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July 26, 2016
The official nomination of Donald J. Trump as the Republican candidate for president of the United States marks the end of the first act of what has been a tumultuous, unpredictable and contentious political drama. While few predicted this outcome, all are now left considering the implications, for the United States and for the world, of a potential Trump administration. The reaction has mostly been a mix of disbelief and concern, with some regional observers struggling to discern a consistent foreign policy direction from Mr. Trump’s vitriolic anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim statements.
Following his speech at this year’s Republican National Convention, several commentators have taken issue with Mr. Trump’s depiction of reality. Many share the analysis of the Gulf Times: “To hear Trump tell it, America is a sick, dystopian mess, mired in urban violence, terror threats and other woes that he and only he can fix. But a day after accepting the Republican nomination for president, Trump drew scorn yesterday for his creative or misleading use of facts to paint an ugly national portrait and scare people into voting for him in November....The United States of Armageddon, as depicted by Trump, is a place where the homicide rate and deaths of police officers are soaring, tens of thousands of dangerous undocumented immigrants wander the streets and Americans are saddled by a dysfunctional economy and quitting the workforce by the millions....But Trump’s data is often either incomplete and thus misleading, or simply wrong.”
Characterizing Mr. Trump as a uniquely American construct, Al Arabiya’s Hisham Melhem describes the United States as a place perched dangerously on the precipice of dystopia: “Perilous times have visited America before, and on occasions they did linger for far too long, leaving in their wake shattered lives and human wreckage and uncertain horizons....These are perilous times in America…. A diseased election year was brought about by a weak and resentful Republican Party led by people who are interested more in transient party victories than in preserving the basic tenet of conservatism, or respecting the letter and the spirit of the Constitution, thus denigrating America’s long unique and great experiment in self-government. An ill wind has swept the land in the form of an orange-faced vile demagogue, a narcissistic and dishonest would-be autocrat....Donald J. Trump is made in America, and he should be deconstructed on November 8. A republic ‘conceived in Liberty’ cannot be allowed to turn into a republic of fear by scoundrels and demagogues who claim that we are living in time of the plague. This is indeed the year of voting dangerously.”
Hussein Ibish, in an op-ed for the National, focuses on Mr. Trump’s message of “exclusion and enmity,” warning that no American voter can feign ignorance of his divisive message: “Historically it’s rare that the public isn’t warned about a would-be demagogue well in advance of their actual rise to power. Typically, this work is done by the narcissistic aspiring strongmen themselves. And in the case of Donald Trump, by now no American can claim they haven’t been put on ample notice about his character and intentions....Mr Trump’s campaign is based on fear and ever-shrinking concentric circles of exclusion and enmity. Globally, he casts Americans as being in bitter, zero-sum competition with everyone else. Internally, he promotes a gutter brand of faux working-class white ethnic chauvinism (branding himself a ‘blue-collar billionaire’), blaming almost all social ills on minorities, especially Latino immigrants and Muslims....Any voters still playing catch-up have now been fully informed by the Republican convention. No one can say they haven’t been warned. This is what American authoritarianism looks like.”
But Yedioth Ahronoth’s Alon Pinkas argues that Trump is the result of dysfunction, not the cause: “Donald Trump isn't the problem, he's the result of the problem. He won't bring about the dissolution of the Republican Party, as many have speculated – the party's dissolution is what led to his candidacy's success. He didn't plan the party's rift with the U.S., and he didn't fan the flames of a bloody civil war between the Republican establishment and it's voter base....Trump just exploited these phenomena to secure his nomination, wisely and with considerable political savvy – even if not especially elegantly....Trump may be a dark prince with an ego bigger than the continent on which it lives. He encourages fears and sprays gasoline at the fire of ugly hatred towards everything that's different. He inflames people's understandable fears of change. But he knows his audience. He won the primary by describing to the voters a dark reality of despair, rising crime levels, violence, hopelessness, international weakness. The facts and figures actually point to the exact opposite – but that's Trump.”
While the Republican presidential candidate’s general worldview may be evident for all to see, many are still unsure about what Mr. Trump’s foreign policy would be in reality. Asharq Alawsat’s Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is among those who are unable to discern a consistent message, especially regarding the future of U.S. relations with the countries in the region: “Despite that U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump delivered the longest speech given by a nominee in the history of the Republican National Convention, he didn’t help us much in understanding what will his foreign policy be if he wins....Does Trump really have a political orientation that is totally different than that of current President Barack Obama towards Iran and the rest of Middle Eastern affairs? The truth is we don’t know Trump’s orientations, intentions and concerns in addition to those surrounding him....If Trump becomes president, he may align completely with Gulf States against Iran and restore the policy of curbing the Iranian regime on the regional level – a policy which existed before Obama came to power. He may also enhance the power of his allies in the region. However, he may do the complete opposite by being open to Iran and granting it more than Obama politically and commercially promised.”
That might explain the uncertainty of several regional observers, including Mohamed Kamal, who, in a recent op-ed for the Egypt Independent, oscillates between a positive and a negative outlook for U.S.-Egypt relations under a Trump administration: “Many of Trump's remarks in fact fall in line with the Egyptian state's current position. The presumptive Republican nominee has said that under him, the fight against terrorism, or what he called ‘Islamic radicalism,’ would become one of America's foreign policy objectives for the world, giving priority to the use of military force against terrorism....Arguably, Trump's administration could be more sympathetic to the Egyptian stance on internal political issues, cooperating in fighting terrorism, and potentially renegotiating restrictions placed by Obama on U.S. military aid to Egypt....But there are two problems with this theory: Firstly, Trump's racist remarks about Muslims throws into doubt the possibility of improving ties, and in addition to this, his regional policy will place pressure on Egypt as he seeks to pursue a harder line with Saudi Arabia and Iran....Secondly, regardless of whether Trump or Hillary takes victory, we must acknowledge that the circumstances in which the bilateral relationship between Egypt and America was established in the late seventies are no longer as they were.”
The Saudi Gazette editorial is less nuanced about what a Trump presidency would mean in general, and makes clear its disapproval of Mr. Trump: “What has emerged from this four-day Republican convention is what was known before it started: Donald Trump is not the kind of man who should be president of the United States. His character, temperament, impulsiveness and lack of intellect all disqualify him....He has had plenty of time to prove he can do the job. But he hasn’t. He has not become more responsible or more sober, more considered or more informed or more careful....The simple fact of it is that the U.S. presidency is a powerful job where mistakes can kill millions, and whoever holds it needs to take that power seriously and wield it responsibly. Trump has had ample opportunity to demonstrate his sense of seriousness and responsibility. But time and time again he has failed.”
Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.