Rumor has it that President Obama is considering Vogue editor Anna Wintour to be his second-term nominee to be U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom. After World War II, well-known public figures and intellectuals such as W. Averell Harriman, Walter Annenberg, and Kingman Brewster, Jr., have held the post. In recent decades, however, presidents have transformed the top slot into a plumb reward for top donors. Leading the London Embassy has become more about style than diplomacy. George W. Bush, for example, chose Robert Tuttle, who had raised more than $200,000 for the president. For his first term, Obama chose Louis Susman, a top fundraiser.
Wintour may be pushing pay-for-position rewards a bit too far. The problem isn’t her fundraising, but rather her judgment. Syria remains a top foreign policy concern for the United States and, should Bashar al-Assad’s forces use chemical weapons, it could be the source of the 3 a.m. phone call Obama fears most. As editor of Vogue, however, Wintour published the infamous and groveling profile of Asma al-Assad, Bashar’s wife. She defended the piece for months, even as Assad’s forces committed the most grizzly abuses against Syrian men, women, and children, refusing to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants. In recent months, Wintour sought to distance herself from the profile, and removed it from the Internet.
Dictatorships should never be chic. Judgment matters. Wintour lacks it, and if Obama nominates her for any post, he will signal to Syrian dissidents and those suffering under dictatorships the world over that the United States does not take their plight seriously.