Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump won’t walk in Obama’s footsteps
IRAGHIDA DERGHAM T is still early to draw the features of the foreign policy of any of the presumed candidates for the US presidency. However, it is possible to define some broad outlines, especially since both the presumed Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and presumed Republican candidate Donald Trump are set to diverge from the policies of the incumbent President Barack Obama, particularly in the Middle East and the Gulf region.
The isolationism of Donald Trump, for one thing, will be different from Barack Obama’s version, although both men agree on leaving Russian President Vladimir Putin in the driver’s seat when it comes to our region. Both men are not fond of the Arab Gulf states, though Obama is quite fond of Iran while Trump’s hatred for Muslims covers both Sunnis and Shiites, and he could well repeal the nuclear deal with Iran. For her part, Clinton’s positions suggest she intends to restore traditional relations with the traditional allies of the US, without necessarily undoing the nuclear deal.
However, Clinton must realize Gulf confidence in her policies is shaky. She had shown enthusiasm for the Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt. She rushed to help overthrow Gaddafi, dragging Libya into a spiral of chaos, violence, and terrorism. She turned her back on Syria when she could have pressured Obama to rectify his misguided policies. In truth, this is exactly what Hillary Clinton did in Iraq when Obama withdrew too early, leaving the country open to sectarian war and dominance by Iran, to which his predecessor Bush had given Iraq on a golden platter.
The wiser choice: Despite everything, Clinton will be the wiser and more rational choice compared to Trump, when it comes to forging responsible and realistic relations with Gulf leaders. One of the most important challenges for President Clinton would be turning a new page in Arab-Iranian relations, given that continuing the policies pursued by Obama and his administration would fuel Islamic sectarian extremism, which could expand beyond the Arab and Islamic region to the United States itself, having now reached European capitals.
The approach to fighting ISIS and similar groups under Clinton could change from those seen under Obama, who has deliberately played the sectarian card to fuel Sunni-Shiite hostility, helping unleash the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Syria and Iraq while claiming they are a necessary partner needed to defeat ISIS.
National security has calculations that go beyond the person of the president, and it is usually drafted and defined for decades rather than 4 or 8 years. Intentionally or inadvertently, the Obama administration fundamentally encouraged Iran to create militias such as the Popular Mobilization in Iraq and Syria, to support the government of Haider al-Abadi and before him Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad, to weaken and marginalize traditional armies, thus helping undermine the institutions of Iraq and Syria in one of the most fragile and brittle phases in the two countries’ history. This is how ISIS’s objective of destroying the Arab countries converged with Iran’s plans with support from Washington.
This is a very dangerous equation, because it leads to a vicious cycle of vendetta between Sunni and Shiite extremists – both of whom are no perhaps they succeeded through Bush’s war in Iraq and Obama’s nonwar in Syria. But this is a temporary recipe and a sedative with destructive effects in the end, not only for the Islamic world, but also for the European and US homelands.
Donald Trump, based on what we know about his character, will be indifferent unless the threat materializes on US soil. He will not be drawn into sympathy with NATO allies and will barely blink if the killing machines in the Arab region carry on, regardless of who kills or of who is being killed. He will not care even if Tehran mobilizes militias as an alternative to national armies, and if Qassem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Qods Force, becomes a hero for Shia Muslims everywhere and not just Iran.
But, once again, the strategic decision concerning what is best for the US interest will not be in the hands of the new president. National security has calculations that go beyond the person of the president, and it is usually drafted and defined for decades rather than 4 or 8 years. Accordingly, even Donald Trump will have to abide by the dictates of the ruling military and civilian establishment. The United States is not the Russian federation, where Vladimir Putin’s powers go further than those of the institutions.
Donald Trump will not be able to become a strongman like Putin, no matter how arrogant he may be, or good at negotiations and deal-making as he claims. His fickle, arbitrary, and superficial positions and his arrogance vis-àvis the US constitution and the Republican Party are already affecting him.
The top leaders of the Republican Party are angry and determined to teach Trump an important lesson: Adjust course and learn humility, or you will not get our support. In other words, Trump is being threatened by his own camp today: don’t force us to hurt you like you’ve hurt us. Don’t force us to secretly support Hillary for president. Enough is enough.