Next U.S. President and the Middle East

Media Coverage | November 08, 2016

On November 8, Kawa Hassan discussed live on NRT News, a Kurdish language news television network in Iraqi Kurdistan, about what the two possible outcomes in the U.S presidential election would mean for the Middle East, particularly Iraq and Syria. Below are some key points from Hassan's comments:

  • Given the economic, political and military importance of the U.S. in global politics, this election will have a huge impact on global issues ranging from the fight against ISIS, the future of Iraq & Syria after the military defeat of ISIS, to U.S. relations with Russia, China, and the European Union. 
  • Both presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton of the Democratic Party and Donald Trump of the Republican Party, have diametrically opposing world views. Broadly speaking, Trump is an isolationist, while Clinton is an internationalist. Trump would focus on the U.S., while Clinton would be more engaged in Middle East issues. This would have profound impacts on their polices in the Middle East. 
  • Clinton's personality is also different from that of President Barack Obama.
    • Whereas Obama was very cautious in dealing with Russia in Syria and did not want to have a substantial engagement in Syria, Clinton is known to be more assertive. If Clinton becomes a president, there is a possibility she will take a tougher stance against Vladimir Putin's Russian policy in Syria by attempting to impose a no-fly zone through closer cooperation with Arab Gulf countries. She might also consider giving more arms to Kurdish groups fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq. But beyond more military engagement (excluding boots on the ground), it is not clear whether Clinton would develop and implement a political vision for post-ISIS Syria and Iraq to deal with the myriad of conflicts plaguing both countries.
    • It is true that Clinton has called on Iraq to "get its political house in order", but it is not clear whether she would develop a comprehensive political vision and strategy to help Iraqis to get their house in order. 
  • Clinton also favors a tougher stance on Iran compared to Obama. Saudi and other Arab Gulf leaders would therefore hope that Clinton would put more pressure on Iran in relation to the nuclear deal and its influence in the region. 
  • The biggest issue with Trump as president is his unpredictability and populism. If Trump becomes president, many regional states will be nervous about his approach towards the complex conflicts in Syria and Iraq, as well as the fight against ISIS. Trump has signaled that he might be ready to cooperate with Putin in Syria. This would make Arab Gulf countries, in particular Saudi Arabia, very nervous. They fear that Trump will "hand over" Syria to Putin. Trump's populism could also have a big impact on Middle East politics. His populist rhetoric might strengthen the grip of autocratic leaders like Syria's Bashar al-Assad on power. In conclusion, his policies probably will strengthen Putin's influence and create a bigger support for radical groups like ISIS.        

Watch the full interview here.