The Rose of Damascus and Money Laundering

rose.jpgPaul Rahe over at Ricochet has a great post about Vogue’s suck-up to Asma al-Assad, wife of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. The mild-mannered opthalmologist has, Paul concedes,

an eye for the ladies. If we are to judge by the photographs taken by James Nachtwey for Vogue, we have to admit that Asma al-Assad is easy on the eye. “Dark-brown eyes, wavy chin-length brown hair, long neck, an energetic grace. No watch, no jewelry apart from Chanel agates around her neck, not even a wedding ring, but fingernails lacquered a dark blue-green.” You get the picture: a classy dame – well worthy of your admiration – what every woman wants to be, and what every man desires.
One has to wonder, nonetheless, just how much her husband’s minions paid Vogue to have Joan Juliet Buck write regarding Syria that “it’s a secular country where women earn as much as men and the Muslim veil is forbidden in universities, a place without bombings, unrest, or kidnappings” and to remark that “Asma’s husband, Bashar al-Assad, was elected president in 2000, after the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad, with a startling 97 percent of the vote.”

He speculates that

In short, Asma al-Assad is the Saif Gaddafi of Syria, and she is peddling to the American press the same snake oil that her Libyan counterpart sold to that gullible “internationally renowned political theorist” I wrote about last week. When I read of her achievements, I cannot help but suspect that the Syrian and Libyan tyrants are advised by the same public relations firm, and I wonder just how often the “internationally renowned political theorist” taken in by the debonair son of Muamar Gaddafi has been taken for a ride by the lovely bride Bashar al-Assad brought from London to Damascus.

Interesting! I thought when I read that.
It reminded me of a rumor I heard lately from a Syrian. No idea if it’s true, just one of those on-the-grapevine things. He was telling me that owing to pesky post-September 11 regulations, those who prefer discretion in their banking have taken their money out of Switzerland and put it in Damascus. Why Damascus? Apparently, Asma’s charm–and her background, which allows her to talk banking with unusual credibility–have transformed Syria into the fashionable place to launder your money. Or at least to keep it away from prying, awkward questions.
Makes me wonder if Paul’s theory might be slightly off. Perhaps it’s not so much that there’s a skillful PR firm behind Asma as that she is herself the skillful PR firm behind Syria. That’s the rumor, anyway. Of course, this being the Middle East, someone will always say that about the woman who’s married to the guy who’s really in charge. But this seems more plausible in her case than it usually does.

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