As the fog of war lifts, Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass, also known as the “Playboy General of Damascus,” will assume the most strategic post in the post-Assad transition period.
After reportedly leaving his country for Paris two weeks ago, Tlass is now in touch with the important actors of the Syria crisis armed with the support he got from the United States.
First he went to Saudi Arabia where, under the pretense of an Umra pilgrimage, he met with King Abdullah’s team. He then came to Ankara where he met with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and the undersecretary of National Intelligence Organization, Hakan Fidan.
Before we go into Tlass' mission and his road map, two pertinent points have to be made:
1. He did not escape from his country but left with Assad’s permission. True, Assad could have dismissed him under pressure of his advisers and his military. But we should not ignore the possibility that Assad could have assigned Tlass to work on a soft transition of the Syrian regime.
2. Until today, Tlass did not once call on Assad to give up his post and leave. He did not go beyond soft criticisms such as, “I don’t see a Syria with Assad from now on.”
Now, about his mission: That a leader has not yet emerged to control the Syrian National Council, the incessant bickering between internal and external-based opposition factions — and the continuing fragmentation of the opposition — inevitably prompts questions, which have exhausted the Friends of Syria group, as to how these people will rule post-Assad Syria. No wonder they are now searching for other options.
Tlass is a product of this search.
The handsome general’s road map is slowly taking shape. Never mind that a part of the opposition says, “There is no place for Baath officials or generals in the new era.” Syria’s friends, definitely the US, see the Syrian army as the sole guarantor of integrity and stability of the country.
That is why Tlass’ road map for a transition period calls for a Higher Military Council, or, as Americans call it, a “Reinforced Military Command,” that will include generals who have joined the opposition and those who remained loyal to the regime but do not have blood on their hands.
Alongside the military structure, a transition government will be set up. This government will include all opposition elements and members of the Muslim Brotherhood, who will not be allowed to dominate and purge elements of the Baath regime.
It is not possible to think of any other way. Mustafa Tlass, the general's father, was the untouchable and powerful minister of defense for Hafez al-Assad for 30 years, and therefore a key name of the Baath regime. Tlass the son grew up and advanced under that regime.
Nevertheless, no matter who says what, whether Assad is toppled or walks away, it won’t be easy to eliminate the Baath regime or to marginalize it out of hand.