The Magazine

Ambassador Wintour?

Jun 25, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 39 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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The Scrapbook has taken a certain perverse delight in the sudden prominence of Vogue editor Anna Wintour among President Obama’s more fervent admirers (see “The Obama Vogue,” June 18). If the Republican National Committee were searching for an unappealing image for the president’s reelection campaign—icy demeanor, vulgar wealth, condescending British accent, even villain status in the popular culture (The Devil Wears Prada)—it could not do better than Ms. Wintour. 

Photo of Anna Wintour

So readers may imagine The Scrapbook’s delight when the Guardian, which could hardly be described as unsympathetic either to Anna Wintour or Barack Obama, ran a breathless piece last week speculating that the appropriate reward for all her well-publicized labor on the president’s behalf might be appointment as the next United States Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s.

Of course, at first glance, it’s a preposterous idea. Anna Wintour might be a big deal in the world of haute couture, but no one has suggested that Project Runway’s Tim Gunn should succeed Hillary Clinton at the State Department. Wintour knows all about buzzworthy Vogue covers, and who’s hot and who’s not on the island of Manhattan. But Great Britain is an important ally of the United States, and if Anna Wintour knows anything about foreign policy, or transatlantic relations, she has kept it well hidden under her famous pageboy hairdo. 

On the other hand, the idea is not unprecedented. Professional diplomats—and the nation’s editorial pages—have long complained that presidents tend to award important ambassadorships to friends, campaign contributors, and politicians in search of a job, instead of to eligible members of the Foreign Service. But—surprise!—when Democratic presidents are in office, the editorial complaints are strikingly muted. In fact, in recent history, the Clinton administration was by far the worst offender, in terms of elbowing professional diplomats aside in favor of deep-pocketed friends; and the Obama administration has sent innumerable bundlers to plum embassies. Ambassador Wintour would be exceptional only in the sense that she’s a high school dropout, and her professional background (fashion editor) stands out among the usual business types and Wall Street financiers who become political diplomats.

And from President Obama’s point of view, it would no doubt make a certain sense as well. The Scrapbook doesn’t want to stick its toes into the conspiracy fever swamps, but there is some evidence that the president, for whatever reason, seems less than fond of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. 

One of his first acts, upon settling into the Oval Office, was to remove a bust of Sir Winston Churchill from the premises and ship it back to the British embassy in Washington. (The bust, from the collection of the British government, had been loaned to the White House after 9/11.) And when Obama met privately with Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace—an extraordinary honor for a visiting dignitary—he presented the eighty-something monarch with an iPod stocked with audio recordings of his own speeches.

Sending the formidable, but somewhat frightening, Anna Wintour to London might be just the kind of subtle gesture Obama would savor.

Losing One’s Marbles

Events shape attitudes, and ideas fall in and out of favor in response to facts and figures and contingencies. The Scrapbook, for example, has always believed that the movement for statehood for the District of Columbia—which Congress endorsed in the 1970s and which was strongly supported by the Carter administration—has never really recovered from the four-term mayoralty of Marion Barry. 

We were reminded of this the other day when our eye fell on a front-page story in the New York Times: “Greek Antiquities, Long Fragile, Are Endangered by Austerity” (June 12). The story, reported from Athens, explained how the Greek financial crisis has devastated museum security and archaeological budgets throughout the country, and could have adverse long-term consequences for endangered classical specimens. Already there are examples of artifacts being stolen from museums—there was an armed robbery in February in Olympia—and remote historic sites are suddenly vulnerable to development.

Which, in turn, reminded The Scrapbook of the movement that has gathered considerable steam in recent years to return the Elgin Marbles to the Parthenon from the British Museum in London. 

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