In 2005, Riyadh recalled Bandar bin Sultan, who was for 22 years the Saudi ambassador in Washington. Now it appears that bin Sultan is back in business, this time as head of intelligence for the Kingdom. At the Weekly Standard, Elliot Abrams gives us a profile of this larger-than-life figure:
Bandar is no bureaucrat; he is in fact the antithesis of the careful follower or enforcer of rules, or the manager of a large bureaucracy. He is a special mission guy, skilled in personal diplomacy: What Bandar achieves he achieves himself, not by devising plans and schemes for others.
Bandar’s independence of mind and failing health (he liked to drink) probably caused his earlier recall. But with a whirlwind of changes throughout the Middle East, Saudi Arabia doesn’t want to be left in the dust. Now the Kingdom has decided to bring back its secret weapon to help manipulate events in its favor.
[Bandar is] an energetic and experienced player who can match anyone in the Arab world for charm, a network of contacts, and the financial resources of a rich government. Bandar is a spinner of webs, a dealmaker, a man who—assuming he is healthy—can bring Saudi views and interests back to the center of Arab decision making as well as the inner circles in many other world capitals.
In many ways, Bandar is the Saudi equivalent of the widely missed diplomat Richard Holbrooke. And like Holbrooke, Bandar has the capacity to change the course of the river rather than to drift gently downstream with the current. This could be a game-changer in the Middle East.