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Opinion: Clinton or Trump – Better or Less Bad? - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Hillary Clinton or Donald trump, which one might be better for the Middle East?
This is the question friends have been asking me for weeks. It is not easy to answer because it assumes that both candidates are good and that one could be better than the other. However, what if both candidates are bad in which case the question is: which one would be worse for the Middle East?

Even then, finding an answer depends on what we think the two might do for America itself. For if the US is unable to put its own house in order it would not be able to do much good for anyone else.

In its short history, with few evanescent periods, the US has always managed to synthesize ethnic, religious, ideological and racial diversity, and forge national consensus on key issues of domestic and foreign policies. That consensus no longer exists. In fact, with the exception of the decade spanning the Civil War, including pre- and post-bellum phases, the US today is more divided than at any other time.

Though it would be unfair to blame all on him, there is no escaping the fact that President Barack Obama has been an exceptionally divisive figure. Failing to find formulae for working with a hostile Congress he has tried to circumvent the legislature whenever possible, adding fuel to the fire of division. He leaves behind a deeply divided government.

By turning his power base into a coalition of racial, ethnic and religious minorities, Obama has pushed the majority towards radical messages they had shunned for generations. He leaves behind a divided society. Today, even the two main parties, Democrat and Republican, are split with surprising reversals of alliances within each. He leaves behind a divided establishment.

With his tergiversations and intellectual laziness, Obama has also divided the NATO alliance, opening new spaces for opportunist powers of various sizes to embark on ill-conceived adventures. That brings us to the real question: which of the two candidates are less likely to deepen those divisions, let alone heal America’s political wounds?

If we go by verbal measures, Donald Trump is certainly the more divisive of the two if only because of his tongue-lashing of Latinos, Muslims and even Republican Party grandees. But if action is the measure, Hillary Clinton might be the more divisive. The reason is that, rightly or wrongly, she is seen as the continuator of Obama’s tenure; many Americans see her presidency as a third term for the incumbent. Another President Clinton might mean another four years of internecine feuds in the United States. And that would be bad for America and bad for the world, including the Middle East.

In contrast, Trump, who, despite the fact that he talks too much, still remains an unknown quantity and may turn out to be a less divisive figure if only by allowing the structures of the US government to absorb the shock of Obama and regain a measure of composure and balance.

When it comes to the Middle East, Trump again has the advantage of being an unknown quantity. Although he has talked a lot of nonsense about foreign policy, he has also insisted on a valid point: the current US policy simply doesn’t work. That, in turn, might persuade him to look for something different, creating at least an opportunity for repairing some of the damage done by Obama’s wayward policies to peace and stability in the Middle East.

Clinton, in contrast, already has a record. She backed the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt before Obama decided to ditch them. She was co-pilot in Obama’s disastrous policy in Libya. On the perennial Arab-Israeli conflict, she did the hoola dance choreographed by Obama, going round and round and getting nowhere. Clinton was also in the driving seat when the US launched secret talks in Oman with Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a textbook example of diplomatic chicanery that led to the great swindle known as “the Iran Nuclear deal.”

Trump is accused of flirting with the Russian President Vladimir Putin. But it was Hillary who offered the neo-Tsar a gadget bearing the message “re-set”. It is also clear that she spent part of her time as Secretary of State fund-raising for the Clinton Foundation, a noble cause perhaps but hardly relevant to American foreign policy objectives.

So, on balance we could conclude that though Clinton won’t be as bad as Obama, something unimaginable, she is unlikely to be significantly less bad. In contrast, Trump who may prove to be much worse than Obama, something quite possible, may also prove to be significantly less bad.

Putting one’s chips on Trump is a gamble with a real possibility of losing. Betting on Clinton, however, is no gamble because we already know that her personal qualities aside, she is likely to reproduce the losses that the Obama administration has inflicted on the US and its allies. Having said that, American voters should have one concern above all: Which candidate might heal the rift that is damaging to the very fabric of their nation?

The Middle East, indeed the whole world, needs a strong and United America if only because America remains the only power capable of making a big difference for better or for worse. I often remember these words from the British diplomat and writer John Buchan in his marvelous 1929 novel “The Courts of the Morning”:
“No power or alliance of powers can defeat America. But assume that she is compelled to quarrel with a group of {enemies} and that with her genius for misrepresenting herself appears to have a bad cause… Has she many friends on the globe? Most countries will flatter her and kowtow to her and borrow money from her. But they hate her like hell… Inside her borders she has half a dozen nations instead of one who could prevent her {from acting decisively}.”

In the same book, Buchan’s principal hero Sandy, an English peer, has this to say:
“I really believe in liberty, though it is out of fashion. And because America, in her queer way, is on the side of liberty, I am for America!”

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. Mr. Taheri has won several prizes for his journalism, and in 2012 was named International Journalist of the Year by the British Society of Editors and the Foreign Press Association in the annual British Media Awards.

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