The Dictator Wears Prada: Anna WIntour and the Banality of Evil

Lee Smith, Washington

Lee Smith

Poor Anna Wintour. It’s going to be a very good month for her enemies, because the latest issue of Vogue shows the rail-thin cultural icon and style arbiter to be well behind the curve on the biggest international fashion trend of the year. Arab democracy is in, and what’s out are Arab dictators—Ben Ali, Mubarak, and Qaddafi are just so, well, 2010. But in the March 2011 Vogue, Joan Juliet Buck pens a jaw-droppingly unctuous profile of the woman behind the tyrant who runs Syria, Bashar al-Assad’s glam wife Asma.

The famously fabulous Asma seems to pop up every month or so in some desperate newspaper’s style supplement, but with her own Vogue profile, Asma has hit the big time—Qatar’s Sheikha Moza must be crying herself to sleep. Of course the Buck article hits all the key details, like Asma’s do-gooderness and all the NGOs she funds—which is to say, Asma feeds Syrians the crumbs from the loaf that her husband stole from them.

This passage was especially rich, Damascus’s number one power couple dropping names, including the biggest name of all—Brangelina:

When Angelina Jolie came with Brad Pitt for the United Nations in 2009, she was impressed by the first lady’s efforts to encourage empowerment among Iraqi and Palestinian refugees but alarmed by the Assads’ idea of safety.

“My husband was driving us all to lunch,” says Asma al-Assad, “and out of the corner of my eye I could see Brad Pitt was fidgeting. I turned around and asked, ‘Is anything wrong?’ ”

“Where’s your security?” asked Pitt.

“So I started teasing him—‘See that old woman on the street? That’s one of them! And that old guy crossing the road? That’s the other one!’ ” They both laugh.

The president joins in the punch line: “Brad Pitt wanted to send his security guards here to come and get some training!”

That is funny—although unless Brad hires bodyguards with Hezbollah pedigrees, they’re going to be pretty freaked out with the training. It’s a classic fish out of water story-line—just imagine the look on the faces of Brad’s security guys when Syrian secret police offer to teach the Hollywood heartthrob’s bodyguards how to torture prisoners, or wire a car with explosives, or help jihadist groups get into Iraq to kill U.S. soldiers and our allies.

Having spent some time at Condé Nast several years ago, The Scrapbook is still mystified at how this sinister dreck passed muster. How exactly, we wonder, was the Assad puff-piece pitched to the editor? .  .  .

(Anna Wintour’s office, lunchtime)

Anna, nibbling on a DB Bistro Moderne hamburger: I don’t know, Joan. Isn’t Syria a state sponsor of terrorism?

Joan Juliet Buck: Terrorism is the new edgy, Anna.

Anna: I hated Carlos—my nightmare, a five-hour long movie about seventies’ hairstyles with revolutionary politics. Anyway, didn’t they just discover a second nuclear facility in Syria, right in the outskirts of Damascus?

Joan: John Kerry thinks Asma’s great. He’s her biggest fan in Washington.

Anna: Speaking of big hair .  .  .

Joan: Come on, Anna, he’s going to be the next secretary of state.

Anna: Look, I’m no fan of Miss Traveling Pantsuit, but Kerry’s been carrying water for the Syrians for two years and what do we have to show for trying to engage the regime in Damascus? Lebanon’s a mess, the Syrians are still trying to bring down Maliki in Iraq, and Bashar and that crew have got the Saudis more wired than a 19-year-old Brazilian model on a coffee and cigarette drip. And then where’s that Syria-Israeli track Fred Hof over at State keeps talking about? How’s that whole “peace park” on the Golan Heights working out? I don’t like it, Joan—let’s look for another profile. Doesn’t Clooney have a new girlfriend? Or what about something with Angie and Brad? .  .  .

Read this also: Vogue Defends Profile of Syrian First Lady by Max Fisher

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