Category Archives: Foreign Policy

Getting Real About Pakistan After the Jihadist Takeover of Afghanistan

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 20 August 2021

Khalil Haqqani, a senior Taliban leader and simultaneously a leader of Al-Qaeda’s Haqqani Network, leads Friday prayers at the Pul-i-Khishti, the largest mosque in Kabul, 20 August 2021

When the Taliban swept into the capital of Afghanistan on Sunday, little of the coverage focused on Pakistan and yet that was where this victory was made. This is a pattern that has persisted throughout the war. Continue reading

Joe Biden Chose Disaster in Afghanistan

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 16 August 2021

The Taliban took over Afghanistan’s capital on Sunday after a nine-day offensive captured one provincial capital after another. The United States had already decided to abandon the country, and without the US the other NATO states had no choice but to leave. It was quite clear that the Afghan state would crumble in the absence of a Western presence, though it seems President Joe Biden thought he would have a longer “decent interval” before the Saigon evacuation scenes and the massacres began. Continue reading

The Trouble With “Ending Forever Wars”

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 12 August 2021

In early July, President Joe Biden confirmed his intention to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by September 2021. Biden cited a February 2020 U.S. “agreement” with the Taliban that he had “inherited” from the Trump administration. In truth, President Donald Trump had made no agreement. He had already begun pulling troops out by October 2019 and signed a fig leaf to cover his unconditional withdrawal.

Biden reassessed other Trump policies and could have reassessed this one, not least since the Taliban were in violation even of their vague paper promises — most notably on their commitment to deny space to al Qaeda and negotiate peace in good faith. The truth is that Biden is ideologically committed, as Barack Obama and Trump were, to ending American involvement in “forever wars.” Regardless, this does not mean those wars end or the threats that drew the United States in actually go away. Continue reading

The History of “Central Europe”

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 7 June 2021

The Idea of Central Europe: Geopolitics, Culture and Regional Identity (2018), by Otilia Dhand, is an engaging and rather ambitious book, a work of intellectual history. Dhand’s core argument is that from the introduction of the term “Central Europe” in the nineteenth century, it did not describe a set geographical zone and the definition was always contested since the term was an attempt to construct local identities, a self separate from some other, as an instrument in the pursuit of geopolitical interests, always revisionist: these were attempts to will something into existence by influencing political behaviour. Continue reading

The Darker Side of the Western Enthusiasm for “The Kurds”

A version of this article was published in The Arab Weekly

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 24 November 2019

Solider from the Syrian regime holds up a portrait of Bashar al-Asad and a Syrian national flag, another stands by the Kurdish YPG/PKK flag, in Kobani, 18 October 2019. (AFP)

Mustafa Bali, head of the press office for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the coalition partner against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria, sent a tweet on November 14 showing Turkey’s Arab proxies engaged in “ISIS chants.” By this, he meant the takbir, “God is Great,” an expression used by Muslims every day. When criticised, Bali doubled down and blocked many critics. This was a microcosm of one of the darker threads in an SDF messaging strategy that is among the most effective propaganda campaigns on record. Continue reading

Trump’s Middle East Failure Was Made By Obama

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 19 November 2019

President Barack Obama meeting President-elect Donald Trump, 10 November 2016 [image source]

October 2019 may well remain in the popular memory as the inflection point marking the collapse of America’s — and by extension, the West’s — position in at least the northern Middle East. Having been thwarted twice before in efforts to leave Syria, in March and December 2018, President Donald Trump made one more try. For many, ‘Trump betrayed the Kurds’ will be the summary of the events that followed as Turkey made a swift move into the vacuum. The reality is a lot more complicated, and in truth the amount of blame that Trump can take for the events of the last month is rather limited. This catastrophe was baked into the policy of Barack Obama, and Trump’s main fault is to have followed the policy track laid down by his predecessor. Continue reading

Collision or Collusion for Turkey and America in Syria?

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 1 October 2019

U.S. President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the opening ceremony of the NATO Summit in Brussels, July 2018 // Getty Images

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had said earlier in September that he would discuss the problems between Turkey and the United States when he met with the U.S. President Donald Trump on September 25, as part of his trip to New York for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly. But neither side has revealed what was discussed and if anything was resolved. Continue reading

British Strategy in the Gulf as Iranian Aggression Escalates

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) and Rob Clark (@RobertClark87) on 26 July 2019

A speedboat and a helicopter of the Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Navy move around a British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero, 21 July 2019. (Hasan Shirvani/Mizan News Agency via AP)

The series of provocations in the Gulf by the Islamic Republic of Iran, beginning with the sabotage of four vessels in mid-May, culminated last Friday in the illegal seizure by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) of the British-flagged and operated Stena Impero oil tanker, followed shortly thereafter by the seizure of the Liberian-flagged, British operated MV Mesdar in the Strait of Hormuz. Only the Mesdar has been released. This episode has served to demonstrate the serious defence issues confronting Boris Johnson, the incoming United Kingdom (UK) Prime Minister, which have to be dealt with immediately and cannot be pushed off into the future when the domestic turbulence over Brexit has abated. Continue reading

Turkey Balancing Between America and Russia

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 22 July 2019

U.S. President Donald Trump and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meeting during the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, 29 June 2019 [image source]

The delivery of the first parts of the Russian S-400 anti-missile missile system to Turkey on 12 July has brought the crisis in the Turkish-American relations to a head. This long-simmering problem is intertwined with America’s and Turkey’s policies in Syria, specifically where the latter is responsive to the former, which has resulted in as serious rift within NATO and exposed Turkey to pressure from the Russian government. Continue reading

The Trial: The St. Petersburg Metro Attack Reaches Court in Russia

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) and Oved Lobel on 14 July 2019

Abror Azimov in court in Moscow in April 2017 [photo source] and Mukhamadyusup Ermatov [photo source]

When defense officials from Russia, the U.S. and Israel met for an unprecedented trilateral summit in Jerusalem recently, it was in large measure another attempt by U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to put into practice their long-running belief that Russia will help them deal with Iran and perhaps other counter-terrorist issues in Syria. Continue reading