The Magazine

Sultan of Spin

The dishonesty of Saudi PR flack Adel al-Jubeir.

Dec 16, 2002, Vol. 8, No. 14 • By DAVID TELL, FOR THE EDITORS
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NEEDLESS TO SAY, everyone in Washington politics and journalism is accomplished and popular and physically attractive. But even here, there are some among us whom Allah has clearly singled out for special blessing. And Adel al-Jubeir is one of them. He's the 40-year-old "foreign policy adviser" to Crown Prince Abdullah, managing partner of Saud and Sons, the well-established and widely respected Middle Eastern tyranny. You can't buy al-Jubeir's kind of luck.

For one thing, he's never been made to work at the home office, where business practices are a little old-fashioned and people can get stoned to death for "sorcery," stuff like that. Which is fine, don't get us wrong, it's just that back in the Kingdom an ambitious young Saudi fellow feels a bit, you know, confined. Not so in bohemian Denton, Texas, where al-Jubeir was fortunate enough to spend his college years at North Texas State University, studying economics with a then-unknown professor named Dick Armey. And not so, next, here in Washington, where over the past twenty years al-Jubeir, playing all-purpose fixer for the Saudi embassy, has quietly racked up a list of triumphs that few NTSU alums--and even fewer Arabian peninsula princelings--would ever dare dream of.

Item the first: According to the New York Times, in his spare time al-Jubeir serves as "an occasional escort" to NBC White House correspondent Campbell Brown. When this happens, Ms. Brown not infrequently exposes her face and ankles to public view. And yet she is never imprisoned as an embarrassment to womanly virtue. Nobody even spits on her! Ask yourself: Would the same be true were al-Jubeir's boss, the Saudi ambassador, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, to take a comparable stroll through the streets of Riyadh with his wife, Princess Haifa al-Faisal? How do you say "No way, José" in Arabic?

Item the second, speaking of Princess Haifa: It's lately become news that she has a beautiful soul--such that she routinely gives away huge sums of money to perfect strangers. One such stranger, a year and a half ago, was a Saudi woman to whom the princess sent thousands of dollars in personal checks, for "medical treatment." Some part of which boodle then made its way, through a cut-out, into the hands of two men, also Saudi, who soon crashed a large airplane into a building called the Pentagon.

An unfortunate coincidence, to be sure. Also a tad suspicious, you might think. Not to worry, though. Prince Bandar has asked Adel al-Jubeir to reassure his well-placed American friends that Princess Haifa's contribution to mass murder was "inadvertent"--and that Saudi Arabia, as much as any country on earth, remains a staunch American ally against terrorism. This reassurance al-Jubeir has now delivered, at an embassy press conference last Tuesday and during follow-up interviews with all the leading television personalities. Adel al-Jubeir is suddenly a star.

His reviews have been excellent. He is "dapper," "dashing," "polished," "earnest," "well-tailored," and "ultra-modern." He "beguiles." He is "the Sultan of Spin." And this is just the sober stuff, from the unimpeachably serious Post and Times.

The thing of it is, though--and this is the part that makes you think al-Jubeir leads a truly charmed existence: He's actually a lying sonofabitch.

No, we don't pretend to have proof that Princess Haifa deliberately helped pay for one of the September 11 hijackings. We doubt whether that kind of conclusive evidence will ever emerge, one way or the other. And we don't think it matters, either, because the already available evidence is plenty bad enough. What does it mean, after all, that Saudi Arabian royalty could be but two short steps removed from the bank accounts of suicide pilots who murdered nearly 200 U.S. government employees? Can anyone imagine having to ask such a question about the first political family of any other American "ally"?

Nor do we intend to waste ink pointing out how preposterous it is for al-Jubeir to insist that his country--home of bin Laden, and 15 of the 19 hijackers, and most of the Taliban detainees at Guantanamo, and all of official-export Wahhabi dogma that fevers such creatures in the first place--is free of blame for reactionary Islamic terrorism. Technically speaking, of course, this claim is a falsehood. But nobody could possibly be stupid enough to believe it, so we'll let it pass.

However. One thing al-Jubeir said at his press conference cannot be let go. This, first, because for sheer audacity it can hardly be topped. And, second, because this particular piece of "polished," "ultra-modern" mendacity likely sailed--completely unrecognized--right over the heads of even the most intelligent people who witnessed it. The controversy in question is not one a lot of people are familiar with. Which is a shame. The subject is important.