The electoral compass indicates today that Hillary Clinton is set to return to the White House as the first female president in US history. Yet the political compass suggests this ambitious woman, whose career spans decades, will not spend a comfortable next four years in power. Her tenure could be burdened by careful calculations, but also a lot of second-guessing and attempts to harass her over both small and big mistakes.
Hillary, the candidate who has been lacking in charisma and popularity, will not become overnight President Hillary around whom the American people shall rally. A significant segment of Americans do not trust her, and see her as the offshoot of the establishment, which comprises major civilian and military interests, and who are also loath to having the Clintons in the White House once again.
Divided America could become more divided if the results are close between Clinton and Donald Trump, the Republicans’ begrudged candidate. If the elections produce a landslide for Hillary, then her presidency will enjoy a mandate and perhaps she will be spared some of the bitterness otherwise lying in wait for her
In this case, Hillary will be a president bent on restoring US’s decisiveness and prestige on the world arena, which had taken a hit under Obama whose policy was marked by appeasement in an era of eroded principles and moral superiority. Hillary’s presidency will not be isolationist like Obama’s, as there are signs she intends to reshuffle the deck with Russia though not to the point of confrontation.
Clinton will want to let Putin know that America “the infirm”, as the Russians often characterized Obama’s US, will rejuvenate itself and disallow further belittling from the Kremlin. Hillary Clinton’s expected policies toward the Gulf region may revive traditional axioms, with a view to repair some of the tensions that have soured historical relations between the two sides.
However, one must not expect a full reversal of Obama’s policies, which bet everything on having historically different relations with Iran. It will not be easy for Hillary to convince Egypt that she no longer backs the Muslim Brotherhood; in the view of the administration in power in Egypt, she had played a key role in the rise of Islamists to power.
Clinton has expressed willingness to support safe zones in Syria, but it is not clear if this includes the unlikely prospect of establishing a no-fly zone. Either way, this suggests she has a different policy compared to ObamaRaghida Dergham
Middle East conflicts
Mistrust of Hillary Clinton and her team, at least at the start of her tenure, will likely continue as Egypt’s leader el-Sisi continues to develop strategic ties with “anti-Islamist” Putin. Raging wars also await Clinton. Syria’s opposition is yearning for a new American policy, while the regime is seeking together with its allies in Moscow and Tehran to benefit from the “extra time” before her inauguration to impose military facts on the ground, especially in Aleppo.
Turkey is preparing itself to prove how sharp and valuable its instruments are in Syria and Iraq. The US-led international coalition is seeking victory in Mosul against ISIS and then Raqqa, in the hope of concluding Obama’s tenure in the White House with a historic achievement before the successor takes over.
The whole world has its eyes set on the results of the US elections. They watched the campaign sometimes with glee and others with horror, as it dawned on everyone what it meant for Donald Trump to capture the presidency. But today, the White House will most likely be occupied by a grandmother, and the first female president of the United States.
It’s still not impossible for Trump to win. However, barring a major surprise, the majority of observers agree that Clinton is almost certain to win. In Washington, deliberations have already started regarding which names to appoint for top posts. For example, Michelle Flournoy is being touted as the next defense secretary, and the first woman ever in the post.
Other names include Admiral Jones Sevrides or General John Allen for secretary of state, or veteran diplomat Bill Burns while one of the two military men would instead be appointed national security advisor. In other words, Washington is already gearing up for a new Democratic administration after Trump spoiled any chance for a Republican administration to take over.
Donald Trump’s failure to take the White House is likely to annoy Putin, who has not concealed his biases. Russia has even been accused of interfering with US elections against Hillary Clinton, drawing the ire of many Americans included those opposed to her.
The US-Russia relations
US-Russian relations under Clinton will not turn into a hot war or even a cold war. But they will not follow the same truce-like if not appeasement pattern seen under Obama, especially in the interactions between Sergei Lavrov and John Kerry on Syria.
Hillary Clinton’s relationship with Lavrov when she served at the state department underwent a number of crises most notably over Libya, when Moscow saw NATO’s intervention there as cynical misinterpretation of a UN Security Council mandate and an affront to Russia’s prestige. Thus began the bad blood between Lavrov and Clinton, after which Russia’s ties with the West deteriorated, as nationalist sentiment was stoked in Moscow to the point of seeking revenge through Syria.
Russia stands accused nowadays of perpetrating war crimes in Aleppo, where it is fighting alongside the regime and Iran-backed forces and militias. Britain and France want to take Russia and the Syrian regime to the ICC to hold them accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Turkey is fighting the war in Syria and backing moderate rebels, and is seeking to create no-fly zones and safe humanitarian zones, a bid opposed by Moscow. Russia has turned the Syrian tragedy from a war between regime and opposition into a war on the al-Nusra Front and moderate rebels simultaneously.
Hillary Clinton has expressed willingness to support safe zones in Syria, but it is not clear if this includes the unlikely prospect of establishing a no-fly zone. Either way, this suggests she has a different policy compared to Obama, who washed his hands clean from Syria. Yet this does not mean she is willing to send US troops to Syria, except through the coalition against ISIS and similar groups like al-Nusra.
There will never be US ground forces in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, or Libya, because this is what the Americans’ mood imposes today and in the near future. The different here is that Hillary will not let Russia continue its policies in Syria without a pushback, through Turkey and traditional allies in the Gulf, and without accountability for crimes by supporting European allies in their bid to activate the ICC.
Because Hillary Clinton will have realistic relations with the Arab Gulf nations, her policies in Syria could be more pragmatic. Still, it is unlikely Clinton will antagonize Assad’s other ally Iran and hold it and its militias accountable, because she will be keen to undermine the new page Obama has opened with the Islamic Republic through the nuclear deal.
Clinton might instead reconsider that dangerous investment in sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shiites. Indeed, the Obama administration has been accused of unshackling the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the Quds Force led by Qassem Soleimani in Iraq and Syria, as a necessary partner in the war on ISIS.
Hillary Clinton could decide it is in the US interest now to extinguish the fires of sectarian strife, and that the time has come to dismantle the bid to replace regular armies with militias a la Popular Mobilization, meant to defend the Assad regime or the governments of Haidar al-Abadi or Nouri al-Maliki in Syria and Iraq respectively. This is one common trait between Iran and ISIS in the Arab region, as both parties want to tear apart the Arab nation states.
The rise of the militias and paramilitaries is a threat not only to the Arab region, but has implications that extend to Europe and beyond, including the US. Furthermore, the vicious cycle of Shiite and Sunni vendettas counters Western and US values. For this reason, the best thing Hillary could do is reconsider this policy and decide to put a stop to fueling sectarian extremism and open a new page in Arab-Iranian-American relations.
Some of the above are wishes rather than forecasts. But the political logic at this juncture in the history of the US presidency makes it necessary to think outside the box. Most likely, the next president will inherit enough problems to require radical solutions.
This article was first published in al-Hayat on Oct. 28, 2016 and translated by Karim Traboulsi.
Raghida Dergham is Columnist, Senior Diplomatic Correspondent, and New York Bureau Chief for the London-based Al Hayat newspaper since 1989. She is dean of the international media at the United Nations. Dergham is Founder and Executive Chairman of Beirut Institute, an indigenous, independent, inter-generational think tank for the Arab region with a global reach. An authority on strategic international relations, Dergham is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and an Honorary Fellow at the Foreign Policy Association. She served on the International Media Council of the World Economic Forum, and is a member of the Development Advisory Committee of the IAP- the Global Network of Science Academies. She can be reached on Twitter @RaghidaDergham