Between candidate Trump’s promises and President Trump’s policies

US President-elect Donald Trump will implement his promises of change that won him the election by papering over all the scandals

Raghida Dergham
Raghida Dergham
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US President-elect Donald Trump will implement his promises of change that won him the election by papering over all the scandals that have surrounded his name on the campaign trail. However, this does not mean that he will deliver all his electoral promises, domestic or international, because there will be a huge difference between Donald the candidate and President Trump. The business tycoon who plastered the gilded letters of his name on buildings, casinos and resorts has reinvented his image from The Donald brand to the Mr. Trump brand in preparation for the world’s most powerful job. Donald Trump has taught the elites who mocked him a tough lesson and used populism to exact his revenge. He has given the protest vote a new face as he challenged the political and business establishment. Trump toppled two families that nearly became ruling dynasties, the Bushes and Clintons. He forced the major two parties, the Republican and Democratic parties, to check their assumption that they had a right to dominate the US political process and forced them to engage in serious soul searching. Trump exposed pollsters and the media, most of which sided against him by default, ashamed of the idea of a man like him becoming president. Trump relied on his arbitrariness, stunts and shock tactics to bedazzle supporters and awe opponents. Yet ultimately, Trump’s winning ticket was not the majority Electoral College votes he secured, but his profound understanding of the American people’s thirst for any kind of change. So what kind of change will the president-elect bring to the home front and the international arena? Will Trump’s presidency be autarchic, like his march to the White House had been; or will the president turn against his own character as candidate and mogul, after hearing classified national security briefings and the closely guarded secrets of the ruling establishment?

The election practically served as a referendum on the performance of the incumbent president, Barack Obama, and on a third term for the Democrats under former secretary of state and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. It may be possible here that the involvement of Barack and Michelle Obama in Hillary’s campaign backfired in this context.

The distrust felt toward Hillary Clinton as a result of the FBI’s investigation into her email scandals was also a key factor in the elections, along with the history of scandals and corruption allegations surrounding the Clintons.

Some say that America’s whites decided to revolt against the election of their country’s first black president, Barack Obama, and his African and Islamic routes, by rallying behind Donald Trump’s racist, anti-Muslim and anti-Hispanic rhetoric.

If the president-elect persists in his exclusionist social and political discourse, divisions in the US will deepen and the social contract based on coexistence and equal rights could be further eroded. In that case, Donald Trump will quickly earn himself a reputation for fragmenting America and her standing, in a way that only serves to help the enemies of this longstanding democracy. It would also usher in an era of rapid American decline. And while President-elect Donald Trump’s acceptance speech was reassuring, it is the deeds not the words that will count.

Donald Trump has explained his foreign policy priorities, many of which sidestep assumed constants of traditional US thinking

Raghida Dergham

Realistically speaking, it will be difficult for the president-elect to fulfill all his electoral promises. The plan to deport 10 million undocumented immigrants would be no picnic and building a wall with Mexico paid for by Mexico could be a pipe dream. Repealing the Affordable Healthcare Act (Obamacare), increasing interest rates, and tax cuts could instead be his top priority. Internationally, Trump’s pledge to withdraw from NAFTA and reconsider ties with NATO could have huge economic and political consequences that Trump himself may balk at at the start of his four-year term.

President-elect Donald Trump will probably not fulfill his vows to repeal the nuclear deal with Iran. But unlike Obama, he will not hold hostage his person, his principles and his policies to the deal. He will put Tehran under a microscope and will not back off before its implicit threats to suspend the deal, which he sees as unfair to US interests.

The expected change in US-Iranian relations under Trump, however, will not be a total about-face from Obama’s policy, yet it would not be a fleeting development. Perhaps the difference between Obama’s policy, which clashed with those of the Gulf countries led by Saudi Arabia over Iran, and Trump’s policy’s is that the latter is expected to place Iran and the Gulf on equal footing in terms of US priorities.

This doesn’t mean at all that Trump will rush to espouse the Gulf’s perspective and antagonize Iran. Rather, there will be equitable levels of non-enthusiasm and indifference shown to both sides.

The best case scenario would be for Trump’s approach to lead to disengagement from the sectarian wars between Sunnis and Shiites. Trump has no interest in Muslims in general and may decide that previous administrations’ policies that benefited from sectarian wars are no longer needed. That is, if the establishment permits this.

Trump’s policies in the region

Iran will be present in Trump’s policies from the Russian and Syrian angles. Trump could be made to believe by Russia’s Putin that Iran is fighting a war on their behalf against ISIS and terrorism. If that happens, and the Gulf countries fail to prove they are real partners in the war against ISIS and terrorism, Tehran will win and gain a special position with the Trump administration and the Gulf powers will regret not having preempted this by occupying a position on the president-elect’s list of priorities. It is time the Gulf countries look past Trump’s Islamophobic rhetoric, which Tehran has not paid attention to, when developing their stance.

Donald Trump has explained his foreign policy priorities, many of which sidestep assumed constants of traditional US thinking. But regardless of whether he will carry those pledges to the White House with him or not, it is important to analyze worst-case scenarios in order to draft better policies. Syria is a good example, but not necessarily Iraq.

Indeed, Iraq will continue to be locked into the battle for Mosul under Trump, if it is not concluded before his inauguration, a battle that needs to be settled against ISIS under any kind of partnership.

But the extra time between today and mid-January could see radical developments in the battle for Aleppo, whose outcome is not yet clear. Russia, Iran, and Turkey are extremely important in that battle. The biggest loser when it comes to Trump’s victory seems to be the moderate Syrian rebels, backed by Gulf countries and Turkey. However, Turkey has a different position on the Syrian battlefield, being a key player and a NATO member, as Trump proceeds to formulate his stance on the Gulf and Turkish players.

One of the biggest concerns has to do with the relationship between Trump and Vladimir Putin, who has all but endorsed him. Putin greatly benefited from Barack Obama’s isolationism and acted arrogantly toward the US perceived decline. Trump will not accept that kind of treatment. He is proud of the America he wants to build, but not the America he inherited from Barack Obama – perceived as weak and bereft of its moral high ground that once distinguished its global leadership.

The others’ wars that he inherits will not matter much to Donald Trump, who does not care who wins in Syria, whether Yemen’s civil wars continue, or if Iran is caught in a quagmire that loses it its regional influence. He will not fight others’ wars and in this he is similar to Obama, this is perhaps their only common trait.

Remaining vigilant

Until Donald Trump develops his policies and forms his administration, the world will remain vigilant for surprises from the man of surprises. There was clear upheaval following the electoral process in the markets, as the world reacted with fear towards Trump’s presidency’s anticipated isolationism and unpredictability.

The question that no one has been able to answer yet is what kind of change, inevitable under Trump, will the president-elect bring to America and her foreign relations?

What happens to men when they take power is intriguing. Many assume the manners of their posts and divorce the modesty they had shown during the campaign. But Donald Trump never pretended to be modest, dealing with his foes with arrogance and persistently marched to the White House with a sense of overconfidence. So the hope would be for him to be ready to lead the American superpower with seriousness, modesty and soberness.

This article was first published in al-Hayat on Nov. 11, 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


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