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Clash of the titans: Clinton, Trump go head to head

The candidates could not be more different on how the US should behave on the world stage, and in particular, in the Middle East
A student sits on a wall before US Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her Republican counterpart Donald Trump kick off the presidential debate in New York, on 26 September 2016 (AFP)

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump face off Monday in one of the most consequential presidential debates in modern US history with up to 100 million viewers set to tune in.

The stakes could not be higher: the first woman to win the White House nomination for a major US party, against a New York tycoon-turned-reality star who has upended the political establishment.

Commentators call it a clash of the titans: a 90-minute test of endurance between Clinton the Democrat, arguably the most experienced US presidential candidate in history, against Trump the Republican, perhaps the least experienced White House nominee for a major party.

The candidates could not be more different – on domestic issues and on how the US should behave on the world stage and in particular, in the Middle East.

“Clinton’s disastrously hawkish positions in the region are a matter of record, helping to leave a trail of destruction in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Palestine, while once threatening to annihilate Iran,” Joe Lauria, an Erbil-based world affairs analyst, told Middle East Eye in May, shortly after it became clear the two candidates would face off for the presidency.

“Trump is a wildcard: he speaks non-intervention but has surrounded himself with interventionist advisers so no one really knows how he’d react to a crisis in the region. Neither inspires much hope at all.”

The outcome of this debate could shape the final six-week stint of an election that has deeply polarised the country and left Trump fighting to overcome allegations of bigotry and sexism.

Wall Street stocks tumbled on Monday in anticipation of the first of three live, televised debates before the 8 November election, with the polls locked in a virtual dead heat between the major-party candidates.

A decisive win for Clinton could see her pull ahead. A strong performance from Trump could keep the vote competitive or even possibly see him eke out a lead.

Hosted at Hofstra University on Long Island, a mere 60-minute drive from Manhattan and chaired by NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt, the debate may attract an audience closer to the size of the Super Bowl when it kicks off at 9:00 pm US Eastern Time (0100 GMT Tuesday), beamed live around the country.

The questions will revolve around three themes: "America's direction, achieving prosperity, and securing America".

The candidates, both the most disliked US presidential rivals in contemporary history, have spent days furiously prepping and honing which strategy they believe will inflict maximum damage on the other.