When I read Troy Senik’s recent post and learned that President Obama is thinking about nominating Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue, as our ambassador to London or Paris, my first thought was that neither of these two capitals is appropriate. I do believe that, if justice were to be done, Anna Wintour really would be given an ambassadorship. And, in my judgment, she would be the perfect person to represent us in Damascus. She is certainly well connected.
To see what I have in mind, all that you have to do is to pull off your shelf the March, 2011 issue of Vogue, which features a profile of the Syrian dictator’s wife entitled Asma al-Assad: A Rose in the Desert. Alas, I am afraid that, if you click on the link I just provided, you will get a page on the Vogue website in which you are told, “Oops, the page you are looking for cannot be found.” Not to worry, however. although Anna may not want you to see her handiwork, it has been preserved for your delectation by some opponents of Bashar al-Assad at this easy to find site.
It begins, as you can see, by telling us that “Asma al-Assad, Syria’s dynamic first lady, is on a mission to create a beacon of culture and secularism in a powder-keg region – and to put a modern face on her husband’s regime.” As I explained in a post on Ricochet at the time, the lady in question is everything that Vogue readers are supposed to admire:
“glamorous, young, and very chic – the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies. Her style is not the counture-and-bling dazzle of Middle Eastern power but a deliberate lack of adornment. She’s a rare combination: a thin, long-limbed beauty with a trained analytic mind who dresses with cunning understatement. Paris Match calls her ‘the element of light in a country full of shadow zones.’ She is the first lady of Syria.”
Now I will readily admit that Bashar al-Assad has an eye for the ladies. If we are to judge by the photographs taken by James Nachtwey for Vogue, we have to admit that Asma al-Assad is easy on the eye. “Dark-brown eyes, wavy chin-length brown hair, long neck, an energetic grace. No watch, no jewelry apart from Chanel agates around her neck, not even a wedding ring, but fingernails lacquered a dark blue-green.” You get the picture: a classy dame – well worthy of your admiration – what every woman wants to be, and what every man desires.
One has to wonder, nonetheless, just how much her husband’s minions paid Vogue to have Joan Juliet Buck write regarding Syria that “it’s a secular country where women earn as much as men and the Muslim veil is forbidden in universities, a place without bombings, unrest, or kidnappings” and to remark that “Asma’s husband, Bashar al-Assad, was elected president in 2000, after the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad, with a startling 97 percent of the vote.”
Of course, Ms. Buck is not stupid. She provides herself with ample cover. When she speaks of Syria as “the safest country in the Middle East,” she acknowledges that “the State Department’s Web site says, ‘the Syrian government conducts intense physical and electronic surveillance of both Syrian citizens and foreign visitors,” and she prefaces her discussion of Assad’s election with the observation that Syria’s “shadow zones are deep and dark.” But this literary maneuver is not only self-protective; it also serves to increase the Syrian tyranny’s allure. Who, after all, would not want to explore “shadow zones” that are, ahem, “deep and dark.”
I will not spoil all the fun. You can read the article for yourself. In it, you will earn about Asma’s education in computer science, her career at JP Morgan in London, the beginnings of her whirlwind romance with the son of the president of Syria, and their marriage nine years ago not long after he succeeded his father. You will be told about the visit of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, and you will be taken on a tour of the apartment Asma shares with Bashar and their children. You will be told that “the household is run on wildly democratic principles.” It is all quite endearing.
So, say I, let Anna Wintour have the honor she deserves. Send her to Damascus to cavort with the Syrian dictator and his beautiful bride in those “shadow zones” that are so “deep and dark.”