The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States represents the start of a new phase following eight years of the Obama administration. While Trump’s win has surprised many people, Donald Trump the candidate will be very different to Donald Trump the President. His victory speech was the first indication of this change, and there is more to come.
Prior to his candidacy, Trump was hardly known by the Muslim and Arab world. However, some of his comments during the campaign have lead to his portrayal as an enemy, with suggestions that his first priority as President will be to attack Arabs and Muslims. This perception will be difficult to change, as it was one of the key arguments used against him by his opponent and those in the media who do not support him.
Trump’s management of the issue is not as simple as the media has portrayed, and it has massive political implications for Arab societies. A clear pillar of Trump’s foreign policy is to take the fight to the terrorists, specifically targeting ISIS. For many Arab leaders, especially the American-bloc leaders, a strong clear strategy to fight ISIS would be welcomed as it represents the re-building of relations with US through this anti-terror strategy. Many US allies in the region have struggled to openly support Obama’s strategy and rhetoric and have tried to deal with America under the same assumptions from the early stages of the War on Terror under George W. Bush. A US return to those strategies will be a relief to many regimes in the region.
This is despite those monarchies are facing the threat of new and diverse Islamic movements under the Muslim Brotherhood banner, in Egypt and across the Gulf that could lead to a new wave of Arab Spring uprisings targeting the monarchies and sheikhdoms. The arrival of Trump will make an uprising of these groups far more difficult but another Democrat in the White House, according to many observers, would have created a series of challenges based on the strategy of promoting democracy and human rights at all costs.
A Trump White House could also lead to a rapprochement with Russia, which will have a huge impact on US foreign policy and specifically on NATO as the alliance is increasingly concerned with Russian aggression. It may lead to a new wave of political extremism and a growth in extreme right wing groups in Europe. It will also mean concrete changes on the ground in Syria, potentially ending the confusion of policy in the area.
These calls were supposed to be part of Clinton’s Agenda, so Trump’s win means that many leaders will avoid some tough challenges. Trump’s primary foreign policy agenda in the region is fighting terrorism, which will enable many countries to restore legitimacy and importance as part of an anti-terrorism alliance.
There are some threats still, especially for Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia. Trump has made comments that indicate the type of relationship he wants to establish with Gulf countries. The US agenda after the passing of JASTA and overruling Obama’s veto is based on the Interest-Based Relational (IBR) approach.
The other interesting factor for the Gulf monarchies is Trump’s position on Iran. While Trump can do little to change the Iran nuclear deal signed by the P5+1, the Gulf countries can take solace in the fact that while he may not be an enemy to Iran, he is certainly not going to be a friend.
Trump represents a series of contradictions that makes Middle Eastern politics seem more complicated. While the people of the Arab and Muslim world might view Trump negatively, their leaders might actually be quite positive towards him as his policies could have a positive impact for the region by creating common ground for cooperation especially in combatting terrorism.