Trump, Clinton, and Iran
The US presidential marathon has reached its finish line. The foreign policy approach of each candidate can have different impacts on the interests and security of Middle East countries including Iran. Even though foreign policy is not determined during presidential campaigns and in accordance with a candidate’s paradoxical slogans, the candidates’ attitude toward the three fundamental principles and five basic policies of US politics is essential for any attempt to predict their Middle East policy. The three principles are: American exceptionalism, the country’s international decline, and the corporate elite’s interests. The five policies include fortification, Asia pivot, backseat driving, sustaining Israel’s superiority in the Middle East, and the continuation of the nuclear deal’s implementation.
Exceptionalism: The Donald Trump and the Republicans’ reading of this principle in the US foreign policy is an ideological, totalitarian and inflexible one. The principle, derived from de Tocqueville’s views, considers the United States an exceptional superior country. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton and Democrats demonstrate a pragmatic, participatory and flexible reading of the principle, taken from [Seymour Martin] Lipset’s views, which considers efficiency as the root cause of the legitimacy of this belief and puts emphasis on avoiding new wars and costs.
Power decline: The decline in US power is an acknowledged fact among the American elite and masses. Three major reasons for the decline include the consequences of costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, emerging developments in global economy, and increasing population and costs in countries dominated by the US. Trump speaks of a return to US glory and tough reaction to Iranian boats in his sensational campaign slogans on the one hand and on the other hand, promotes further isolation from Syria, Middle East, and even Europe and NATO. Clinton offers a more integrated and realistic attitude. However, compared to President Obama, she has promised more interventionist policies such as a no-fly zone in Syria or strengthened ties with NATO and rebuilding trust with Middle East allies.
The corporate elite: While Trump claims to restrict the role of corporate giants, particularly the arms industries and oil companies, in the United States’ foreign policy and to focus on national interests, Clinton represents the status quo. Under her presidency, corporate interests will continue to play their role.
Fortification: This signifies avoidance of getting involved in a new war and its costs and is the result of the ruling American elite’s reading of the aforementioned principles. Obama has remained highly committed to this reading. It seems that Clinton will continue the policy less loyally but Trump has expressed paradoxical views in this regard, even though the sum of his remarks suggests he will continue exercising the policy, too.
Asia pivot: Trump also uses a harsh tone against China. Meanwhile, Clinton considers herself the architect of the transfer of US’ center of diplomatic gravity from the Middle East to the South China Sea. The major opponents of this shift in policy are Saudi Arabia, Israel and the People’s Republic of China. It is likely that Clinton’s emphasis on rebuilding trust with Middle East allies make it more difficult for her to implement the policy, compared to Trump.
Backseat driving: This policy carries a double meaning; i.e. either concealing US’ role in foreign interventions particularly in the Middle East and forcing or encouraging US’s regional allies to participate and accept the larger part of human casualties and military costs. Clinton has shown more capability and inclination to implement the policy and her insistence on using smart power is in the same line.
Sustaining Israel’s superiority in the Middle East: There seems to be no meaningful difference in the commitment of the two candidates to the policy and both will follow it. However, it is noteworthy that the power of pro-Israel lobbies in the US has been declining since 2012.
Continuation of the nuclear deal’s implementation: The Democrats’ 2016 letter supporting the nuclear deal emphasizes on its continuation while non-nuclear sanctions are maintained and a military option remains on table to guarantee Iran’s commitment. On the other hand, the position of Trump and the Republican Party on the issue is paradoxical and vague. Trump first spoke of tearing up the JCPOA and then said he wanted fresh talks, both of which are impractical.
The position brought up in the Republicans’ letter also puts more emphasis on the illegitimacy of Obama’s measures in the deal. However, Trump too will have no option but to continue the implementation of the deal but with more stringency.
In conclusion, the presidency of each candidate and the continuation of the deal are important but not determinative for Iran. Iran is the only country in the region that establishes its own security self-reliantly. That is why Iran not only remains unconcerned by a decreased number of US forces in the region, but also welcomes it. Regardless of who is the next President in the White House, Iran’s interests and security are guaranteed by maintaining its strategic capacity, soft and hard power, an essential part of which is the logical discourse of the Islamic Republic.