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The big Trump surprise

Nov 15,2016 - Last updated at Nov 15,2016

Donald Trump has won the US presidential election despite popular and media consensus that he would not. Hence, the prevalence of global disbelief and shock.

Similarly, a few months ago, the unexpected result of the Brexit referendum caused shock in the UK and beyond.

In both situations, prior public opinion surveys had persistently pointed in the opposite direction from the outcome that materialised.

These are two striking examples of why we should not submit to premature assumptions or even take the predictions of opinion polls for granted.

Last Sunday night I was invited by Jordan TV to comment on the US elections and to assess the potential dangers should Trump be elected, in particular regarding his controversial statements about Muslims and Israel, i.e., his promised support for the construction of Jewish settlements and the transfer of the US embassy to Jerusalem.

I was not available to participate, buy I suggested that it might be better to postpone any such discussion until after the election results.

I was, however, able to offer three additional remarks, which I agreed to air live during the 8-oclock news bulletin.

The first was that lavish campaign promises for the main purpose of soliciting votes do not necessarily transform into the official winner’s position once the election is won.

The second was that US policies would not be shaped by the new president, who will not even assume his duties officially until January 20 next year. The new president would normally need more time after the January inauguration to carefully study situations and heaps of policy files before planning the way forward, and that usually takes additional months.

Although in the US the elected president is the head of government, as well as of the executive branch, and therefore he has extensive power in his hand, he does not alone formulate policies that are often worked out jointly with the other institutions.

Nevertheless, one should not underestimate the great influence of the president in formulating policy. That was my last point.

My concern was that all the questions that I was required to answer live were tailored in such a way as to imply that we would only have cause for deep concern if Trump was to be the victor instead of Hillary Clinton.

When has it ever been suggested that staunch supporter of Israel Hilary Clinton would challenge Israel’s ongoing settlement construction programme since 1967, or would introduce any meaningful change to the traditional support of her country for Israel?

Quite the contrary, so to imply that Trump’s policies would be any worse for the Middle East is fundamentally questionable.

Democracy might be “the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”, said Sir Winston Churchill, but it still is the only available system that guarantees a relative equilibrium of people’s interests, inclinations, choices, beliefs, desires and even prejudices. 

More importantly, it does not allow powerful individuals or groups to compromise others’ rights or impose on them without their voluntary consent as given in elections. Elections determine roles and that is the core of any functioning democracy.

The American people decided who their next president should be, and while their choice may have disappointed many, it deserves respect. 

Trump’s candidacy was viewed as a “joke” by many in the US and worldwide, yet he was not deterred. 

He won primaries all the way up to the nomination of his party. He conducted a vigorous campaign, constantly propelled by his own dynamism, charisma and relentlessness.

He did indeed make controversial and radical statements, but probably that was more a case of showmanship rather than conviction. He may not be perfect, but who is?

Following his election, all those who had previously written him off ran to him with their plenteous expressions of congratulations, wishes of success and pledges of support.

A certain level of political pandering is to be expected. Also to be expected were the generous remarks by the president elect to those who were not on his side.

President-elect Trump can easily afford so much graciousness and generosity towards his worst opponents now that he sits comfortably vindicated at the helm of the most influential world power.

With the campaigning behind him, the magnitude of the challenges that await him will inevitably dictate a shift in policy handling. 

Complex issues of all kinds, domestic as well as international, will be awaiting the president in his office.

As far as the region is concerned, the crises in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, as well as the historic Arab-Israeli conflict can be expected to be at the top of the agenda. The question of terrorism will also be on the urgent matters menu.

And yet, it is not that easy at this stage to make credible predictions on how the new administration will handle the Arab-Israeli conflict or the other pressing crises. 

The views of the president will most certainly count, but so will those of his chosen government team, in formulating policy direction.

Names for secretary of state, chief of staff, attorney general, secretary of defence and others have already started to circulate. We are very curious to know who in the new administration will be in charge of foreign policy, as this will relate directly to our region.

Nobody with a reasonable grasp of US foreign policy should expect the Trump administration to be less supportive of Israel than all the previous ones.

Clinton would have been as committed to Israel, if not more, and she made that very clear in her campaign.

Israel could not have managed to maintain its 50-year-long occupation of Syrian, Palestinian and Lebanese lands, since its 1967 simultaneous attack on Egypt, Jordan and Syria, to build so many illegal settlements on the occupied lands or to create so many illegal and irreversible facts on the ground in the absence of American support.

But what about the other aspects of American foreign policy in our region in the many past decades and what are the outcomes?

Here is what Trump said in a foreign policy statement in April: “Unfortunately, after the Cold War, our foreign policy veered badly off course. We failed to develop a new vision for a new time. In fact, as time went on, our foreign policy began to make less and less sense.

“Logic was replaced with foolishness and arrogance, and this led to one foreign policy disaster after another. We went from mistakes in Iraq to Egypt to Libya, to President Obama’s line in the sand in Syria. Each of these actions have helped to throw the region into chaos, and gave ISIS the space it needs to grow and prosper.

“We tore up what institutions they had and then were surprised at what we unleashed. Civil war, religious fanaticism, thousands of American lives, and many trillions of dollars, were lost as a result. The vacuum was created that ISIS would fill. Iran, too, would rush in and fill the void, much to their unjust enrichment.

“Our foreign policy is a complete and total disaster. No vision, no purpose, no direction, no strategy.”

This is the shocking reality in our region in particular. Many responsible and objective American analysts agree with it and see the situation that way. But when Trump said it six months ago, few were willing to take him seriously.

Let us hope the course will be corrected. Part of it, the US policy towards Israel.

US support for Israel’s security and legitimate interests is one thing, support for Israeli aggression, occupation, negation of the Palestinian rights and defiance of international law is another. 

Long-term Israeli interests were severely harmed by such wrong support wherever it originated.

Decade after decade of instability in the Middle East — now spreading in Africa and Asia — continued conflict, rise of extremism and radicalisation, factional fighting, terrorism — spreading worldwide — backwardness, squandering of assets in an environment of total political and moral degeneration are the outcomes of irresponsible bias, lack of fairness, absence of drastic political will, unprincipled policies and undue endorsement of wrongs.

Yes, we have every reason to be concerned, even deeply worried. The region cannot survive much longer if the raging, very destructive, wars are not stopped and if the chronic crises are not tackled with firm resolve.


But despite the gloom, let us not lose all hope.

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