April 26, 2003

Colin Powell's Racquetball ...

Colin Powell's Racquetball Buddy Bandar: The story of a decades-long friendship between the American secretary of state and the Saudi ambassador, told in four acts, as excerpted from Powell's My AmericaA>.

Act 1: 1978. Young Colin meets the dashing royal for the first time. He's impressed.

We were in a briefing room at a Saudi Arabian fighter base at Dhahran listening to the commander instruct his pilots when the door flew open and a Saudi officer wearing a flight suit and a checkered scarf strode in. He was only a major, but something about his presence sucked up all the authority in the room. He was introduced to Duncan and me as "Major Bandar." I was meeting my first Saudi royal, Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, son of the minister of defense and aviation, nephew of King Fahd, and a man who would eventually become the oil kingdom's ambassador to the United States.
Act 2: 1979. The two become racquetball partners. Powell is thrilled to be pals with a man who has servants.
About a year after this first encounter, Bandar was living in Washington and attending the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. We started playing racquetball together at the Pentagon Athletic Club, he and I against Charles Duncan and General David Jones, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I remember Prince Bandar coming out of the POAC after our first game. He had a gym bag slung over his shoulder. He flicked it off with a shrug, and an aide materialized out of the woodwork and caught it. The prince extended his hand into empty space, and pulled it back with a Coke can in it. It is good to be a prince, I thought. In the years to follow, we would often work together, and the vast social gulf between us began to shrink until the familiarity between the kid from the South Bronx and prince from a royal palace approached the outrageous and the profane.
That's one way of saying it! Act 3: 1990. With Gulf War I brewing, the first Bush Administration haggles with Bandar over use of Saudi territory. Powell recalls some of his pet nicknames for the prince.
Later that day, President Bush and Scowcroft spoke with Prince Bandar, my old racquetball partner, now Saudi ambassador to the United States. They wanted Bandar to understand the threat his country faced and to know that we were prepared to come to its aid. Afterward, Scowcroft called Cheney at the Pentagon. Bandar was coming over, he said, and we were to give him another dose of reality. On his arrival at Cheney's office, Bandar played his usual Americanized, jaunty fighter-pilot role, drinking coffee from a foam cup and stirring it with a gold pen. Ordinarily, we addressed each other in terms bordering on the obscene, with my printable favorites including "Bandar the Magnificent," and "Bandar, you Arab Gatsby," while he called me "Milord."
Act 4: November 1990. While visiting American troops in Saudi Arabaia, Powell discovers that his 11-year-old friendship is not enough to prevent Bandar the Magnificent from imposing all kinds of ridiculous and intolerant restrictions on the U.S. soldiers protecting Saudi Arabia. Doesn't seem too mad about it.
At one point, Prince Bandar warned me, "No Bibles." "Are you kidding?" I said. We were being inundated with Bibles from religious groups, and I could imagine the military trying to tell these folks, "The Arabs will take your sons, but not their Bibles."

"Saudi customs officials will have to confiscate the Bibles," Bandar insisted. We finally worked out a deal whereby we flew the Bibles directly to our air bases, while Saudi officials looked the other way.

Then Bandar informed me that no religious services could be held on Arab soil for our Jewish troops. "They can die defending your country, but they can't pray in it?" I asked.

"Colin, be reasonable," he answered. "It will be reported on CNN. What will our people think?"

We found a practical solution. We planned to helicopter Jewish personnel out to American vessels in the Persian Gulf and hold Jewish services aboard ship.

Bandar also worried about crucifixes. I told him our soldiers would be ordered to wear them inside and not outside of their T-shirts.

Posted by at April 26, 2003 11:29 PM
Comments

Disgusting.

What else is there to say.

Posted by: Howard Owens at April 26, 2003 11:35 PM

I see a rich source of parody here. Remove Powell from the relationship, and substitute another famous person, and Bandar and I has zany laff-riot potential.

Posted by: Steve Smith at April 27, 2003 09:11 AM

Steve:
Great observation. Sort of a multicultural "Odd Couple." Is Neil Simon still alive?

Posted by: SMGalbraith at April 27, 2003 09:21 AM

How about Green Acre?

"You are my mullah...
Goodbye Prince Abdullah!"

Posted by: scott h. at April 27, 2003 02:55 PM

Matt:
I'm sure you saw the piece but I'll mention it anyway: Daniel Pipe's article on Saudi influence-peddling in the Spring(?) or Fall issue of the National Interest. Has a couple of items quoting you on the issue. Think it is the current issue; National Interest website is just unworkable.

Ability of the Saudis to literally buy influence is astonishing. Very critical piece by Pipes. Interesting that he was recently name to a position in the W.H., much to the consternation of CAIR. Guess Prince Bandar and Dr. Pipes won't be sitting near each other during any official W.H. dinners.

SMG

Posted by: SMGalbraith at April 27, 2003 07:29 PM

SMG -- Thanks for the reminder; I needed to go to the magazine peddler anyway, cuz my Havel deal is in The Week. Hoo-ray! Pipes is a controversial fellow, though I've never read anything unreasonable by the guy, and I haven't followed the controversy.

I sure would like to visit Saudi Arabia, considering how many nasty things I've written about the place. The two things I worry about, in order: 1) Sure, bash the Saudi government, but how 'bout a *practical* solution, pally? And 2) What if my lack of intimate personal knowledge has created a terrible blind spot in my analysis? Just thinking out loud here....

Posted by: Matt Welch at April 27, 2003 08:04 PM

Matt,

Your concern #1 is well put. One solution would be to have a State Department that believed in liberalization of the Mid-East and was nudging the Saudi's in that direction. But read the Pipes article and you'll understand why this won't happen, and why concern #2 is utterly unwaranted.

Posted by: Richard A. Heddleson at April 27, 2003 08:28 PM

If anyone's interested, here's the URL for the Pipes article:

http://www.danielpipes.org/article/995

Posted by: Eric at April 27, 2003 09:06 PM

Matt-
Depressing. Is this perhaps the case of the reasonable person in the Bush administration trying to be reasonable where reasonableness is unwarented? I know I'm stretching here, but if I have to cross Powell off of my list of "potential good guys"... well, there's really no one left in the Bush administration.
-Decnavda

Posted by: Timothy Roscoe Carter at April 28, 2003 11:12 AM

Tim -- I think many people invest too much in Colin Powell. The lefties and Europeans tend to think he's the last reasonable guy, the neo-cons and Gingrichites think he's the last obstructionist. Both may contain elements of truth, but I think it's also the nature of the State Department, which is designed, after all, to spend its days talking with other countries.

As for Powell's Bandar buddy-ship, he's hardly alone. That doesn't excuse him, at all, but it illustrates again the extent to which Bandar has ingratiated & intertwined himself with our ruling elite. It seems to me an incredible weak spot, begging to be exploited by a Democratic challenger.

Posted by: Matt Welch at April 28, 2003 11:42 AM

Shortly after I arrived in Saudi for the 1st Gulf War - mid August 1990 - I recall a young USAF female junior NCO driving a aircraft Tug stopped by a member of the "religious police" (Mutawa?) Everything was fairly cool until he - here accounts vary - "tapped" "struck" "hit" her with some kind of stick. She took the stick away from him, broke it and kicked the shit outta him. There were a few other incidents in the early days before both sides were able to separate the military women from the theocratic thugs.

I also remember watching a young Saudi AF officer following a USAF female ai, 2003 03:52 PM

T. Hartin -- I think the Dems' hands are dirty, but not as dirty as the Bushites. The kind of construction, oil and military business that has regular ties with Saudi Arabia have much stronger Republican ties than Democrat. Bandar likens himself to a Republican, and jokes about Democrat presidencies putting him in exile (though he continues to have strong influence). He was never known as "Bandar Clinton."

I suspect, though this is only a half-cocked suspicion, that Democrats are not eager to be seen as anti-Arab.

Posted by: Matt Welch at April 28, 2003 04:19 PM

Powell, along with Baker, & Frank Carlucci, are charter members of the Carlyle Group; the boutique
investment banking firm, staked with Saudi oil money; as is AOL/TW, Citigroup, & News Corp (by
Jew-baiting Prince Talal. Who replaced the late
Suleiman Olayan, who arraigned a similar deal,
a generation earlier with William Simon pere He'll probably return to the Carlyle Group, if not back to AOL/TW. Practically anyone including Armitage would be an improvement. Bandar has probably outstayed his welcome, but his
replacement (eq; Prince Turki, Bill Clinton's
old GeorgeTown classmate,) who provided a similar
function as prince Talal, for the Taliban, and
some say Al Queda, wouldn't be much of an improvement

Posted by: narciso at April 29, 2003 07:51 PM
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too much to expect for W to fire Powell, and wouldn't solve the problem in any case. But holding his nuts to the fire while he cans Armitage and the minions at the Near East desk would definitely be called for. Great stuff from Hogue.

Posted by: Lloyd at April 28, 2003 03:06 PM

The reason why the Dems won't take the Bush administration to task on this is that their hands are just as dirty, and right now Bush has a hell of a lot more street cred than any Dem when it comes to dealing with mideast miscreants. I'm not sure, at this point, that any sensible Dem wants to spend any time talking about the mideast - it foregrounds the Dem's biggest weakness and the Repub's biggest strength, at least for now.

Posted by: T. Hartin at April 28, 2003 03:52 PM

T. Hartin -- I think the Dems' hands are dirty, but not as dirty as the Bushites. The kind of construction, oil and military business that has regular ties with Saudi Arabia have much stronger Republican ties than Democrat. Bandar likens himself to a Republican, and jokes about Democrat presidencies putting him in exile (though he continues to have strong influence). He was never known as "Bandar Clinton."

I suspect, though this is only a half-cocked suspicion, that Democrats are not eager to be seen as anti-Arab.

Posted by: Matt Welch at April 28, 2003 04:19 PM

Powell, along with Baker, & Frank Carlucci, are charter members of the Carlyle Group; the boutique
investment banking firm, staked with Saudi oil money; as is AOL/TW, Citigroup, & News Corp (by
Jew-baiting Prince Talal. Who replaced the late
Suleiman Olayan, who arraigned a similar deal,
a generation earlier with William Simon pere He'll probably return to the Carlyle Group, if not back to AOL/TW. Practically anyone including Armitage would be an improvement. Bandar has probably outstayed his welcome, but his
replacement (eq; Prince Turki, Bill Clinton's
old GeorgeTown classmate,) who provided a similar
function as prince Talal, for the Taliban, and
some say Al Queda, wouldn't be much of an improvement

Posted by: narciso at April 29, 2003 07:51 PM
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