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Syria, Vogue, and the Apologia of Joan Juliet Buck

It's now 17 months since Vogue published its cover-story paean to the first lady of Syria, "Asma al-Assad: A Rose in the Desert." Readers were treated to a profile of Asma up close, "the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies," a dazzling paragon of understated style and philanthropic works, "on a mission to create a beacon of secularism and culture in a powder-keg region -- and to put a modern face on her husband's regime." Asma, "glamorous, young and very chic," was featured playing with her kids, whipping up home-cooked fondue with her jeans-clad husband, "the off-duty president," and urging millions of Syrian youth to engage in "active citizenship."

That was February of 2011. The following month, Syrians began engaging in a lot more active citizenship than the Assad regime evidently had in mind, rising in rebellion against the dynastic tyranny in Damascus. For 16 months now, abetted by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Syrian regime has been fighting back -- with heavy weapons, arrests, torture and butchery, mutilating and murdering even children. To date, an estimated 19,000 or more Syrians have been slaughtered, and the killing continues.

Now, at long last, comes a recantation of sorts from the author of Vogue's "Rose in the Desert," Joan Juliet Buck.  To call it a full-throated apology would be inaccurate. Buck appears genuinely appalled by the carnage with which the Assad regime itself so swiftly and utterly discredited her labors to give it a fashion-plate human face. But her deeper sympathies seem reserved for herself, and her woefully bad luck that her Asma profile -- which closed with President Bashar al-Assad, surrounded by singing children, ringing a peace bell --  came out just before the monstrous character of the Assad regime hove into full view in the international headlines. (After a blitz of criticism last year, Vogue scrubbed the article from its web site, though you can still find a copy here.)

"Joan Juliet Buck: Mrs. Assad Duped Me" is the headline of Buck's new take on Asma al-Assad, published in the current edition of Newsweek, with an accompanying essay by Tina Brown on "Syria's First Lady of Hell: The real story behind the notorious interview."

In Buck's new version of her encounter with the Assads at home, we are now enjoined to see Buck as the victim. She tells us she set off, at the urging of her longtime editors at Vogue, to have a cultural adventure -- after all, "when else would I get to see the ruins of Palmyra?" Besides, as she notes, she was taking a road to Damascus already trodden by such pioneers as Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Senator John Kerry, Sting, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, and Francis Coppola; as well as a public relations firm hired by the Assads, Brown Lloyd James (which took care of her Syria visa).