
  8. Logic

    Meet the new boss, same as the old boss...

    August 2, 2012 at 10:00 am | Reply
  9. Ykcyc

    Don't worry about this man. Worry about the weapons of mass destruction, currently possessed by the Syrian government that we are helping to overthrow. What happens when the terrorists that get these weapons of mass destruction, after the Syrian government falls? They won't use them on American soil, simply because it is against the ln law? How insane is that? I hope there are people in the government smart enough to consider the consequences and take control of weapons of mass destruction.

    August 2, 2012 at 10:04 am | Reply
  10. Aaron Chaney

    DAMASCUS, (SANA) – Syrian People Stood As One Man Against Schemes

    President al-Assad pointed out that "...enemies wanted to prevent our people from their national decision but they were surprised by the Syrian people who stood as one man against their schemes and defeated them, leading them to look for a way out of their defeats, plot more schemes and assign the task of carrying out such schemes to local agents."


    DAMASCUS, (SANA) – Russian Embassy in Damascus Conducts Business as Usual

    The Press Attaché at the Russian Embassy in Damascus Artyom Savelyev announced that his Embassy has not received any instructions from Moscow related to evacuating Russian citizens or any changes in the Embassy's work schedule related to the Russian government's decision to enlist Syria within states declared as living under "emergency case conditions."

    "The Russian Embassy in Damascus didn't receive any instructions on evacuating families of Russian diplomats," Savelyev said in a statement issued in Moscow on Tuesday.

    Savelyev added that the situation in Damascus is calm and life is normal as the city observes the holy month of Ramadan.


    MOSCOW, (SANA) – Syrian Official Delegation Headed by Dr. Qadri Jamil Visits Russia, Meets Russian Deputy Premier

    Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Khloponin affirmed that the position of his country, president and government regarding the Syrian crisis is firm and a matter of principle, reiterating Moscow's absolute opposition to any interference in Syria's internal affairs.

    These remarks came during Khloponin's meeting on Tuesday with a Syrian official delegation headed by Dr. Qadri Jamil, Syrian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection.

    Khloponin said the people of Syria have the inalienable right to resolve internal problems on their own and added that Russia understands the complexity of the situation in Syria and that it will exert its best efforts up to and including providing tactical assistance to help resolve those issues discussed during the meeting.

    Talks focused on the two countries mutual alliance in various fields, particularly military cooperation, economic principles, petroleum, energy, aerial and marine transport, as well as railways, industry, agriculture, irrigation, health, higher education, and scientific research. Additionally the diplomats discussed the means to improve and enhance trade exchange and banking relations.

    In a statement to SANA's correspondent in Moscow following the meeting, Dr. Jamil affirmed Russia's position with regard to the Syrian crisis as being unchanged since the first veto and consistent up to the third veto, and that Russia's firm position expresses Russian interests are compatible with Syrian interests.

    He went on to note far reaching prospects for Syrian-Russian bilateral relations aimed at countering and significantly degrading the ability of terrorists to operate throughout the region and that these proposals will be rapidly expanded upon in the near future.

    August 2, 2012 at 10:13 am | Reply
  11. Aaron Chaney

    ALEPPO, (PRESS TV) – At least 150 armed thugs were killed after Syrian troops stormed a school that these deceived terrorist gangs were occupying in the northern city of Aleppo.

    The ongoing 'Operation Target Traitor' which is geared towards insuring the safety of citizens was carried out in Aleppo's Salahuddin district on Wednesday.

    Press TV reports a relative calm has returned to Aleppo in recent days after Syrian security forces cleared out several areas of the city being utilized by these cowards as a base to intimidate residents, instigate unrest and sow sedition.


    ALEPPO, (SANA) – Terrorists Killed and Injured While Placing Explosives in a Warehouse in Aleppo

    An official source told SANA that an armed terrorist group managed to seize a warehouse in Aleppo where military uniform and food supplies are stored, before they then proceeded to set off a round of explosives. However an explosive device went off misadverdently as the connivers were planting it which caused several charges to explode and resulted an unconfirmed amount of fatalities, as well severe injuries to members who comprised that factional subversive group.


    DARAA, (SANA) – In contemplating recent statements emanating from various foreign capitals, an anonymous source at the Foreign Ministry acknowledges how 'Operation Target Traitor' will serve as the conduit that prepares Syrian Armed Forces for a possible wider regional engagement. 'It's ugly already, but there is definitely a real possibility that such a scenario may arise as a result of this persistent and illicit arrangement that utilizes foreign mercenaries alongside agitators who have been deluded into believing they can intimidate and overthrow a democratically elected government. While our brave troops are well trained to withstand this game of cat and mouse and sucessfully defend the Syrian homeland, if the situation were to escalate into a foreign aggression, we would not hesitate to coordinate with states who the resistance can count on and designates strategic allies.'

    August 2, 2012 at 10:14 am | Reply
  12. Ralph in Orange Park, FL

    Americans endorsing anyone to lead a foreign country is the kiss of death for his credibility.

    August 2, 2012 at 11:25 am | Reply
  13. New Gawker

    There is no man for Syria or any middle east nation, dogs can't govern themselves.

    August 2, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Reply
  14. Barry G.

    I hope and pray that the Syrian people will get good leaders–leaders who will be just, compassionate, and will put the needs of the people ahead of their own interests.

    This is what Assad should have done.

    August 2, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Reply
  15. The Business Kings

    Make way for the antichrist...

    August 2, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Reply
  16. revelations 13:7

    well, they certainly look like a group of up-right, responsible gentlemen... sure thing, let'm represent an entire country

    August 2, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Reply
  17. Yang Xi Gua

    This man is extremely dangerous and hates Israel. He laughed when SCUDs were fired at Israel. The simple answer is NO.

    August 2, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Reply
  18. hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

    Wish of hindu's, criminals, never to come true, Asad will go no where, those so called fighters of foreign origin have no place to run but have been circled and about to be eliminated.

    August 2, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Reply
  19. Matt

    Same as Iraq, exiles bought into lead, but not wanted. Why is he not commanding a division against the regime?. There will be a council prior to elections then elections. But don't be surprised if the majority of parliament come from the FSA, just as Moqtada al-Sadr did from resistance. It is up to elections as to how is President it cannot be imposed from the outside. All international backer have their man, he is in France, Riad Al-Assad is in Turkey. But the people will decide that is why they are dying and bleeding, while the suits talks. I know there is going to be big trouble because you cannot even choose your own name the FSA not the SFA, trivial matter. But a stand had to be taken. You don't call the IRA the AIR. The Secretary of State called the FSA the SFA repeatably, if that cost US support so be it. If you can't chose the name you want to die under what freedom is there going to be.

    August 2, 2012 at 6:59 pm | Reply
  20. Matt

    The SNC forced ROE created thousands of FSA martyrs. Before it was abandoned. I think everyone is getting a bit ahead of themselves, one Assad will remain in power during 2013, second the FSA guerrilla war tactic is the destruction of the security forces gradually, so there cannot be a transition and unless Allahu willing a miracle happens, the security forces will not remain intact nor will the government infrastructure. It is sad to say but after the SNC will have little say, I can't see a role, of course you can run in elections. The suit against a regional commander who commanded men in battle against the regime.

    August 2, 2012 at 7:13 pm | Reply
  21. Matt

    I think all of this political talk (king makers) is in bad taste, if lives were not at stake one would down tools. What are the suits going to do then.

    August 2, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Reply
  22. Matt

    That is what the CIA should be doing finding commanders on the ground that will be in Parliament and befriending them. Who is the US Moqtada, he is wearing a suit, drinking tea in a European hotel. Never learn.

    August 2, 2012 at 7:40 pm | Reply
  23. Voiceinthedesert/Troubledgoodangel

    The only role I see for gen. Manaf Tlas is as Interim President. After that, a worldwide search ought to begin for the Founder of a New Syria. He or she should be preferably a Malabarite Christian, ideally with Islamic ties, and with outstanding doctoral level education in either government or economy. Such person must be fluent in Arabic, English and French. I suspect that there are highly qualified Malabarite Christians known to the world and to the Vatican. The search should start right now.

    August 3, 2012 at 11:08 am | Reply
  24. borucki

    "issued a statement appealing for all Syrians to live as Syrians rather than Sunnis, Alawites, or Christians"

    This sounds too much like secularism, this is not what the saudi and qatari agenda demands. He's not our man.

    August 8, 2012 at 9:53 am | Reply
  25. jeng

    why dont you run for president Mr. Manaf Tlaas....i read about you in Newsweek...

    August 16, 2012 at 10:29 pm | Reply
  26. Joseph McCarthy/Quigley/LyndsieGraham/krm1007 ©™/Joe Collins/J. Foster Dulles/Marine5484

    I am a useless piece of camel dung. I post anti American, anti GB, anti semite, anti India, anti modern anything because I am a good moooooslem. I steal people's monikers because I am so ashamed of myself and post the most stupid comment. When people get angry with me, I claim insanity. I am the same guy.

    August 18, 2012 at 9:12 am | Reply

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