How Trump can win back friends in the GCC

If the president-elect wants to achieve anything in the Middle East, he has to work with, not against, the region’s leaders.
How Trump can win back friends in the GCC
By Courtney Trenwith
Fri 11 Nov 2016 01:55 PM

When I interviewed Donald Trump in Dubai two years ago, I concluded my feature by saying: “One can only wonder what having the president of the world’s largest economy would do to membership sales at the Trump International golf course in Dubai”.

We are about to find out.

At the time (May 2014), the billionaire businessman, who was launching his self-branded golf course with Damac Properties, told me he would “consider” running for president after the 2016 election. Ever impatient, the brash Republican — who courted more controversy than any other candidate to lead a nation in recent history — is now preparing to move into the White House and become the most powerful man in the world.

What that means for the rest of us is entirely unpredictable. Trump has boasted of many dramatic changes he plans to make to American foreign and economic policy, but following through on themwill be more difficult than he realises.

Thankfully, Trump cannot single-handedly control the US. For most decisions, he will need to convince both houses of parliament. He is arguably entering into the most powerful presidency in history, but while the Republicans regained a majority in both the Congress and House of Representatives, many of them are hardline conservatives who do not unequivocally support their leader. How they handle the new parliamentary set-up will be just as important as how Trump manages to control himself.

Financial market reactions — causing several currencies to plummet and stock markets globally to decline — indicate the world is uneasy with a Trump president, even factoring in that his win was a surprise. His unpredictable nature could keep the world on edge for the next four years.

Despite his unashamedly offensive remarks towards Muslims — which he has never retracted — GCC leaders appeared to offer gestures of peace following the election result. Even Dubai billionaire Khalaf Al Habtoor, who described Trump as a “loose cannon” and “the biggest enemy of Islam”, toned down his comments as the Republican edged closer to victory.

Instead, he told Arabian Business that the GCC and Trump could work together “very well” — on the condition that the president-elect offered a “clean page”.

“[He] needs to re-establish the long relationship the GCC has with America… because this is very important,” Al Habtoor said.

In a promising statement in his victory speech, Trump pledged to end division.

“We will get along with all other nations willing to get along with us. We will have great, great relations,” he said. But that caveat “all other nations willing to get along with us” is pertinent, given Trump’s ability to views things distinctly different to much of the world.

Where Trump is likely to claw back some goodwill in the Middle East is in relation to Iran. He has promised to “police” the nuclear deal negotiated under Barack Obama’s administration to make it “so tough they don’t have a chance”.

However, his biggest hurdle may turn out to be Saudi Arabia, the powerful Arab kingdom of which Trump has said he is “not a big fan”. Hopefully Trump’s advisors will teach him that sometimes you don’t have a choice as to who you like, at least in public. If he wants to achieve anything in the Middle East, he will need to work with, not against, the region’s leaders.

While most of the business partners who severed ties with Trump following his shocking comments, including retail giant Landmark Group, will not rush back to his side, developer Damac Properties has maintained stoic. The developer’s decision to stand by The Donald may have been more about contractual obligations than anything else, but no doubt the Trump brand will return to all of the advertising they so swiftly removed a year ago.

During our interview at the first tee-off of his new Dubai golf course, the businessman gloated of a “Trump effect”, even having the audacity to suggest that his investment in Dubai was “a great tribute” to the emirate.

But the extrovert may just find that politics is far more humbling than business.

 

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