US presidential primaries are a circus, and this year Donald Trump is its clown. You know this and I know this. This is why I apologise for wasting my column on Donald Trump. But here’s the thing - Trump, according to the latest polls, now has a double-digit lead over his Republican rivals, which means the clown has been promoted to lion tamer.
We can all go on continuing to pretend Trump 2016 isn’t a thing, but it is a thing. It’s a thing that is happening. It’s a thing that is growing.
A number of media outlets, including the Huffington Post, have made the decision to starve the Trump campaign of the oxygen it needs to continue to grow. When CNN, MSNBC or Fox News gives coverage to Trump, they predictably include at least one overpaid political commentator forecasting: “This is the beginning of the end.”
But to borrow a Winston Churchill-ism: “This isn’t the beginning of the end but the end of the beginning” for Trump.
In 2012, the Republican primary was replete with clowns that included Michele Bachmann (“HPV vaccine causes retardation”), Herman Cain (“I don’t know the President of Uzbeki-beki-beki-stan”), and Rick Perry (“Oops”), but the more Republican voters got to know the pretenders, the worse they did in the polls. This is not what is happening to Trump in 2016. The more Trump goes on to say outlandish things, the more conservative voters are drawn to him.
So it’s about time we consider what a Trump presidency, as unlikely that reality remains, actually means for the Middle East.
A Trump presidency would be America’s Muammar Gaddafi moment. Yes, a President Donald Trump would rule like an American-accented Muammar Gaddafi. The similarities in temperament are too hard (and fun) to ignore.
While Trump is yet to parade around in a comic-opera uniform, both have/had comically styled hair; both believe/believed their entire respective nations were drawn to their irresistible charms; both flaunt/flaunted their wealth; both are/were as narcissistic as a bodybuilder who could outstare a mirror; and both are/were attracted to buxom beauties half their age.
Trump is always telling audiences that everyone loves him. In the past two weeks alone, he has proclaimed: “Mexicans love me,” “America loves me,” “China loves me,” and even “my ex-wife loves me”.
Gaddafi was as equally disconnected from reality. In the midst of the civil war that would eventually kill him, the Libyan dictator told television reporters: “Everyone in Libya loves me, except the ones on drugs.”
It was Gaddafi’s eccentricity and charisma that initially won him overwhelming Libyan support, which are the same two qualities that are winning over Republican primary voters. Gaddafi’s readiness to take on the West earned him a measurable level of support among ordinary Libyans, even while he ruined the country. Trump’s readiness to take illegal immigrants, China, the Islamic State (IS) group and Iran is earning him a measurable level of support among mostly white southern voters, even while he ruined his father’s fortune and Atlantic City.
Interestingly, the lives of Gaddafi and Trump crossed paths. During Trump’s 2012 presidential campaign that never happened, the real-estate mogul boasted that among Republican candidates, he had the strongest track record of dealing with foreign leaders. “I sell them real estate for tremendous amounts of money. I mean, I’ve dealt with everybody,” Trump told Fox News in 2011.
Trump said he was particularly proud of the fact he “screwed” Gaddafi on a real estate deal. "I rented him a piece of land. He paid me more for one night than the land was worth for two years, and then I didn't let him use the land," Trump boasted. "That's what we should be doing. I don't want to use the word 'screwed,' but I screwed him."
A US President Trump would also aim to screw the Middle East, much in the same way tin pot despots Saddam and Gaddafi screwed their respective states in the Middle East. In a 2011 interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Trump said he would recoup America’s costs for the war on terror by effectively taking Iraqi oil. “So, we steal an oil field?” Stephanopoulus asked incredulously. Trump replied, “Excuse me. You're not stealing anything. You're taking - we're reimbursing ourselves."
In the same interview, Trump said he would strong-arm OPEC and Saudi Arabia into lowering oil prices for the United States. “I’m going to look ’em in the eye and say, 'Fellas, you’ve had your fun. The fun is over,'” Trump promised.
More recently, and during his 90-minute-long 2016 campaign launch, Trump gave a rambling speech, which not only included an outline of his Middle East policy, but contained enough non-sequiturs, half-truths, banalities and nuttiness to make the late Libyan dictator high-five the devil.
“Take a look at the deal he’s [Obama] making with Iran. He makes that deal; Israel maybe won’t exist very long. It’s a disaster and we have to protect Israel,” thundered Trump.
Trump didn’t say how a 10-year freeze on Iran’s nuclear ambitions would ensure Israel wouldn’t exist very long, but none of his Republican colleagues have explained that either. Trump also claims no US President has been a greater enemy of Israel than Obama. In a recent piece, I argued that no US president has been a greater friend to Israel than Obama. You can make up your own mind on Obama and Israel. But while you’re doing that, know Trump hopes to build a golf resort adjacent to the Nitzanim Nature Reserve along the Mediterranean coast in Israel.
All in all, when it comes to Israel and Iran, Trump’s views are very much in line with GOP orthodoxy.
Where Trump diverges from the conservative mainstream is on Saudi Arabia. “They make a billion dollars a day, a billion dollars a day. I love the Saudis, many are in this building. They make a billion dollars a day. Whenever they have problems, we send over the ships. We send, we’re going to protect - what are we doing? They got nothing but money. If the right person asked them, they’d pay a fortune. They wouldn’t be there except for us,” Trump rambled.
In simpler terms, what Trump is saying is that he’d charge Saudi Arabia for hosting US military bases in the kingdom, clearly overlooking the fact that Saudi Arabia guarantees the jobs of thousands of American workers via procuring billions of dollars’ worth of weapons every year.
In keeping with the Gaddafi-Trump analogy, Gaddafi also once gave an equally incoherent diatribe against Saudi Arabia, by reminding the monarchy that they existed only as a result of US patronage. “You were created by Britain and are protected by America,” teased Gaddafi.
On IS, Trump said he would pursue the terrorist group more aggressively than President Obama. Why? Trump explained that IS had built a hotel in Mosul, Iraq, and he wouldn’t stand for any competitors moving into his hotel-building business. It’s easy to imagine Gaddafi going after IS because he believed al-Baghdadi’s gown to be too drab.
Yes, like Gaddafi, Trump is both a comedy and a tragedy.
Will Trump become the 45th president of the United States? Not likely. Will Trump win the GOP nomination? Not likely. So, thankfully for the Middle East, Trump is a comedy minus the tragedy. Enjoy the laughs.
- CJ Werleman is the author of Crucifying America, God Hates You. Hate Him Back, Koran Curious, and is the host of Foreign Object. Follow him on twitter: @cjwerleman
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: File picture shows US billionaire Donald Trump in Beverly Hills, California (AFP)