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What If?

[Hillary Clinton. Image by Gage Skidmore via Flickr] [Hillary Clinton. Image by Gage Skidmore via Flickr]

I suspect I was hardly alone in putting more effort into considering the implications of a Clinton presidency than a Trump administration. The article below, written shortly before the 8 November election, focuses on Clinton’s foreign policy and what this might have portended for the Middle East. It serves as a useful reminder that the best Clinton had to offer the region was more of the same:

Hillary Clinton will assume office at a time of profound global change and instability, not least in the Middle East. Yet the available evidence suggests she will seek to meet Washington’s numerous challenges abroad primarily by promoting continuity and strengthening the status quo, prioritising rather than reconsidering those alliances, policies and instruments deployed by her recent predecessors. 

In doing so Clinton is the faithful representative of a bipartisan US foreign policy consensus that has reigned since 1945. This helps explain, for example, why most neo-conservative luminaries during the 2016 election cycle returned to the Democratic Party that was their breeding ground during the 1970s.

The world has changed substantially since the era of unipolar triumphalism that characterised the administration of her husband, Bill Clinton, during the 1990s. Yet her record as US Senator, and more recently as Secretary of State, demonstrate a core commitment to indefinitely sustaining that moment even as it is increasingly overtaken by reality. Combined with her significantly more aggressive and interventionist instincts relative to Obama (who in 2008 was able to successfully mobilise Clinton’s support for the invasion and occupation of Iraq against her), it seems likely that tensions with for example Russia, China, and North Korea will escalate further, perhaps dangerously so. Unless confronted with powerful opposition, Clinton can similarly be expected to resume her support for various trade agreements, such as TTIP, that she sponsored as Secretary of State but disavowed as a candidate to meet the twin challenges of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.

In the Middle East Clinton will inherit the Iranian nuclear agreement, the increasingly violent transformation of an anachronistic Arab regional order in which Washington is deeply invested, growing instability in Turkey, and an Israeli occupation soon to approach the half-century mark. With events moving at an increasingly rapid pace and in ever more unpredictable directions, the next American president will most likely resort to the tried-and-true playbook of restoring stability through partnerships with discredited and increasingly illegitimate regimes.

This bodes particularly ill for the campaign to eradicate the Islamic State movement in Iraq; absent a transformation of governance structures introduced to Mesopotamia by the Americans during the previous decade, the underlying dysfunction will persist and continue to generate new and different challenges with regional implications. One of these, parenthetically, may be a unilateral declaration of Kurdish statehood that will be difficult for Washington to either recognise or reject.

Seemingly unchastened by her Libyan adventure, Clinton’s proposals for a more overt American role in Syria’s horrific conflict can probably be safely ignored. Russia’s 2015 intervention has severely constrained US military options, and should eastern Aleppo fall in the coming months its political choices will be greatly reduced as well. Washington is therefore more likely to pursue containment of the slaughter within Syria’s borders than a decisive outcome.

How Clinton approaches the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which despite the turmoil elsewhere remains the ultimate source of regional instability, will tell us much about the rest of her Middle East policy. Her exceptionally strong pro-Israeli positions are, as with Obama, likely to survive increasingly strained relationships with Israeli leaders who daily confirm that the inmates have taken over the asylum. It will thus be the responsibility of the region’s peoples to promote and secure their rights and interests. All indications are that, as with previous US administrations, they will be acting in opposition to US policy rather than with its support. Only if they succeed can we expect to see Washington reconsider its commitment to continuity and the regional status quo.  

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