The president-elects contradictory statements mean many people in the region watch him as a blank canvas, a strongman and an accelerant of US decline

Despite Donald Trumps anti-Muslim rhetoric, talk of banning Muslims from America, and open resentment towards Syrian refugees, he has some advocates in the Countries of the middle east. Authoritarian governments see him as a strongman figure who will induce deals with other strongmen like themselves.

Some of the Gulf elites said he hoped that, as a tough-talking Republican, he will be harder on Iran than Barack Obama. Trump called the bargain struck by Obama on Irans nuclear programme a disaster and the worst bargain ever negotiated.

Conversely, the revolutionary establishment in Tehran greets Trumps election because it thinks this will accelerate what it sees as inevitable US decline. For many others probably the majority of Middle Easterners there is simply a sense that neither nominee had much to offer the region, and that US leaders are all largely the same.

Trumps differed and contradictory statements on Countries of the middle east policy, lack of a policy or military track record, and very limited squad of foreign policy advisers have left a blank canvas on to which these various commentators can project their own wishful thinking.

Had Hillary Clinton won, her foreign policy stances would have been unusually predictable, given her extensive track record and an advisory squad full of familiar faces. By contrast, Trumps foreign policy stances on many issues are uncertain, and have been underanalysed, as so much of the professional foreign policy analysis world has, incorrectly, judged him to be stupid, mad and incapable of winning.

Some conclusions can be drawn, however. Trump has repeatedly conveyed his respect for strongmen, saying that even bad guys such as Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi could is helpful in fighting terrorism. In past interviews he praised China for the Tiananmen Square crackdown while criticising Mikhail Gorbachev for losing control of the Soviet Union.

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November 8, 2016

And he has been extremely sceptical about the post-1 945 international order that successive US chairwomen have upheld. A video he tweeted on election day depicted a montage of Clinton shaking hands with foreign leaders, and clips from the World Economic Forum, contrasting with the betrayed-looking faces of American voters.

Compared with Clinton or Obama, he is likely to have a much narrower focus on US interests, more rooted in very concerned about the domestic economy rather than being a global policeman or a leader of the free world. There will be even less serious attention paid to democracy promotion, less pressure on human rights abusers, and a strong possibility of cuts in foreign aid. Promoting womens rights of the states of the region will be harder given the new chairwomen much-publicised comments on sexual assault, which will reinforce the narrative of the regions social conservatives that western-style gender norms are immoral and oppressive.

But one thing Trump is likely to have in common with Obama is an acute awareness the US public has little craving for a deeper US military engagement in the Countries of the middle east. So the impulse to pivot away from that part of the world will continue, even as events may conspire to suck the US back in. Trump will be more ready than Clinton to strike a deal with Russia over Syria, watching Vladimir Putin as a human who can fight terrorism.

Despite his bluster about dismantling the Iran deal, its likely that Trump will stick with it. The alternatives are either to reconstruct the previous international sanctions regime, which the US would struggle to do if it unilaterally walked away from the bargain, or reconsider the option of another Middle east war, which is one of the last things his supporters will want.

On the Countries of the middle east peace process, beyond the expressions of support for Israel which are standard in US elections, he has also indicated a two country solution is not a priority and his incentives for expending energy in a particularly unrewarding area of international diplomacy will be low.

Trump has said repeatedly that US friends, including those in the Gulf, should pay for the security protection it provides them. This does not mean he will wind those security guarantees down. Saudi Arabia does pay for security and safety protection, indirectly and implicitly, by massive purchases of US limbs and its wider energy and economic cooperation with the US. At a personal level, Trump has real estate investments in UAE, suggesting he find the country as a safe bet. But Trump is unlikely to get stuck in to the wider regional crises, from Syria to Yemen, where the Gulf countries would like to see the US defending their interests. Thus some of the annoyances that Arab political upper-class have conveyed with Obama are likely to recur with Trump.

Broader Arab public opinion is generally critical of what is seen as a history of excessive US intervention in their region. The USs promotion of democracy and human rights has already been profoundly undermined by the Iraq war and the consequent association of democracy-promotion rhetoric with violent regime change. Some will be glad to see the prospect of a more isolationist US. However, this wont necessarily translate into more self-determination and sovereignty for the region. Instead there will probably be more multipolar competition by international powers, including Russia, China, India and vying European interests.

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November 8, 2016

The mistrust of political upper-class now observed across the developed world has been the norm in the Countries of the middle east for some time. Many have simply viewed the US election with the same black humour often applied to the regions own politics. Indeed, satirising Trumps rhetoric about banning Muslims, an advert this week by Jordan national airline, Royal Jordanian, promoted deals on flights to the US with a tagline saying: Only in case he wins travel to the US while youre still allowed to!

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