The tight contest in the United States presidential election is of immediate interest to 324 million Americans, but it is also keenly watched by the rest of the world, including the six Arab Gulf states — presumably America’s closest Arab allies. With only six weeks to go, the latest New York Times/CBS News poll shows a very close race to the white House: Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, has the support of 46 per cent of likely voters nationwide, compared with 44 per cent for Donald Trump, the Republican candidate.
But as the race to the white House gets closer to the finishing line on November 8 and as it gets more divisive in the days to come, global anticipation and excitement over who will be the next US president are bound to increase by the day. The two presidential candidates represent not only two sharply different personalities, but two diametrically opposed views of what America stands for and how it should deal with international affairs.
Normally, the Arab Gulf states, like the rest of the world, stay out of the highly competitive American elections and tend to keep their preference for the two contenders to themselves. But this time, no one is hiding his or her favourite and it is anybody but Trump, about whom nearly everybody talks dismissively. Anybody but Trump is the prevailing view in the Arab Gulf states when it comes to the question of, ‘Who would you vote for if given the chance to participate in the current US presidential election’.
Two separate virtual polls done over Twitter lately show the public mood in the Arab Gulf states is clearly in favour of Hillary and overwhelmingly opposed to the highly volatile Trumpa.
Dr Abdullah Al Shayji, professor of Political Science in Kuwait University and a close observer of American politics, asked his 100,000-strong followers on Twitter, mostly from the Arab Gulf states, who their favourite candidate was for US president. Of the 1,227 people who participated in this admittedly unscientific poll, an overwhelming majority of 66 per cent favoured Hillary.
A week later, on August 21, I also posed a similar question to my near-100,000 followers on Twitter. A total of 1,596 took part in this virtual poll and the results were almost identical — a majority of 61 per cent supported Hilary and not Trump, who looks, acts and talks like a clown.
Anybody but Trump seems to be the mood not only among the public, but also among government officials in private conversations throughout Arab Gulf capitals. The generally respected and very familiar Hillary is the overwhelming favourite among both, citizens as well as officials in the Gulf Arab states.
There is a widespread feeling in the Gulf that Hillary genuinely understands the security needs of the Arab Gulf states and appreciates the notion that they are too important as partners to be alienated in the fight against terrorism. In contrast, hardly anyone in the Gulf thinks that the largely unknown candidate Trump is remotely familiar with or genuinely committed to the security needs of US partners in the Gulf.
Hillary also comes across as a candidate who knows the region very well and will be ready to tackle its needs and problems from Day One. Her vast knowledge of the countries in the region is impeccable and a source of great comfort for the Gulf states struggling to deal with civil wars in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, on top of the ongoing war against Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and confronting an expansionist Iran. In comparison, major Gulf capitals have doubts about Trump’s sincerity, reliability, commitment and knowledge of America’s core Middle East interests. If US reliability and credibility are in doubt these days, they will be even more so under president Trump.
Familiarity is Hillary’s greatest asset. She not only knows the Gulf and the Middle East well, but more importantly, she knows the region’s key leaders, both the older and younger generations. She has dealt with them extensively over a long period. Also, the leaders in Gulf capitals know her very well and feel comfortable working with her — even more than with Barack Obama, let alone the shady businessman Trump. From her previous dealings with Gulf leaders, Hillary comes across as very reasonable, personable, approachable and available. These are extremely valuable qualities for Gulf leaders in their dealings with Washington, which is becoming increasingly more difficult.
In contrast, the rough and tough-talking Trump will not be received kindly in Gulf capitals, especially at a time when these capitals are acting more independently and assertively on regional issues. Gulf capitals value their relations with the US, but they are no longer the little ducklings of the 20th century. The last thing they need now is to deal with tough utterances from Washington. Where familiarity is Hillary’s greatest asset, Trump does not figure high on the list of ‘who is who’ in Washington. To those outside America, he is still pretty much on the list of “Who is he?”
With the stakes very high, the US presidential election is closely monitored in the Arab Gulf States. At this moment, the last thing America’s Gulf allies wish for is to have to deal with the hugely unknown quantity called Trump. There is anticipation that the first female US president will be tougher with Iran than Obama was. Expectation is also running high that she is well-equipped to fix the damage that eight years of an Obama administration have inflicted on the US-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) relationship. The great hope is that the 60-year-old US-GCC partnership is in for better times if Hillary is elected as the 45th president of the US.
— Dr Abdulkhaleq Abdulla is professor of Political Science, chairman of the Arab Council for Social Sciences, theacss.org and a visiting senior fellow at the London School of Economics. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Abdulkhaleq_UAE.