It is now time to talk about how the election of Donald Trump to presidency would affect U.S relations with Arab countries. Neglecting his comments about “destroying ISIS” or rejecting the Iran deal, which can only happen in the special fantasy world from which he chooses to take shelter from reality; how will Arabs deal with this new political creature?
“Kuwait, they live like kings, the poorest person in Kuwait, they live like kings and yet they are not paying. We make it possible for them to sell their oil. Why aren’t they paying us twenty-five percent of what they are making? It’s a joke.” These are the President-elect’s words on Kuwait, said in an interview twenty-eight years ago. He said similar things about Arabs during his campaign rallies, particularly about Saudi Arabia. He repeatedly demanded compensation from Saudi Arabia for the protection the US provides them, and stated that they will cease to exist without US support. Oh, the white man’s burden--to protect the lesser people, and in the process sell billions of dollars worth of weapons to them.
Unsurprisingly, these comments have caused a great deal of anxiety among Middle-Eastern countries: what will be the future of the region under Trump? Clearly, these countries preferred Hillary in the White House. Although it is ironic that the most sexist country on the planet (Saudi Arabia) was “with her”, it is not surprising to the political analysts. When she was spearheading the US foreign policy machine, Saudi Arabia’s goals (particularly alienation of Iran from the international community) aligned better and better with the American plan for the region by the day. Now, Saudi Arabia has to make its peace with Trump, and they are not as enthusiastic about it as the Prime Minister of Israel is.
However, a starting point can be Iran and the nuclear deal; both sides doubt this deal would stop Iran’s political adventurism in the region. Saudi Arabia wants to limit Iran’s influence as much as possible and this cannot be done without the help of Americans. For as long it has been Saudi Arabia’s policy to flood Washington’s think tanks and lobbyists with oil money to try and steer US foreign policy against Iran, it has proven effective. However, Trump rose to power with the promise of draining the swamp and getting rid of these unwanted influences, but such campaign talk is nothing new, Barack Obama called for a similar approach to Saudi Arabian money in Washington eight years ago. In practice though we did not see any changes that came about, and I am of the belief that neither will we in the next four years.
Years of American imperialism in the region have resulted in rigid economic interdependence and, thankfully, Trump is not the sole decision maker in the realm of foreign policy. The status quo is further maintained because Congress is full of politicians whose donors are heavily invested in the region.
On the other hand, in the poorer parts of the Arab world, namely Syria and Egypt, many were glad that Trump won. After all, blatant populism is aimed at mobilizing the people least fortunate and most exploited. Saudi Arabia is seen as a predator, one who wishes to control all Arab countries. For many, there is no difference between Saudi bombs falling in Yemen, and Iranian guns being shot by the Lebanese Hezbollah. General Sisi can now be relieved that there is someone in the White House who is as big a fan of Putin as he is.
Although the wealthier part of the Arab world is much less enthusiastic about Trump than the other side, both will seek to work with him to preserve stable economic relations. However, in my opinion, the US has been, and will be, trying to shift its focus from the Middle East to the Far East. The risk vs. reward has changed and there is not much left for the US to exploit without getting involved in another major conflict. One of Trump’s other obsessions is China, perhaps he will actually fulfill his promises and pay less attention to the Middle East, which would be reassuring news to anyone who has ever called it home.
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