PUBLISHED IN THE POST MAY 24 ,2007
Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal
Intrigues are not always within the confines of the palace even if the instigator happens to be a royal. Bandar Bin Sultan answered his calling of a fighter pilot, performed diplomatic duties as a Prince and crossed the threshold to a world of Intrigue when required, a world where the East and West unite when bound by common interests.
William Simpson’s biographical account of Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, son of the Saudi Defence Minister, revisits well known historical events, directing attention towards the unacknowledged facts of history and hitherto unseen involvement of a Prince in matters of national (Saudi) interest and international significance.
Though a Prince, Bandar Sultans beginnings were anything but ‘Princely’ but the controversy shrouding his birth could not bar this enterprising youngster from rising to great heights.
Obsessed with flying, Bandar graduated from the Royal Air Force College at Cranwell, was commissioned in the Royal Saudi Air force and trained in the US of A. The end of Bandar’s auspicious flying career marked the start of a remarkable political one which saw his seemingly effortless integration through impressive diplomatic cum language skills and a familiarity with the American way of life.
Diplomatic skills notwithstanding, Bandar found himself in un chartered waters for his lack of political experience, for Capitol Hill is a place where one engages in battles of a different cadre altogether, with Saudis on one side, a seemingly invincible and a ‘highly effective well organized lobby’ the American Israel Public Affairs Committee-APIAC on the other with ‘recurring obstacles, objections and rejections’ along the way, barring sales of advanced weapons to Saudi Arabia. The Prince’s strategy was effective in pushing the sale of this advance fighter aircraft and at a later stage, the AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control Systems) to Saudi Arabia while his presence ‘actively challenged the AIPAC through ‘an organized Arab lobby’ and thus earned the respect and friendship of President Carter and his own King with grudging admiration from enemies. This and the resolution of Panama Canal Treaty Bill led to Bandar’s eventual take over as a Military Attaché to Washington and the Kings special envoy.
Bandar stood apart from other diplomats with his ‘unique access to Washington’ and friendship with the Bush family. They say he was the ‘only ambassador with this kind of a role’ and his presence provided a definite tactical advantage which secured the AWACS deal.
The ease with which Bandar has forged lasting diplomatic relations with Presidents and senior government officials seems extraordinary. Known for his forthrightness, albeit a certain degree of guile, this prince seems to be a mass of contradictions and the scope of his involvement in affairs of global interest span over two decades, his reach, transcends borders.
As the Saudi Arabian ambassador to USA, Bandar’s ‘flair for diplomacy and negotiation’ made him privy to many operations and It has been suggested that a ‘US Saudi covert, cooperation’ caused the eventual end of Soviet Union, the Cold War and defeat of Qaddafi’s Libyan Armed Forces. The book touches upon Bandars controversial part in the Iran Contra affair ; clearly, the affluence of the Kingdom, Bandar’s sway with Americans and reliance of US foreign policy on Saudi petrodollars won the Afghan War and affected a myriad of other issues.
Still, an alliance with USA did not deter Saudis from making a clandestine missile deal elsewhere when required especially as America refused to equip the Kingdom with ballistic missiles for fear of Israel’s safety. Bandar played his part in keeping this deal from Americans for a considerable time period and similar lack of US military support in some other areas left the door open for Saudis to seek fresh military partnerships where the Prince masterminded and secured further landmark military deals.
That Bandar ‘precipitated the first Gulf war’ comes as a revelation which bears out his position as a master strategist; true that on several instances, shades of the Machiavellian prince surface, offset by Mandela’s words describing Bandar as a ‘man of principal, conscience and moral correctness’ or the esteem in which Margaret Thatcher, President Carter, Reagan and Bush Sr. hold him. In fact, the diversity of his friendships is rivaled only by the diverse roles he has had to assume in life.
Bandar’s life is inextricably linked to the peace process in the Middle East and the possibility of being asked the question “Grandpa, why did you fail solving the damn thing?” continues to haunt him.
Some two decades and a grueling schedule later, even as he resigned as ambassador, Bandar realized that he will always remain the one ‘to perform missions essential to Saudi Arabia’ as he took on the position of a Secretary General of National Security Council(NSC) and resumed shuttle diplomacy on behalf of his country.
Bandar Bin Sultan wears the mantle of a skilled diplomat, an able statesman and a Bedouin Prince; and with such perfect ease.
This ‘unofficial biography’, in the words of the Prince, with Foreword by Nelson Mandela and Baroness Margaret Thatcher is now available in all leading book stores of the country.
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