Commentary

Regional Perspectives on U.S. Election

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

Views from the Region

With Labor Day around the corner and the U.S. presidential elections preparing to shift into a higher gear, many commentators and regional dailies are beginning to reflect on the state of the race and its implications for the United States and the Middle East. Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate, continues to be seen as the favorite for clinching the presidency, but some have expressed misgivings about her ability to seal the deal with the American voters. On the Republican side, many are openly suspicious of what Donald Trump might mean for the Middle East.

Judging by a recent Gulf Times editorial, most observers are expecting an ugly race, that may undo many of the precedents set by previous presidential elections: “Clinton and Trump have more than the usual vulnerabilities to exploit, so the ugly part of the campaign will be more hideous than usual. The subtext of each candidate’s message will be: ‘You think I’m bad? My opponent is horrendous’....By the time these two and their many critics have expended all their ammunition, Clinton and Trump may have higher negative ratings than the Zika virus. It may seem impossible for despairing voters to lower their opinion of these two candidates. But this campaign seems designed to change the old definition of politics as “the art of the possible.” What was once impossible has become almost inevitable.”

Jerusalem Post’s Micah Halpern fears that the U.S. presidential election risks descending into a farce if both candidates continue down this path, though voters bear some of the responsibility for encouraging such behavior: “This U.S. presidential election scheduled for November 8 is breaking all rules and sending axioms out the proverbial window. This election has been turned into more of an entertainment event than a news event. Voters and media are equally guilty. And it is mostly because of Donald Trump. For Trump, the entertainment factor is a positive....This U.S. election is all about emotions. While Hillary Clinton is cool and always in control, Trump is about emotion. He is all about kishkes and visceral feelings. He creates emotional responses and that is part of what makes this election so remarkable and unpredictable.”

Still, in an op-ed for the National, Hussein Ibish evinces few doubts about who the ultimate winner of the November elections will be, even though in the end he can’t resist hedging by referring to a possible October surprise: “Republican candidate Donald Trump has virtually no hope of winning. Barring the most extreme and implausible of unforeseen circumstances, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton will be the next president of the United States....With his campaign now being run by the de facto leader of the fringe ‘alt-right’ cult, Stephen Bannon of the notorious Breitbart.com website — and with America’s leading racists exulting that their movement has ‘taken over the Republican Party’ through the Trump candidacy — it’s almost impossible to imagine how the unprecedented turnaround and come-from-behind victory that he will need might unfold without a dramatic and extremely implausible ‘October surprise’.”

Most of the attention and commentary in the region is aimed at the Republican candidate, with some, including this Jordan Times editorial, scrutinizing Mr. Trump’s views on foreigners: “Donald Trump does not like Latin Americans and advocates building a wall to separate them from the United States. As usual with such snubs, Latin Americans tend to reciprocate the sentiment, as do Muslims and others who feel affronted by the Republican Party’s presidential nominee. But many of those who dislike Trump share his passion for restrictive immigration policies....The immigration policies that Trump wants for the U.S. bear an eerie resemblance to the policies adopted in the countries he dislikes and that dislike him. If adopted, Trump would most likely seek new scapegoats. But the current scapegoats should learn to dislike their own immigration policies as much as they appear to dislike Trump.”

But not all agree that a Trump presidency would spell trouble for the United States. Caroline Glick, in an op-ed for the Jerusalem Post, argues that Trump is the last chance for Republicans to roll back the changes made by the Obama administration: “In light of Clinton’s weaknesses, Trump’s main hurdle to winning the election may very well lie with the NeverTrump movement…. Its members have vowed not to vote for Trump even if it means that Clinton wins the White House.... if Trump wins, the U.S. will have a chance of changing back to the country it was before Obama fundamentally transformed it. Clinton, who like Obama and the NeverTrumpsters scoffs at Trump’s dark descriptions of American life today, has pledged to double down on Obama’s foreign and domestic policies. Indeed, she even pledged to destroy what’s left of the coal industry. So if Clinton is elected, what Republicans think about illegal immigration and free trade and foreign policy will be irrelevant. America’s fundamental transformation will become irreversible. In that event, America as a whole — not Trump, and not even the NeverTrumpsters — will be the greatest loser of November’s election.”

Nevertheless, most think that Mr. Trump’s penchant for “straight talk” might continue to land him in trouble, even though the Saudi Gazette editorial still appears to be of two minds in terms of what both candidates have to offer: “The presidential campaign of Donald Trump appears to be coming unraveled. He has restructured his campaign team twice in less than a month in response to falling poll ratings....In the end, voters will ask if Trump can be trusted. He has promised to apply the principles of business that he claims to understand so well, to fix the U.S. economy. But it is emerging that his business record is deeply checkered with a string of dubious deals. So can he be trusted with U.S. foreign policy, can he be trusted not to launch nuclear devastation as a result of some crazy act of international brinkmanship? Will voters want a high-risk outsider or stick with yet more of the same establishment politics epitomized in the unappetizing but predictable Hillary Clinton?”


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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 info@mepc.org.