What if Trump wins?
If Donald Trump wins the American election, and he is within two or three points of Hillary Clinton in the polls, the world will enter uncharted territory in terms of foreign policy and international relations. The Republican candidate has very little foreign policy experience and both President Obama and Clinton mocked him saying he considers the Miss Universe pageant a foreign policy experience.
Trump is a successful businessman in international business relations but in Washington’s world, this in no way prepares him for becoming the leader of the “Free World.” His critics point to his self-centered approach to power and politics and are concerned that he will remake America and the world in his image, especially in foreign policy.
Trump is an unknown quantity, a puzzle or, as a former Bush administration official who supports him, told me, a “black box” when it comes to foreign policy. No one really knows what Trump stands for because his stance is a moving entity, and he lacks the foreign policy team that Clinton has. He has also alienated the Republican foreign policy establishment, and broken with traditional Republican policy on almost every foreign policy issue in the last half century.
His positions on both domestic and foreign policy are contradictory sometimes, with his flip-flops on issues likely creating chaos and playing havoc with international relations.
Clinton has called his ideas “dangerously incoherent” and the assumption in Washington is that he does not listen to his advisers and does not study the issues which will prevent future American foreign policy from becoming a guessing game as well as a dangerous proposition.
There is even talk of a “Trump Doctrine,” as former US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad wrote. But doctrines are coherent principles and beliefs, not exactly a feature of Trump’s policies.
The consensus in Washington is that no matter who wins the election, we will see a strategic shift in foreign policy. If and when this happens, the Middle East will be its arena. The region has seen a new strategic map drawn by forces that are challenging American power and influence every day. How will a Trump president deal with this challenge? If he is challenged by Russia, Iran or China, which Trump will we see pushing back? Is it the “Make America Great Again Trump,” the “America First Trump” or the author of “The Art of the Deal”?
Candidate Trump began his “America First” speech by vowing to “shake the rust off of America’s foreign policy,” and said “It is time to chart a new course” in foreign policy. He said “America First” would be the major and overriding theme of his presidency, and he would put “the interests of the American people, and American security above all else.” This prompted people to call his approach “isolationist,” reminiscent of the 1930s. Trump, however, was reflecting what the polls in America showed about the American people’s demand that their leaders focus on domestic issues. A Pew research poll found that 57 percent of Americans or six in 10 Americans want the United States “to deal with its own problems.”
Trump put the fight against ISIS at the top of his agenda because it is the No. 1 concern for American voters. He lambasted Obama’s policy of not using the words “radical Islam,” and said “our actions in Iraq, Libya and Syria have helped unleash ISIS.” But he never spelled out what he would do differently that would destroy ISIS.
But the most important issue for Trump is how he will repair his relations with the Muslim world after the harmful statements that he made during the campaign.
With his numbers in the polls going up, Trump has begun assuring America’s allies and friends.
Trump’s foreign policy adviser on the Middle East, Dr. Walid Phares, said this week that the No. 1 priority for Trump’s administration would be dealing with the whole system of alliances.
He said the title “of the next stage will be clarity to the public, to foes and allies.” He assured the Gulf allies in particular that Trump would “reverse” Obama’s approach to the region and would “engage leaders in summits to see how to contain the Iranian regime.”
But while Trump had vowed earlier to “dismantle the disastrous nuclear deal with Iran,” his advisers rushed to correct him saying he will only “revise it after negotiating one on one with Iran,” as Dr. Phares told an American newspaper last summer.
In a departure from Republican policies, Trump came out against promoting democracy in the region and against “nation building.” He also attacked regime change in Iraq, Libya, Egypt and Syria, and said “Assad is much tougher and much smarter than Clinton and Obama!” Actually you can almost hear Assad or Putin when Trump speaks about Syria and ISIS.
The most troubling item in Trump’s foreign policy is his position on Russia and his praise for Vladimir Putin. The connection is a subject of so much criticism and even investigation and should he become a president, it will be a most interesting relationship that will be watched the world over.
If there is a lesson to be learned from this campaign, it is that America has changed and its relations will never be the same regardless of who wins the White House, but especially if it is Trump.
Dr. Amal Mudallali is an American policy and international relations analyst.