What will Trump do?

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS - By Dr James J Zogby

Com­men­tary on the US elec­tions has shifted from post­mortems to pre­dic­tions; from how did Don­ald Trump win, to what will he do now that he has won. Pro­ject­ing what any Pres­i­dent-elect will do is of­ten a fool’s er­rand and in Trump’s case is made even more dif­fi­cult by the fact that it’s not at all cer­tain that he knows what he’ll do.

Run­ning a gov­ern­ment is dif­fer­ent than run­ning for of­fice. Cam­paign­ing is, at least on one im­por­tant level, an in­di­vid­ual sport. A can­di­date can go out and say what­ever works for an ador­ing au­di­ence. Gov­ern­ing, on the other hand, re­quires a com­pe­tent and com­pli­ant team ef­fort and the abil­ity to man­age or adapt to many com­pet­ing so­cial and po­lit­i­cal re­al­i­ties. As a re­sult, turn­ing prom­ises into pol­icy of­ten in­volves messy com­pro­mise.

It al­ready ap­pears that the Pres­i­dent-elect is tem­per­ing or even walk­ing back from many of the po­si­tions he ar­tic­u­lated dur­ing the cam­paign. Re­mem­ber the “big beau­ti­ful wall that Mex­ico will pay for”? Well, it now ap­pears that it won’t ex­actly be a “wall”, but very tough se­cu­rity at the border - and Mex­ico won’t be pay­ing for it af­ter all. And not all eleven mil­lion un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants will be rounded up and de­ported, only the two to three mil­lion who have crim­i­nal records - some­thing Pres­i­dent Obama has al­ready been do­ing. Sim­i­larly, af­ter be­ing briefed on the pro­vi­sions of “Oba­macare”, Trump now ap­pears to have con­cluded that, in­stead of scrap­ing the whole thing, there are some good as­pects of the leg­is­la­tion that should be pro­tected with im­prove­ments be­ing made to make health care more af­ford­able. It even ap­pears that he is ap­proach­ing the once re­viled the “Iran Deal” a bit more cau­tiously, sug­gest­ing that in­stead of tear­ing it up, he may opt for more stren­u­ous en­force­ment.


The re­al­ity is that far from be­ing the cap­tain of the team, a pres­i­dent is of­ten the cap­tive of his team and of the world, as he finds it. In the first in­stance, the pres­i­dent must rely of the in­for­ma­tion he re­ceives from those who he has ap­pointed, just as he is de­pen­dent on their abil­ity to ex­e­cute his di­rec­tives. That is why it is im­por­tant to see who Trump ap­points to sen­si­tive Ad­min­is­tra­tive posts. While all we know about the Pres­i­dent-elect’s views are his top-of-mind pro­nounce­ments de­signed to elicit cheers at cam­paign ral­lies, his early ros­ter of key staff ap­point­ments can pro­vide some in­di­ca­tion as to the di­rec­tion his Ad­min­is­tra­tion may take on im­por­tant is­sues. The fact that many are hard­line ide­o­logues is cause for con­cern.

The other fac­tor that must be con­sid­ered are the so­cial and po­lit­i­cal re­al­i­ties that set the stage for the new Pres­i­dent. While Pres­i­dents set agen­das for their Ad­min­is­tra­tion, they are of­ten judged not by how well they do in ac­com­plish­ing the agenda they set, but in how ef­fec­tive they have been in re­spond­ing to the agenda the world sets for them.

Re­mem­ber the am­bi­tious Mid­dle East pro­gram laid out by Pres­i­dent Obama in his his­toric Cairo Speech. It was un­done by an ob­struc­tion­ist Congress, an in­cor­ri­gi­ble hard­line Is­raeli leader, and the un­fore­seen con­se­quences of the “Arab Spring”.

While the pres­i­dent-elect has cryp­ti­cally hinted that he seeks to co­op­er­ate with Rus­sia in end­ing the con­flict in Syria, his suc­cess de­pends on whether Congress will, in fact, work with him (some Repub­li­cans have al­ready made it clear that they will not be sup­port­ive); whether or not Rus­sia’s in­ter­ests, in fact, align with those of the US (it ap­pears that in an­tic­i­pa­tion of a more com­pli­ant Trump, the Rus­sians are tak­ing ad­van­tage by be­com­ing even more ag­gres­sive in Syria); whether Iran will al­low Rus­sia to con­trol their agenda; and whether Turkey, Saudi Ara­bia, and other regional part­ners will agree, as well.


The pres­i­dent-elect has had mul­ti­ple po­si­tions on the Is­raeliPales­tinian con­flict. Early on he said he wanted to re­main neu­tral so he could be in a po­si­tion to ne­go­ti­ate an end to the con­flict. He also ques­tioned US aid to Is­rael and said he would not com­mit to tak­ing a side on the is­sue of Jerusalem. As the cam­paign wore on, and af­ter his scripted ap­pear­ance at the an­nual AIPAC (the Is­rael lobby) con­fer­ence, his po­si­tion hard­ened into a lop-sided pro-Is­rael stance. He op­posed a “Pales­tinian ter­ror state”, called for mov­ing the US Em­bassy to Jerusalem, and more, re­cently, his ad­vis­ers have stated that Trump “does not be­lieve that set­tle­ments are an ob­sta­cle to peace”. Adding more con­fu­sion to this pic­ture, just this week, in an in­ter­view, speak­ing of his in­ter­est in bro­ker­ing a deal to end the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict, Trump said “I’d like to do it... for hu­man­ity’s sake”.

But hav­ing been em­bold­ened by Trump’s vic­tory, Is­rael’s hard­lin­ers have be­gun to take steps to in­crease set­tle­ments and le­gal­ize the sta­tus of “il­le­gal out­posts”. So even if the pres­i­dent-elect has had a change of heart and now wants to re­turn to his more “neu­tral” pos­ture, his own hard­line staff and ad­vis­ers and po­lit­i­cal forces in the US and Is­rael will not make the ef­fort an easy one.

The bot­tom line is that it is not at all cer­tain what Trump wants to do about these crit­i­cal is­sues or what he can do. About the only thing that’s clear to me is that this is a wor­ri­some and un­set­tling state of af­fairs.

What is of im­me­di­ate con­cern on the do­mes­tic front are some of the ap­point­ments the pres­i­dent-elect has made and the pol­icy di­rec­tion they suggest. With Gen­eral Michael Flynn as Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­vi­sor, Steve Ban­non as White House Se­nior Ad­vi­sor, and Sen­a­tor Jeff Ses­sions, as At­tor­ney Gen­eral - we have ev­ery rea­son to fear for the im­pact they will have on civil lib­er­ties here in the US.

NOTE: Dr James J Zogby is the Pres­i­dent of the Arab Amer­i­can In­sti­tute

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