Thursday, December 31, 2009

I respect David Ottaway

I did not have time to write about David Ottaway's book, The King's Messenger. But I will publish a long article in Arabic about it in Al-Akhbar. I respect this man. He is the only one who covered Prince Bandar and Saudi royalty without being seduced by them and by their fancy banquets and extravagant lifestyles. Bob Woodward is a court jester for Prince Bandar, and his wife, wrote a most hagiographic profile of Bandar for the New Yorker in 2003. Ottaway is too serious a journalist to be seduced by power. When I was a graduate student in DC, I used to voraciously attend all seminars, conferences, and panels dealing with Middle East issues. I used to watch David Ottaway: he was always serious and diligent. He is careful and and always came prepared and asked sharp questions. There many books that deal with Prince Bandar (and there is an official biography of Bandar by a British member of his entourage), but this one is not an official biography. It is extremely critical and draws a picture of a compulsive liar and fabricator, and even raises questions about his mental health. When Bandar makes a claim, Ottaway (unlike Woodward and Walsh) checks and verifies. And he exposes the lies of Bandar at different places in the book, like when he claimed that Ronald Reagan as a campaigner endorsed Carter's sale of F-15s to Saudi Arabia, or that Bandar was behind Reagan's recognition of the PLO. Interestingly, he reveals how King `Abdullah was so pissed at Bandar, how he nixed the special documentary on King Abdullah that started to air on Al-Arabiyya and suddenly without explanation, it stopped airing. Ottaway explains that `Abdullah watched the first installment and was disgusted that Bandar used the program to talk about...himself. I just wish that Ottaway spent time, more than a passing reference, to speak about the Yamama arms deal. Or that he inspected the false claim by Bandar that Saudi Arabia urged Arafat to accept the Barak offer at Camp David (this bogus claim first appeared in the article by Walsh, and it has no evidence. My information is that Arafat asked Saudi Arabia's king and Mubarak for advice, and both were too afraid to urge him to accept, so they did not speak one way or another. I checked this week with a source, who also verified from a Clinton's administration source that neither Saudi Arabia nor Egypt urged Arafat to accept). There is more to say but no time alas and tomorrow I am leaving for Lebanon. Bye. Oh, those who want to know about US-Saudi relations, should read David Ottaway. And he is a good writer.