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Right Turn
Posted at 12:05 PM ET, 04/26/2012

Diplomats’ delusion on Damascus

The Post’s Paul Farhi has an important piece in the Style section regarding a profile in Vogue magazine’s March 2011 issue of Asma al-Assad, the wife of the mass murderer, which praised her in cringe-inducing terms (“glamorous, young, and very chic — the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies”). Farhi writes: “The 3,200-word article apparently proved so embarrassing to the magazine that it scrubbed it from its Web site, an almost-unheard-of step for a mainstream media organization and a generally acknowledged violation of digital etiquette.”

I can’t say I’m surprised by a dopey fashion magazine that is marinated in liberal elite culture and served up to its wealthy urban readers.

But Farhi missed the mark on what was a sort of throwaway line. He writes that the article “drew widespread surprise and ridicule, especially among Washington’s foreign-policy community, which had long regarded Syria as a regional troublemaker and leading violator of human rights.” Hmm, really?

In fact it was the Washington liberal foreign policy community that, for years, had fancied Bashar al-Assad as a constructive player in the Middle East. It was President Obama, in the face of overwhelming criticism from conservatives, who commenced a fawning engagement of Assad. It was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who persisted in calling him a “reformer” as the bodies were piling up.

Lee Smith wrote the month after the Vogue piece:

Even as recently as March 16, Kerry praised the Syrian president for the generosity he personally extended to the former Democratic presidential candidate during his half-dozen visits to Damascus over the last half-decade. And at the State Department, there’s Syria hand Fred Hof who, according to former Washington policymakers, doesn’t like hearing ill spoken of this murderous regime lest it shatter his dreams for an Israeli-Syrian peace deal — and his pet project, a “peace park” in the Golan Heights.
Still, self-delusion regarding Syria has been going on for years in Washington — regardless of which party is in office. The George W. Bush Administration spent several years trying to offer inducements to get the Syrian regime to alter its behavior, before it finally withdrew the U.S. ambassador to Damascus over Syria’s suspected involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. When Bush’s rivals wanted to take him on, Syria was one of their favorite venues. Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, for example, made a memorable shopping tour through the charmed arcades of Damascus’ markets while the Syrians were killing U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

The personification of the “foreign policy community,” Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), and his heiress wife famously and repeatedly hobnobbed with and flattered Assad and his spouse. Smith wrote in 2010 that “it is an open secret around town that the Massachusetts senator and his wife, Teresa, are enamored of Bashar al-Assad and his stylish first lady, Asma.”

I don’t mean to focus only on Democrats. There is a long line of Republican “realists,” from Henry Kissinger to James A. Baker to Brent Scowcroft, who were convinced we could woo Assad away from Iran. They too traveled to Damascus to try sweet-talking Assad, although less lavishly than Kerry and the Mrs. This was largely a bipartisan delusion of the same people who have gotten foreign policy (from the fall of Communism to the purported “stability” afforded by tin-pot dictators) largely wrong for decades.

Unlike the author of the Vogue article, Joan Juliet Buck, however, Clinton, Kerry, Baker, Kissinger and Obama are still taken seriously by some. Indeed, if Obama gets a second term, it is widely expected (or was until the body count rose in Syria) that Kerry would replace Clinton at Foggy Bottom.

So shame on Vogue and Buck. But let’s not rewrite the history books. American liberals and Republican realpolitikers were every bit as sycophantic and deluded as Buck. Fortunately, their morally detestable and strategic blunder won’t be erased from history. That, I am confident to say, will be a blotch, a bloody one at that, on their records.

By  |  12:05 PM ET, 04/26/2012

Categories:  foreign policy, Human Rights, Media

 
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