Arab leaders should be wary of bromance with Trump

No one knows yet where Trump truly stands on any issue, Middle East-related or otherwise.

2017/05/14 Issue: 106 Page: 17

The Arab Weekly
Mark Habeeb

When US President Donald Trump travels to Saudi Arabia this month he likely will meet with many regional leaders in addition to Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. The Saudi government has invited heads of state from several Arab and Muslim coun­tries to join him and Trump in the Saudi capital.

Although he has been in office less than four months, Trump already has met with the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and the Palestin­ian Authority, as well as with the very influential Saudi deputy crown prince. Each of these meetings was spun as a great success by both parties, with Trump and his guest heaping personal praise on each other.

Trump likes receiving praise — and returning it (as long as he receives it first). Arab leaders, understandably frustrated after eight years of an Obama adminis­tration that was intent on pivoting away from the Middle East while lecturing about human rights, are delighted to have a president who talks tough on Iran and has no desire to tell them how to run their countries.

However, these leaders should be wary of being seen as too close to Trump, too aligned with his world view, whatever that is, and too enamoured of him. My warning to Arab leaders is: Do not be perceived as having a bro­mance with Trump.

First, remember that if you were not a head of state, this president probably would have tried to have immigration officials deny you a visa to visit the United States because of your religion — a religion that Trump has often disparaged.

Second, while the Trump administration is willing to sell you armaments, it also plans to slash the US foreign aid budget and has no interest in helping build economies or societies in the Middle East. Similarly, Trump talks about pursuing bilateral trade deals but he means those in which the United States comes out on top. Trump is not interested in win-win relationships; he is interested in we-win-you-lose relationships.

Third, no one knows yet where Trump truly stands on any issue, Middle East-related or other­wise. He praises the last person who praised him; he listens to the last person who had his ear; he flips and flops on issues like a fish on land. Consider North Korea, where one day he threat­ened war and the next he praised that country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, as “a smart cookie.”

Here is the main reason Arab leaders should be wary of cuddling too closely with Trump: His presidency is in free fall and the odds are growing by the day that he will be ejected from office in the 2020 elections and possi­bly sooner. Trump’s approval rating stood at 36% in the most recent Quinnipiac Poll and 56% of respondents said they disap­proved of his job as president. And this poll was conducted before Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who was investi­gating the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia. Comey’s firing has caused outrage not only among Democrats but among many Republican leaders as well.

On the international stage, Trump has embittered Mexico; alienated German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Europe’s most powerful leader; saw his favoured French candidate, Marine Le Pen, lose in a land­slide; and now must deal with a South Korean president who opposes his stance towards Pyongyang.

David Rothkopf, editor of Foreign Policy, wrote on May 10: “Trump is a laughingstock in the best of circumstances, a disgrace based on his known behaviour to date and a threat to global order and security with each action he takes. He discredits the office he holds and the government he leads.”

The Cook Political Report recently increased the odds that Democrats would seize control of both houses of Congress in the 2018 elections. If this happens, expect the impeachment process to begin almost immediately.

Clearly, Arab leaders, like other countries’ leaders, must deal with the American president they have, not the one they want and they are right to try to develop a good working relationship with him, to be gracious and cordial in meetings and to seek common understandings on shared issues.

But Arab leaders need to play the long game. The current US president is increasingly unpopu­lar with the American public and hated by Democrats and by most establishment Republicans, even if they do not all say so publicly.

Arab countries need to build institutional relationships with the United States, not only with government agencies, many of whose bureaucrats and experts will stay in place regardless of who is president, but also with the private sector, civil society organisations and educational institutions.

A bromance with a mercurial president may produce short-term benefits but it is not the way to have a relationship with the United States.

Mark Habeeb is East-West editor of The Arab Weekly and adjunct professor of Global Politics and Security at Georgetown University in Washington.

As Printed
Editors' Picks

The Arab Weekly Newspaper reaches Western & Arabic audience that are influential as well as being affluent.

From Europe to the Middle East,and North America, The Arab Weekly talks to opinion formers and influential figures, providing insight and comment on national, international and regional news through the focus of Arabic countries and community.

Published by Al Arab Publishing House

Publisher and Group Executive Editor: Haitham El-Zobaidi, PhD

Editor-in-Chief: Oussama Romdhani

Managing Editor: Iman Zayat

Deputy Managing Editor and Online Editor: Mamoon Alabbasi

Senior Editor: John Hendel

Chief Copy Editor: Richard Pretorius

Copy Editor: Stephen Quillen

Analysis Section Editor: Ed Blanche

East/West Section Editor: Mark Habeeb

Gulf Section Editor: Mohammed Alkhereiji

Society and Travel Sections Editor: Samar Kadi

Syria and Lebanon Sections Editor: Simon Speakman Cordall

Contributing Editor: Rashmee Roshan Lall

Senior Correspondents: Mahmud el-Shafey (London) & Lamine Ghanmi (Tunis)

Regular Columnists

Claude Salhani

Yavuz Baydar


Saad Guerraoui (Casablanca)

Dunia El-Zobaidi (London)

Roua Khlifi (Tunis)

Thomas Seibert (Washington)

Chief Designer: Marwen Hmedi


Ibrahim Ben Bechir

Hanen Jebali

Published by Al Arab Publishing House

Contact editor

Subscription & Advertising:

Tel 020 3667 7249

Mohamed Al Mufti

Marketing & Advertising Manager

Tel (Main) +44 20 6702 3999

Direct: +44 20 8742 9262

Al Arab Publishing House

Kensington Centre

177-179 Hammersmith Road

London W6 8BS , UK

Tel: (+44) 20 7602 3999

Fax: (+44) 20 7602 8778

Follow Us
© The Arab Weekly, All rights reserved