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Sympathy for the Sympathizer

From the Scrapbook.

Aug 13, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 44 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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The Scrapbook admits to a twinge of grudging sympathy for Joan Juliet Buck. Last week the fashion magazine writer published an apologia in Newsweek, “Mrs. Assad Duped Me,” trying to explain why she wrote a fawning and shockingly stupid profile of the Syrian dictator’s wife for Vogue last year. Published only a few weeks before the Syrian uprising started, “Asma al-Assad: A Rose in the Desert” was roundly criticized in these pages and elsewhere for its obsequious posture toward a couple that had secured its Vogue-worthy privileged lifestyle by spilling the blood of others. Now Buck is wrestling with her conscience in public, which is to her credit.

President and Mrs. Assad

President and Mrs. Assad

“I landed in Damascus in the snow late on the night of Dec. 12, 2010,” she writes in Newsweek. “The next day a large woman pulled my toes and cracked my back with indifferent dexterity in the Hammam Amouneh, where the flagstones were worn soft by eight centuries of unbroken use. .  .  . [I]n the dark early-evening streets, I felt uneasy. Mustached men stood in our path, wearing shoes from the 1980s and curiously ill-fitting leather jackets over thick sweaters.”

A spa treatment, an exotic locale, and minute attention to clothing (does anyone else remember, or care, what men’s shoes from the ’80s look like?). It appears that even the chastened Buck cannot help but see a bloody police state as the subject of a potential destination article. She claims now that “she didn’t know she was going to meet a murderer”—meaning Asma’s husband and Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad—but that’s absurd. There was plenty of evidence of Assad’s bloodlust before Buck went off to Syria. But it has to be said that those facts were available to all the others, including big-name journalists and American officials, who sought an audience with the Assads, and Buck’s the only one who has come clean.

And that may be why Buck alone is under attack for cozying up to the Assads. The fact is, the others are as guilty, if not more so, than she is. Barbara Walters, Bob Simon, Brian Williams, and Scott Pelley are among the many journalists who flattered Assad for the sake of trying to secure an interview, even as the bloodbath in Syria was under way. But who is calling them to account? As speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi visited Assad in 2007. Yes, that’s well before the body count in Syria ballooned—upwards of 20,000 killed since March 2011—but American intelligence had already made public the fact that the regime in Damascus was facilitating the murder of U.S. troops in Iraq. Apparently, Pelosi’s enthusiasm for a man she, too, knew was a murderer is now just water under the bridge. 

There are countless others who deserve to be censured along with Buck. Hacked emails from the Syrian regime show that former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk was chummy enough with one of Assad’s advisers that he asked her to host a few of his friends from Washington. But that hardly tarnished the former Clinton administration official’s reputation. Just last week Indyk was invited to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the Obama administration’s policy -toward—of all places!—Syria.

Chairing the committee is John Kerry, who for years plumped the Assad regime as a potential U.S. partner in the region, despite its depredations against its own citizens and its hand in killing Lebanese, Iraqis, Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans. Kerry, as gullible as the author of celebrity profiles for a fashion magazine, was rumored to have been mesmerized by the charming Asma. And unlike Joan Juliet Buck, the Massachusetts senator will probably pay no reputational price. Although The Scrapbook will do its best to remind people if Obama wins come November, and Kerry is poised to become America’s next secretary of state. 

Wallowing in Watergate

The Scrapbook has a morsel of comforting advice for readers. If you want an idea of just how -depressed and panicky the left is feeling these days, consider the following breathless item in the Washington Post’s Style section last week:

Yep, that’s actor Robert Redford and celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz in the Washington Post newsroom Tuesday. The pair teamed up with Ben Bradlee, Bob Woodward and Carl Bern-stein for a Watergate 40th anniversary Vanity Fair shoot and Discovery documentary executive produced by Redford. We tried to ask Redford and Leibovitz about the projects but .  .  . they weren’t talking to reporters.

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