- The Washington Times - Monday, December 4, 2006

From the start of the Reagan administration through the first Gulf War, the most important, powerful and successful diplomat in the world was Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the United States. He remains a profoundly significant global player today.

William Simpson has produced an exceptionally valuable and sympathetic, but nuanced and fair portrait of this remarkable man. Mr. Simpson, who is British, is a lifelong friend of Prince Bandar’s since their days together in officer training at the British Royal Air Force College, Cranwell, but his work does not read as a hagiography. Instead, the book benefits from Mr. Simpson’s deep personal knowledge of this complex, talented and multilayered man.

Prince Bandar’s achievements, international credibility and continuing global clout are extraordinary, and transcend the normal definitions of political and international relations analysis. What other current or recent diplomat could expect to find two world leaders as disparate as former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Britain and former President Nelson Mandela of South Africa to provide glowing and appreciative forwards to a book on his life?

Prince Bandar, as Mr. Simpson documents in immense detail, was the key linchpin of the Saudi-U.S. alliance of the 1980s that transformed the world and played a leading role in the toppling of international communism and the fall of the Soviet Union.

The alliance was also the essential underpinning and prerequisite for the tremendous, world-transforming American economic recovery and unprecedented boom of the 1980s and 1990s. It ensured a cheap, reliable supply of oil to the industrialized world. Mr. Simpson makes a an overwhelming case for his contention that the Reagan administration was able to win the Cold War thanks to the flow of Saudi petrodollars financing crucial intelligence operations and political initiatives around the world.

Prince Bandar was also a consummate political operator. Mr. Simpson describes him as Machiavellian. In a sense this may be unfair to a man who was and remains a committed patriot and servant of his country, who was also committed to an enduring alliance with the United States and who opposed both Communist and extreme anti-Western Islamist forces.

But it is a fitting term to describe the skills and political shrewdness with which Prince Bandar operated. He always took the long-term view but was also adept at handling short-term tactical crises. He ranks with former Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin and late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin during the early 1970s as arguably the most successful and important foreign diplomat to serve in Washington over the past half century.

Mr. Dobrynin proved exceptionally skilled at fighting a rearguard action for Soviet influence and providing his government with able assessments of the reviving United States during the Reagan years. But Prince Bandar did far more. Like Mr. Rabin when he was Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir’s ambassador to Washington during the Nixon administration, Prince Bandar transformed the strategic prospects for his country almost single-handedly by the way he was able to negotiate cooperation on major issues for his own nation and the one to which he was accredited.

Anti-Western extremists who also wanted to topple the House of Saud hated — and still hate — Prince Bandar with a passion. A major strategic goal of the al Qaeda mega-terror attacks of September 11 was to discredit the Saudi government and leadership in the eyes of the American public and body politic, and in the short term they succeeded far too well.

In addition to its other major virtues, Mr. Simpson’s book is invaluable at discrediting and disproving the worst anti-Saudi conspiracy theories that have been circulated far too widely with far too much credulity over the past five years. At a time when U.S.-Saudi relations are again on the upswing, with both nations deeply worried about the regional challenge posed by a potentially nuclear armed Iran and the growing chaos in Iraq, “The Prince” is essential reading for this section alone.

But it is far, far more than that. Every foreign diplomat in Washington and every career official and political appointee in the State Department should read this book as an essential primer on how one of the most successful members of their profession in modern times got the job done. This is the best street-smart, experience-based assessment discussion of the art of diplomacy I have read since former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s famous work on the same subject. Highly recommended.

Martin Sieff, a former reporter for The Washington Times, is national security correspondent for United Press International.

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