Commentary

Regional Views on U.S. Election Endgame

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

Views from the Region

The candidates for President of the United States of America have been making their cases before the U.S. electorate for a number of months now, including in three debates characterized more by their acrimonious exchanges than by substantial policy debates. Across the Middle East, regional leaders and commentators have been paying attention as much as to what has not been said as to what has been said. Some have slammed both candidates as uninspiring choices, while others have decided that one candidate or the other would represent an opportunity for a better relationship in the near future. There are those, like the Iranian leaders, who suspect that little will change regardless of the final outcome of the elections.

The initial reactions in the aftermath of the final debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were highly favorable to the former, with Khaleej Times’ Sadiq Shaban suggesting that “Trump was no match for Clinton…. Trump doesn't believe in the will of the American people....For all its drawbacks, the American political and electoral system — with its thoroughness, checks and balances, and a history of transparency — is considered a gold standard around the world. In the final presidential debate of 2016, Trump proved what a sheer embarrassment he has been to this system....One wondered if Trump was running against American democracy itself...? Trump was more bluster, less substance. In the end it was clear — a man who approaches the sanctity of a 240-year-old democratic tradition — elections — like a drunkard with his blade out of [the] scabbard, is [an] off chance for the Oval Office. On Wednesday night in the final political swordplay for the position, Clinton effectively vanquished Trump.”

The Saudi Gazette editorial called the debates “uninspiring,” adding that either candidate would lead to further instability and rancor among the U.S. electorate: “There was a general expectation that the Trump-Clinton White House battle was going to be dirty, if not indeed one of the dirtiest in recent U.S. history. What was perhaps not expected was that the sleaze and name-calling was going to turn this into an uninspiring, even shocking campaign that is emerging as proof that something is seriously wrong with U.S. politics. Both candidates are heading toward November 8 with record low popularity ratings....The danger is that American voters are going to grumble for the next four years, as they become more and more disillusioned with the patent inadequacies of their political system. That rancor will be the greater if Congress continues to be polarized by bitter bipartisan politics that yet again threaten to paralyze the U.S. budget.”

Most observers believe that Mrs. Clinton will come out as the ultimate winner. Consequently, many have begun reflecting on what a world with President Hillary Clinton would look like. In a recent op-ed for The National, Hussein Ibish expresses the view that her election would mark a favorable shift for U.S. policy in the region: “While there certainly won’t be any return to the irrational militarism of the George W Bush administration, Mrs. Clinton will probably update the policies of her husband and his predecessor, George HW Bush. This essentially entails a balance between recognizing and utilizing the potential influence of American power, while acknowledging its limitations....The Gulf states should be cautiously optimistic. This year, Mrs. Clinton’s top foreign policy adviser, Jake Sullivan, called for a ‘more effective American strategy in the Middle East’, specifically by ‘raising the costs on Iran for its destabilizing behavior, and … raising the confidence of our Sunni partners that the United States is going to be there’. The Arab Gulf states won’t get everything they want from her administration, but all signs point to a definite improvement from a Hillary Clinton White House.”

David Salon, from the Israeli daily Arutz Sheva, is seeking assurances from both Trump and Clinton that the U.S. government will continue to remain faithful to its commitment to the state of Israel, something they feel President Obama has failed to demonstrate: “President Obama is causing consternation and uncertainty in Israel because of his continuing refusal to make clear that America will veto any Security Council resolution attempting to impose a settlement of the Jewish-Arab conflict in former Palestine other than under the Roadmap of his predecessor George W. Bush....That Obama would seek to [steer away] from this Bush Congress-endorsed American commitment to Israel is unthinkable and should be disavowed by him immediately....Both Trump and Clinton have remained silent up till now on stating whether they would uphold this American commitment to Israel. Clinton was among those Senators overwhelmingly endorsing America’s commitment by 95 votes to 3.  Clinton needs to publicly commit that she will honor this commitment to Israel if elected President.”

Meanwhile, Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News posted an op-ed by Murat Yetkin in which the author takes issue with Mrs. Clinton’s comments about arming the Kurds in Syria and Iraq: “[The ]Democrat[ic] candidate, Hillary Clinton, said she was considering ‘arming the Kurds’ because they are the ‘best partners in Syria and Iraq’ against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım declared that remark to be ‘unacceptable’ while addressing his ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) group in the parliament....Turkey has been asking the U.S. not to arm and collaborate with the YPG, whether for the fight against ISIL, because it is no different than the PKK, which is on the U.S. terrorist list. It seems that instead of taking its NATO ally seriously, the U.S. administration has ignored it and started to encourage the YPG further by promising more arms to them. ... As a former U.S. secretary of state and a former first lady, those are some of the questions that Clinton should have considered. To vow to ‘arm the Kurds’ at such a time is not responsible, it is like playing with fire, and for American interests as well.”

The Iranian media, as this Tehran Times report shows, have taken a different tack, largely expressing no preference between the two candidates, while remaining fiercely critical of the U.S. role in the region: “Ayatollah Khamenei was making the remarks in a meeting late on Saturday with visiting Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in Tehran. ‘Some people think that America is invincible while this notion is a big error, and frequent mistakes made by Americans during the past 15 years have caused them to seriously run aground in the region and be hopeless now,’ he said. The U.S. was caught in the quagmires of Afghanistan and Iraq wars after it invaded the two countries following the 9/11 attacks. One way to overcome the U.S. pressure is to act farsightedly, the Leader highlighted. ... The Leader said Washington and some [of] its regional allies are using oil as [a] weapon to put pressure on ‘independent’ countries.”

Finally, the state media in Egypt, like Daily News Egypt’s Toqa Ezzidin and others, score the U.S. presidential candidates according to their stated and implicit positions on Egyptian coup-leader-turned-president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and his role in the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi: “It has become known that Al-Sisi is the Republican candidate’s favorite leader in the Middle East. They both share the same policy and prioritize combating terrorism over any other issue....Clinton highlighted the deterioration of the human rights situation in Egypt. She called on Al-Sisi to release US citizen Aya Hegazy, who has been detained in Egypt for over two years on charges of inciting protests through a foundation that supports street children. Clinton also shed light on Egypt’s policy that harasses activists and human rights organizations....Unlike the Republican party, the Democratic party has shown a rather negative attitude towards the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi, describing the 30 June uprising as a military coup.”


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