"Washington is a political town, and I'm a political animal," says Al-Sabah, whose most recent social coup was a blockbuster party at the Kuwaiti embassy featuring First Lady Laura Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Hollywood headliners Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. George Stephanopoulos emceed, Rice played the piano, and Roberta Flack crooned for the crowd. And by establishing herself as the single power hostess able to lure White House insiders from their social bunkers, this super-chic ambassador's wife proved that George W. Bush's bubble could be popped, at least a little bit.
"She's brilliant at networking," says social veteran Selwa "Lucky" Roosevelt, voicing what many Washington hostesses most admire about Al-Sabah. "She has everyone there and she is not polemical or judgmental. She really knows who everyone is and what they do."
Al-Sabah is also fearless about pushing the social envelope on Embassy Row. At one of her parties, she had Karl Rove blushing as a sexy Arabic folk dancer writhed in front of him in her less-than-seven veils. For another, held in honor of the Swedish ambassador, Jan Eliason (who had just been named president of the U.N. General Assembly), she hired a live band to sing Abba classics. Then there was last spring's party for Colin Powell and Angelina Jolie, which was timed precisely at the moment the actress made headlines all over the world for her relationship with Brad Pitt.
Now, the wife of the Kuwaiti ambassador Salem Al-Sabah is getting a lot of notice herself. As one Washington social puts it: "In the early days, a lot of the other embassy wives tried to compete with her. Now, everyone else has given up."
Her gift, friends say, is in wrangling celebrities, mixing Republicans and Democrats, and making them feel welcome — even if the First Lady and the secretary of state refused to show up until all had taken their seats. Perhaps so they wouldn't have to confer with the hoi polloi or possibly deal with pesky questions about what Rice subsequently described as the administration's "thousands" of "tactical errors" in Iraq.