Yesterday the Washington Post inexplicably published a piece about the Vogue profile of Syrian first lady Asma al-Assad—a profile published in March 2011. It’s inexplicable because it’s old news: Vogue removed the story, titled “A Rose in the Desert,” from its website long ago—and the fact that the glossy magazine was embarrassed by the timing is well known. Only a few weeks later Mrs. Assad’s charming husband went on a bloody rampage that, with about 10,000 dead so far, shows no signs of abating.
The Post piece, by Paul Farhi, does contain one revelation, however: The author of the profile, Joan Juliet Buck, is suffering from a deep psychological wound in the aftermath. According to the Post, she told NPR last week that “the children who appeared in the Vogue photos probably weren’t the Assads’ real children, but decoys planted for security purposes.”
Child decoys? What can Buck possibly be thinking? The Assads are paranoid, but as the hacked trove of emails released three months ago show, they’re also maniacally vain. Given the evidence of the last year, they’d much sooner slaughter the children of others than have them sit in for their little darlings. Besides, what does a man with a military, paramilitary, and terrorists at his bidding have to fear from Vogue readers? Maybe Buck, as the former editor of French Vogue, has some sort special insight regarding subscribers and knows that Arab intelligence services get information about their enemies from glossy Conde Nast titles. Otherwise, there can only be one explanation for Buck’s bizarre conjecture: the Assad regime makes people delusional.
Consider the premise of Vogue’s remorse: The article was ill timed and embarrassing because Assad would soon thereafter respond to the uprising with brutality. However, it should have been obvious to anyone with even a modest understanding of reality that the regime in Damascus was capable of rape, torture, and murder—all of which it openly practiced well before the uprising. The regime not only brutalized its domestic opponents for years, but also exported its violence to its neighbors—Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Israel—through its support of terrorist groups, like Hezbollah, the PKK, Hamas, and al Qaeda. Damascus International Airport served as a transport hub for foreign fighters making their way into Iraq to kill American troops. But apparently none of this mattered before Vogue dispatched Buck off to chronicle the glamour of the Assads.
Vogue was not alone: Even after the onslaught kicked into full gear, plenty of journalists wanted to meet with the first family of Syria. Bob Simon’s producer at 60 Minutes wrote that the show would be “be most honored to have President al Assad on our program”—honored, five months after Syrian streets started to run red with blood.
But it’s not just journalists who lose perspective when it comes to dealing with Syrian regime. It’s also U.S. policymakers and Middle East experts. Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post offers an important corrective to her colleague Farhi’s assertion that Washington’s foreign policy community “had long regarded Syria as a regional troublemaker and leading violator of human rights.” Wrong, Rubin counters, the best and brightest were all on the Assad bandwagon.
From the worthies who authored the Iraq Study Group to Gen. David Petraeus, from Jim Baker to Bill Clinton, from John Kerry to Barack Obama, everyone wanted to engage Assad. What they thought was sophisticated diplomacy—convincing Assad of his true interests—amounted to nothing more than missionary work. The number of policymakers and Middle East analysts who argued against warming up to Assad—who cited his past record and identified the trail of blood that led back to his door, and who showed that the Syrian president was a serious problem and that American interests, as well as regional stability, would be best served by Assad’s demise—is so small that it couldn’t fill out the bench of an NBA team. And in any case, they were all dismissed as ideologues—like George W. Bush, who unconscionably withdrew the U.S. ambassador from Damascus after Assad was believed to have had former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri assassinated.
Assad deserves no credit for conning the U.S. foreign policy establishment, for the foolishness, the empty talk, and the vanity is all self-generated. And it goes on. Some Republican Senators, like Richard Lugar and Bob Corker, can’t decide if America should still be demanding Assad’s exit. Corker says he thinks “it's odd to state as a national policy that we want to see Assad gone.”
In the meantime, the slaughter continues apace, while the Obama administration has handed its Syria policy off to Russia, under the umbrella of the Annan plan, the evil consequences of which can be partly gleaned in these two videos.