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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Influential Go-Between for Two Unlikely Allies By BARRY GEWEN

Those who take pleasure in reading about foreign policy because it’s like a chess game played in three dimensions will find much to savor in “The King’s Messenger,” David B. Ottaway’s account of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the longtime Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States. The Saudi Arabia-America relationship isn’t chess so much as string theory, with 10 or 11 dimensions. Here are two allies that have struggled to maintain close ties though they have almost nothing in common. Every agreement between them has been fraught with contradiction. Every push has produced a pull.

Managing this awkward and potentially combustible quid pro quo has required energy, intelligence, sensitivity and a large dollop of deviousness. Prince Bandar, who arrived in Washington as a lobbyist in the late 1970s and served as his country’s ambassador from 1983 to 2005, was the right man in the right place. George H. W. Bush’s secretary of state James A. Baker spoke of Prince Bandar’s extraordinary influence, along with his “aura of charming roguishness.” The Middle East expert Dennis Ross called him indispensable at times, but also “probably part con man.”


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