Flynt LeverettProfessor of International Affairs, Penn State University

Under either Clinton or Trump, US Middle East policy is likely to become more interventionist and confrontational than it has been in Obama’s second term.

Air Force One transporting US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama lands at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on 27 January 2015. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images.Air Force One transporting US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama lands in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Photo: Getty Images.

Summary

  • Despite President Barack Obama’s efforts to ‘rebalance’ US strategy towards Asia, the Middle East has dominated his administration’s foreign policy agenda and will continue to demand significant attention and resources from his successor.
  • Obama’s presidency has not resolved the question of whether the United States’ quest for primacy in the Middle East is desirable; how the next president answers this question will frame his or her approach to Middle East policy.
  • Hillary Clinton seeks to renew the US pursuit of primacy in the Middle East. This agenda is likely to be reflected in a more assertive stance towards Syria, more vigorous efforts to contain Iran and a return to more traditional relations with established Middle Eastern allies, especially Israel and Saudi Arabia.
  • Donald Trump questions whether regional primacy is in the interest of the United States, rejects regime change and wants to work with Russia against ISIS. But it is unclear whether such realist impulses would be matched by policy given the likely presence of hawkish Middle East advisers in a Trump administration, while perceptions that Trump is anti-Muslim could limit cooperation from states in the region.
  • Under either Clinton or Trump, Middle East policy is likely to become more interventionist and confrontational than it has been in Obama’s second term.