Turkey, World, Analysis, Americas

OPINION - What can Turkey expect from Trump?

Donald Trump's lack of political experience raising specter of neoconservatives retaking control of US foreign policy

Adam McConnel   | 11.11.2016
OPINION - What can Turkey expect from Trump?

Istanbul

By Adam McConnel

ISTANBUL 

The 2016 U.S. presidential election result, like the Brexit vote, defeated polling predictions as well as the betting and statistics sites (and my own expectations, too).

Even though the result seems to be within the polling margin of error, several states which voted for Trump were predicted as Clinton wins.

Clinton, on the strength of the urban vote in the northeast and California, almost certainly won the overall popular vote, the second time in 16 years that the Electoral College victor [Trump, in this case] did not win the popular vote.

Both times the Democratic candidate was the victim, but that result should curb excessive hubris from Trump’s supporters.

Several days ago, in an article for Anadolu Agency, I described a block of U.S. political voters, associated with conservative, rural and white Americans, which has been declining in influence since WWII. When one looks at maps of the results of Tuesday’s election, that block is clearly identifiable.

From the Rocky Mountains to the Deep South, a long string of states consistently vote Republican. Those states are also more rural.

The Northeastern and West Coast states -- California, Oregon, and Washington are known collectively in U.S. political parlance as “the Left Coast” -- are traditional liberal bastions. This is why the “swing states” tend to be in the Midwest.

Midwestern industrial states may vote Democratic because those voters are generally more urban, liberal-minded and working-class, but the Midwestern working classes have been slipping away from the Democratic Party in recent years. In this election, many of those Midwestern states went to Trump.

Some time will pass before we will be able to say more concrete things about how this result occurred. But we can look at what initial analyses are indicating.

Analysts are saying that Clinton has, for example, won women voters by 12 percent and lost male voters by the same margin. Analysts are also pointing to the concerns of voters in those key Midwestern states about trade and the economy.

Even though data indicate the U.S. economy is growing, Midwestern voters told pollsters they either did not believe the data or did not experience the improvement indicated by the data, and Trump focused intensely on the trade issue.

The performance of the economy is traditionally a strong indicator of U.S. presidential elections, and in this case something as simple as perception of the economy’s performance may be the reason Clinton lost several key Midwestern states.

Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore wrote what is now an entirely prophetic article several months ago in which he predicted Trump would win based on his analysis of how trade policy has affected the Midwestern industrial states [1].

Moore said all Trump needed to do was win the four “Rust Belt” states (Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin) -- which Mitt Romney failed to take in 2012 – to secure the Electoral College. Trump did that and more.


Fears over foreign policy

In Turkey, however, we should feel concern. Turkish-American relations under a Trump presidency will, from one standpoint, be an unknown for a period of time. The main reason is that Trump has literally no experience with foreign policy issues. In fact, Trump has no political experience whatsoever since he has never been elected to public office before.

Consequently, Trump’s statements about foreign policy during the campaign should not be taken as exact predictions of what actual policy will turn out to be. Trump’s foreign policy advisors have been hit by controversies and criticized even by the Republican establishment.

Trump’s main foreign policy advisor, Walid Phares, recently caused a stir in the Turkish press [2] by telling an American-Turkish Council meeting that Trump would examine possible ties between Fetullah Gulen’s cult and the Clinton campaign, and that he “desired closer ties with Turkey”.

Phares, a Lebanese Christian by heritage, a foreign policy advisor for the 2012 Mitt Romney campaign and a Fox News commentator, also made positive statements about the possibility of no-fly and safe-zones in northern Syria. In the past, on the other hand, Phares has made comments on issues relating to Turkey that were quite different than what he said in the past eight months.

Another possibility, even more disturbing, is also present. Because Trump is the Republican candidate but has no foreign policy experience, we can expect the neoconservative foreign policy community in Washington D.C. to be eagerly pursuing positions of influence in the new administration.

Phares, for example, has been characterized as a neoconservative in the past. Neoconservative think-tanks, such as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Heritage Foundation, have been shunned from the corridors of power for the past eight years, but are still going strong and will regain influence over the foreign policy dialogue under a Republican president.

In the hours after the result became clear, articles immediately began to appear suggesting Trump might turn to the neoconservative foreign policy community for appointments [3]. Michael Rubin, who predicted the 15 July Turkish coup attempt and then recently predicted more violence for Turkish society, is the AEI’s most prominent commentator on Turkish issues.

Apparently, Rubin was already anticipating the political appointments that a Trump White House would have to deal with a year ago [4].

Trump’s pick for Secretary of State will also be closely scrutinized since the President-elect’s lack of experience with and knowledge of foreign policy issues will most likely give the Secretary of State more influence, even independence, concerning policy decisions.

Finally, Trump also expressed his admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the Trump campaign was accused of having ties to Moscow. Relations between Washington and Moscow are sure to be different than they would have been under a Hillary Clinton presidency, and that will have direct ramifications for the Eastern Mediterranean.

But because Trump is entirely new to politics, only with time will we be able to discern what specific policy stances he will take towards Turkey and this region.


Little cause for optimism

Frankly, it is not easy to be optimistic at the moment. Much had been made of Hillary Clinton’s supposed ties to Fetullah Gulen’s cult, but the donations received and political relations between Clinton and Gulen were marginal at most.

Hillary Clinton’s experience with foreign policy and her past good relations with Turkish political leaders would have been a welcome change from the past four years. In fact, in her autobiography Hard Choices, Clinton devoted an entire chapter to Syria and made positive statements about Turkish politicians.

Many have forgotten that her stance towards the Syrian conflict -- instituting a no-fly zone, arming and training the moderate Syrian opposition -- was similar to the Turkish government’s.

Instead, the specter of renewed neoconservative influence over U.S. foreign policy is at hand.

Opinions expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Anadolu Agency's editorial policy



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