Keith Kyle

Keith Kyle is on the staff of the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

If not in 1997, soon after

Keith Kyle, 21 July 1994

It was one of the more gratuitous blunders of John Foster Dulles when he was Secretary of State to respond to a question about the unwillingness of Saudi Arabia to allow any American Jew to set foot on Saudi soil by alluding to the Saudi conviction that a Jew had been responsible for the murder of the Prophet Muhammad. Although based on an aberration, the story illustrates the extraordinary tangles that democratic countries generally, and the United States in particular, get into as a consequence of their commitment to this strange desert country named after its dynasty and ruled almost entirely by a quite numerous upper class wholly generated from the loins of its founding father, King Abdul Aziz, better known in the West as Ibn Saud. Saudi Arabia was said in the Senate to be ‘scorning basic American interests’, which meant both human rights and Israel. Americans then and since have been obliged to explain that the weapons they were supplying to the Saudis would not work against, for example, Israel yet would come in handy to deter the Soviet Union.

The Forty Years’ Peace

Keith Kyle, 21 October 1993

Early in 1983, when the newly founded Social Democratic Party was acquiring policies by holding study groups, one of these was devoted to East-West relations. At its first session a musty-looking gentleman called Sir John Lawrence proposed that we begin from the assumption that the decline of the Soviet economic system had passed the point of no-return. Any policy recommendations must therefore reckon with the consequences of its collapse within the next few years and the implications of its replacement. Either from genuine scepticism or out of a primitive dread of hubris and what follows from it, the panel did not swallow Lawrence neat. We thus lost the full benefit of almost the only accurate prediction then to be heard concerning the future of the Eastern bloc.

Lacking in style

Keith Kyle, 25 February 1993

The late Lord Caccia, who had the misfortune to arrive in Washington as British Ambassador in November 1956 just as the ‘special relationship’ hit its all-time low with the abrupt American-driven ceasefire on the Suez Canal, was much given in later years to recalling how flabbergasted he had been by an encounter he witnessed on the 17th of that month. He had accompanied his Foreign Secretary, Selwyn Lloyd, to the Walter Reed Hospital in Washington to visit the American Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who had been discovered to have cancer during the week of the Suez war. Towards the end of the conversation, Dulles suddenly asked ‘Selwyn, why did you stop? Why didn’t you go through with it and get Nasser down?’ The British visitors fell apart with astonishment. ‘It you had so much as winked at us …’ Lloyd gasped. Although there is no American account available of this conversation, the record of a bedside visit by President Eisenhower five days earlier shows his Secretary of State making an almost identical remark.

As seen on TV

Keith Kyle, 26 September 1991

For many people the BBC Foreign Affairs Editor John Simpson, who stayed behind in Baghdad when Armageddon was scheduled to begin, was the civilian hero of the Gulf War. The only thing that may have puzzled them was his title. How could a man edit reports coming from all quarters of the globe if he deliberately isolated himself under conditions of siege? On this matter From the House of War provides little help, except for a passing reference to the author’s ‘rather empty title’, which apparently carries important psychological impact when dealing with Iraqi (and other) civil servants, perhaps pandering, in the case of the Iraqis, to their notion that the whole world ought to be edited from Baghdad. One advantage of Simpson’s position is that in a crisis he seems to be able to post himself wherever he wants to be and to stay on, albeit with a scratch team, even when instructed by the BBC to leave. ‘You’ll have to get yourself a new foreign editor, then,’ he growled on being told to leave Baghdad, admitting now that he had been ‘probably much too heavy-handed in my response; I usually am.’ A large part of his motive was ‘the fact that I was writing a book’.

Baghdad’s Ruling Cliques

Keith Kyle, 15 August 1991

‘Colonel van Ormer has a forceful personality,’ lamented Brigadier Lushington, head of the British Services Mission in Iraq, of his new American colleague in October 1954. ‘I suspect that he has been “hand-picked”. If he is to be believed, he is being given a very free hand indeed. He talks very big.’ The aggrieved brigadier, charged with managing the operational end of what had been, since the creation of the state of Iraq at the conclusion of the First World War, an exclusive relationship between Britain and the Iraqi Armed Forces, was not disposed to ‘belittle the seriousness of this American invasion’. This was a ‘potential threat to British military influence’.

Scram from Africa

John Reader, 16 March 2000

Tom Mboya, a leading minister in the Kenyan Government and widely spoken of as the man who would succeed President Jomo Kenyatta, was shot dead on a Nairobi street on Saturday, 5 July 1969....

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Hook and Crook

Peter Clarke, 15 August 1991

There was a message on the piece of paper which fluttered to the floor when someone opened the door of the Commander-in-Chief’s room: ‘Hooknoses’ D-Day – 29 Oct.’...

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