How Arab leaders should deal with Clinton

Friday 04/03/2016

Hillary Clinton’s lopsided victory in the South Carolina primary put her on course to be the potential next president of the United States so Arab governments need to engage her as rapidly as possible to try to prevent her as president repeating her catastrophic embrace of “democratic” forces across the Middle East in the 2011 terribly misnamed “Arab spring”. It led to havoc from Libya to Syria to Yemen.
As I have noted in these col­umns before, Clinton is in no way anti-Arab. The Clinton Foundation has received at least $40 million from wealthy Gulf Arab donors. She has longstanding friendships with leaders and members of royal families throughout the region.
However, Arab governments should not be lulled by positive experiences in dealing with her as secretary of state to imagine that they will have the same experi­ence if she becomes president.
A President Hillary Clinton will not simply repeat either the strengths or the shortcomings of her husband Bill’s presidency.
It would be a mistake to as­sume that Hillary Clinton will be automatically sympathetic to and supportive of Israel because her husband was or because she refused to challenge Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu when she was secretary of state.
As president, Clinton is far more likely to openly clash with Netan­yahu and try far more energeti­cally to revive the peace process and restore the possibility of a two-state solution precisely be­cause she took such a low profile on those issues out of deference to US President Barack Obama while his secretary of state.
Conversely, Clinton may be far more likely to stand up to Iran as president. Her instincts have always been confrontational, for good or ill, and US Secretary of State John Kerry’s achievement, if such it was, in concluding the nuclear agreement with Iran is less likely to impress her, however much she praises it on the election trail.
Therefore, on Iran, Saudi and Gulf leaders are much more likely to receive a sympathetic hearing from Clinton than they ever did from Obama or Kerry.
However, most of all Clinton can be expected to want to be her own secretary of state on major issues and she will replicate in the White House the way she ran the US State Department.
That means: for good or ill (most likely for good and ill) only three aides in her most intimate circle will really count as influences on her as president: Huma Abedin, Sidney Blumenthal and Cheryl Mills.
Between now and mid-July, a window of opportunity offers itself for Arab governments.
Clinton’s only serious chal­lenger, US Senator Bernie Sanders, (D-Vt.) has little chance of winning the Democratic nomination. The Republicans are far too divided and confused to focus their rhe­torical firepower on Clinton. These conditions will likely remain so until the major party nominating conventions in July.
That means now is the time for Arab embassies and diplomats in Washington to engage Clinton’s “Big Three” advisers in Washing­ton and, if possible, fly them out to the region where they can see the opportunities, challenges and conditions first hand.
The most powerful and influ­ential Washington advisers and power brokers lead surprisingly sheltered lives inside the Beltway: With them, a little real world ex­perience goes a long way. A little time taken to engage such figures can pay off handsomely in four to eight years of sympathetic under­standing from the West Wing of the White House.
Love her or loathe her, Clinton is on the wide political freeway to coast home to the Democratic Party’s nomination for president and a dream campaign against a confused and chaotic Republican Party will follow.
Now, therefore, is the time for Arab leaders to show the hospital­ity and long-term vision for which they have been so long famed and seek to constructively engage Clin­ton’s closest aides. The window of opportunity is there but it will not stay open long.