The presidential election in U.S. is entering its final straight. America stands still in anticipation of the first TV debate between Democrat Hillary Clinton and her Republican rival Donald Trump at the Hofstra University on September 26. It is likely to be a gripping debate, considering the previous remote communication of the two candidates and their mutual harsh criticism.
Eccentric Trump and vigorous Clinton are a real discovery for the local show makers. It is another case, how these politicians will behave if elected as president of U.S. – a military super power with incurable feeling of its exceptionalism. This arouses concern of Washington’s foreign partners, especially the one in the Middle East, the center of the one of the most worrisome trends of geopolitical processes. Much will be depending on the next president of the United States within the coming four years. In his fight against ex-secretary of state Clinton, billionaire politician Trump focuses on the failed policy of the Democratic Administration in the Middle East region. Before the beginning of 2013, Clinton was directly involved in the development of the United States’ policy in the area stretching from the Sinai Peninsula up to the Persian Gulf. Consequently, she is responsible for the failure of that policy. Trump blames her for the failed policy in the Middle East and his party representative in the Congress share his views. On September 22, a few days before the first televised debate, John McCain, an influential senator representing Arizona in the Congress, once Barack Obama’s rival at the presidential election, harshly criticized the president merely touching the ex-chief of the Department of State under whom the “Arab Spring winds started blowing” in the Middle East.
According to McCain, “the final assessment of the Middle East policy of the current U.S. administration headed by President Barack Obama will make in the future descendants and historians. But, in my opinion, it is obvious that it is a complete failure.” Here is how the Republican assessed the actions of the president whose term is expiring in January 2017. McCain blamed Obama for seeking to pivot away from Middle East, “one of the most strategically vital regions of the world.”
"Over the past eight years, this administration has overseen the collapse of regional order in the Middle East into a case of chaos where every country is a battlefield for regional conflict, a party to that conflict or both," he said.
Trump and his supporters inherently claim that Obama and Clinton were behind the “vacuum” created in the Middle East that was filled by "all of the worst actors" in the region. Within eight years under the Noble Prize winner president, the United States got much more enemies in the region of their traditional strategic interests. As for Washington’s friends, they began reconsidering their relations with it.
These seemingly simple Middle East-related “claims” of the Republicans to Democrats are in fact very important for the pre-election specifics of America, as they influence the thoughts and moods of voters very accurately. All the latest public opinion polls revealed that most often Americans consider the Daesh terrorist group among the key threats to their security. The main bases of Daesh are located in Syria and Iraq, but Daesh has reached the minds of its local adherents who have already launched a series of terror attacks against the citizens of that military superpower.
As Trump says: “Obama and Clinton are ‘co-founders’ of Daesh.” With their failures in the Middle East, they paved the way for the little-known group “Islamic State of Iraq” (since 2013 – “Islamic State of Iraq and Levant”, ISIL) to become the absolute evil in the world.
Trump’s programs in the Middle East differ from others with their rationality. To fight the heritage Obama and Clinton have left – “poverty and violence at home, war and destruction abroad” (in Trump’s words), U.S. needs to focus on three things. “We must have the best intelligence-gathering operation in the world. We must abandon the failed policy of nation-building and regime change that Hillary Clinton pushed in Iraq, Libya, Egypt and Syria. Instead, we must work with all of our allies who share our goal of destroying ISIS and stamping out Islamic terror,” Trump said.
The Republican candidate has opposed his “now and promptly” to the Democratic administration’s “later and slowly.”
Many leaders of countries and governments, representatives of the monarchic families in the Middle East are ready to agree with Trump in many, if not in all, issues. Besides their domestic problems and direct regional threats, they are concerned over the person of the new head of the White House. They have to deal with either Trump who speaks the truth, but seems unpredictable or Clinton, who is generally predictable, but her Middle East policy has failed. The bureaucracy is not happy with such choice either. They will have to “live” and some “to get along with this” within the coming four years…
The preferences of the Middle East countries when it comes to choosing between Trump and Clinton vary significantly. There are two key criteria: the previous experience of ‘coexistence’ with the democratic administration and expectation of prospects. Here is what the Middle East countries choose in general.
Saudi Arabia is for the female president in U.S. Hardly Al Saud Family likes everything in Clinton. At least, the Saudi authorities will face some religious issues every time meeting her at the highest level. Ms. Clinton will hardly agree to cover her head or observe other rules of communication with the royal family. However, all this is nothing comparing to what Riyadh may face if Trump comes to power.
Clinton is a very predictable politician for the Saudis unlike her rival, indeed. As secretary of state, she gave no reason for the Arab monarchy to cast doubt on her reliability. The recently emerged facts saying that Saudis sponsor Clinton’s election fund are hard evidence that they prefer Clinton.
In autumn 2013, the U.S. administration rejected its Arabian ally’s aspirations for military intervention into Syria causing certain chill in the Washington-Riyadh relations. Clinton left her post of the secretary of state a few months prior to that (she joined Department of State in Jan 2009 and left it in Feb 2013). This means that Saudis have reasons to anticipate a return to the solidarity of the U.S. and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East.
Another important circumstance for Al Saud Family is Clinton’s absolute commitment to respect the interests of the “ally No.1” in the Persian Gulf. Obama vetoed the law permitting the relatives of the victims of the September 11 terror attacks to sue Saudi Arabia. That law was passed with an unprecedented unanimousness in the Congress. Riyadh hopes Clinton will continue the line of her predecessor if she managed to leave Trump behind, the more so as the Saudi funds sponsor her campaign.
Among others, Clinton has always been committed to the expansion of the military and technical cooperation with Saudi Arabia that has consumed the military and industrial products of U.S. for decades.
As for the nuclear deal with Iran, Clinton’s stance is close to ideal for Saudi Arabia. Trump was an outspoken critic of that deal. He even called the nuclear deal with Tehran “shame” for the U.S. At present, his rhetoric has softened certainly. As for Clinton, she backed the nuclear deal generally promising to follow closely how Tehran will be implementing its commitments. Saudis prefer Clinton’s formula “do not trust and test” to Trump’s rhetorical statements against the nuclear deal.
Iran’s top leadership has quite different stance on Clinton’s possible presidency. “What is bad for Riyadh is good for Tehran.” Yet, things are not so easy.
For Iranians and their geopolitical rivals in the Gulf, Clinton is interesting as a predictable person. Meanwhile, Trump is unpredictable. He may unleash a military confrontation with Iran “at full” or strive for peace with that Shia country even more than Obama did. Nevertheless, Trump is interesting to certain representatives of power in Iran. A tycoon on the post of the U.S. president may mix the cards of many players in the Middle East, and the cards of the traditional allies of U.S. – Saudis and their closest partners, first.
The next presidential election in Iran is set for May 19 2017 and Trump’s victory would give the Iranian Conservatives, representatives of the all-mighty security chiefs, a big opportunity to beat the Iranian reformists and moderate conservatives headed by incumbent president Hassan Rouhani. Generally speaking, the person of the new president in U.S. is not of extreme importance for Tehran. Whatever the outcome, the American-Iranian relations will hardly attain a new quality, the more so as Iran does seek any drastic changes. Clinton will continue Obama’s policy on Iran but much more carefully. As for Trump, the Pentagon, CIA and other departments will not let him turn from Iran’s enemy into its partner, even if he seeks to.
Egypt took a pragmatic stance. President of that country Abdel Fattah el-Sisi expressed his stance while on a working visit to New York where they are waiting for the first televised debate Clinton/Trump and hosting the 71st session of the UN General Assembly. The Egyptian leader met with both the candidates and later he shared his thoughts on CNN.
Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said Donald Trump would "no doubt" make a strong leader. The Egyptian president became the first Muslim leader to meet with Trump, who is known with his contradictory and drastic initiatives against Muslims (particularly, he suggested banning Muslim migrants from entering U.S.). Despite this, the Egyptian president expressed confidence that if elected Trump will revise his promises in line with the reality and not election sentiments.
In his interview with CNN, el-Sisi made a “political compliment” to Clinton too. Asked if Clinton will make a good president, the Egyptian leader said: "Political parties in the United States would not allow candidates to reach that level unless they are qualified to lead a country the size of the United States of America." As Western media write, Clinton is not the favorite of the Egyptian government considering her policy on their country. Suffice it to say that in 2015, Clinton called the president of Egypt a “military dictator.”
They in Cairo have not forgotten that, but they do not focus on the loud statements of the Democratic candidate either. The next U.S. leader should court the leadership of Egypt and not the other way around. Egypt that successfully fights terrorism in North Africa should expected human rights-related claims from Obama’s female successor. However, this will little affect the real policy. Whatever the outcome, U.S. needs normal relations with Egypt. On September 22, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi quite clearly expressed that viewpoint to the American audience.
Israel’s choice is evident. Benjamin Netanyahu’s Cabinet considers Obama as one of the “most failed” presidents of U.S. for the Jewish state. This negative attitude originated from the formula of the Palestinian-Israeli settlement (“two states for two peoples”) that Obama’s administration has been pushing through within the last eight years. The prime minister of Israel is, to put it mildly, not well disposed to Clinton either. Besides the Palestinian problem, Tel-Aviv’s negative attitude to Clinton is connected with her involvement in the nuclear deal with Iran. The political intuition helped Trump use that chance and squeeze the maximum out of Israel’s attitude towards Democrats in the White House. In his nomination acceptance speech on July 21, Donald Trump called Israel “the greatest ally” of U.S. in the Middle East.
Many in Israel are inclined to believe that he will be a friend of the Jewish state. Israeli press wrote on those summer days that Trump has repeatedly voiced his support to Israel and blamed Obama’s administration for ignoring the interests of Washington’s greatest ally in the region. Israelis are impressed with the fact that the potential president of U.S. considers them as victims in the conflict with Palestinians and Arabs, generally. Trump’s advisors have already assured Tel-Aviv that if elected their chief will revise Obama’s promises to establish a Palestinian state.
It is hard to say if Israel will really benefit if its “best friend” is elected president, but it will be much easier for the Israeli government to deal with Trump rather than Clinton.
Turkey stands alone. Ankara has no serious reasons to consider Clinton or Trump as its “friend or enemy.” The Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan still sees U.S. traces in past summer’s military coup attempt. Whoever comes to power in U.S., Turkey will be wary of its U.S. ally.
Nevertheless, Ankara considers Clinton a more predictable person making political decisions. She had quite trustful relations with the Turkish leadership (when Ahmet Davutoglu was the foreign minister of Turkey). Trump has no such relations with Turks, as they like Saudis seek to start building relations with the tycoon politician and his team with a clean slate.
In addition, the Republicans in power in U.S. have always been active in the hostilities in the Middle East building trustful relations with, for instance, Kurds in the region neglecting Ankara’s interests. This is another reason for ambitious Erdogan who fights Kurds in its territory and on the border to be wary of Trump. Besides geopolitics, there is a “human factor” too: it will not be easy for emotional Erdogan to deal with impulsive Trump.
In the meantime, it is not likely that Fethullah Gulen - the Islamic preacher who is accused by the Turkish government of organizing the military putsch in Turkey - will be extradited from U.S. under Clinton or Trump. No administration in the White House will refuse from such lever of influence on Ankara even after the failed coup. Therefore, Turks do not anticipate any positive changes of the political climate for them. They will have to live with the U.S. interests in the Middle East from time to time facing pressing issues and acute contradictions.
EADaily’s Middle East Bureau