Adel al-Jubeir: The (Now) Behind the Scenes Diplomat

by Editorial

After he’d finished his conversation with al-Jubeir, Charlie Rose asked his next guest, Charles Krauthammer, for his reaction. Grinning, the columnist said, “That was one of the best spin jobs since the Clinton Administration.”

After both the interviews and the name-calling had become less frequent, the man who spoke for Saudi Arabia slipped back under the radar, getting mentioned only for such things as dating CNN correspondent Campbell Brown. Then, in late 2006, came a double thunderclap of news. The first was that Prince Turki al-Faisal, who’d been the Saudi ambassador for just 15 months, abruptly resigned. The second was the announcement that his replacement was not to be another member of the royal family but the cool and competent 44-year old al-Jubeir himself.

Since presenting his credentials to President Bush in February 2007, the new envoy has probably visited him more often than any other, according to sources close to the embassy. Today, al-Jubeir is seldom sighted, especially in comparison to five or six years ago, when he was a regular at hotspots like Georgetown’s Café Milano. He prefers to operate behind the scenes, focusing on intime dinners for small groups of major movers and shakers at his palatial residential compound overlooking the Potomac in McLean. As for job performance, he has been more than simply competent, as visits to Saudi Arabia by top level officials in the Bush administration are at an all-time high.

Vice President Dick Cheney, who made a highly publicized visit to Saudi Arabia in 2006, has returned to the oil rich desert kingdom twice since then. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a visit in January, as did President George W. Bush, who returned in mid-May. Other political bold-faced visitors include Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman and Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff. Exactly how much of the credit for the increase in the very VIP treks to his homeland can be attributed to al-Jubeir is unknown, but the names and numbers speak volumes. On a different level, since Adel al-Jubeir became ambassador, there’s been a marked increase in the number of Saudi students now studying in the U.S. – currently some 20,000 according to embassy sources.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia (2001-2003) Robert Jordan, today a law partner at Baker & Botts in Dallas, has been an Adel al-Jubeir watcher since 2001. Jordan told Washington Life, “He has a very well-developed background for being an ambassador. His father was a diplomat, he lived in Germany, and he has an advanced degree from Georgetown. So he’s been oriented, pretty much all his life, toward a diplomatic and international relations career. He’s not a member of the royal family, but he certainly has great access to king Abdullah.”

Conceivably, he could even develop a Kissinger-type role, and in some ways has done so already. He is flying back to Riyadh regularly because the King doesn’t like to use telephones or other means of communication – he prefers face-to-face. He has also participated from time to time on trips to other countries as an envoy to lay the groundwork for the king’s own diplomatic efforts and he frequently serves as interpreter at these meetings.” (He is fluent in Arabic, English, and German.).

Al-Jubeir is also serious about contemporary history, but that is not to say he doesn’t know how to relax and have a good time. As vigorous an exercise buff, he plays squash and racquetball and skis in both Aspen and the Swiss Alps. And, like many a royal prince, he’s fond of horses – but, his have two wheels instead four legs. His favorite pastime is to join pals and drive through Middleburgh into the hills of Virginia on one of his several Harley-Davidsons.

Another subject Al-Jubeir has studied, is the U.S.. He came here at 16 to attend the University of North Texas, where he graduated summa cum laude before pursuing an M.A. in International Relations at Georgetown (where former Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan discovered and recruited him for the Saudi foreign service). The results of that study can be seen in his frequently-quoted statement that, “Unless you understand the importance of the local high school football team and the values of a small town in America, you will not understand this country.”

His swift rise has been described as “meteoric.” Watching the rest of the trajectory should prove to be equally eye catching, yet, not as flashy.

Related Articles