Trump vs. Hillary: In Middle East the dinner question is ‘meat’ or ‘fish’?


Now that the contours of the 2016 presidential race are clear, the leaders of the Middle East are pondering their choices.  To paraphrase Obama’s comic monologue at the Correspondents dinner, they have a pick of steak or fish, Hillary or Donald.

Hillary is a known dish, Washington liberal meat and potatoes. Regimes that liked the Obama policy are looking forward to a warmed-over portion of steak a la Hillary.

The Iranians, in particular, would savor such a dish. Clinton claims to be the mother of the diplomatic deal that has allowed Iran to emerge from its isolation and become a major regional force.   

Hillary does have some residual blue-dog Democrat instincts on foreign policy (such as her support for limited military intervention in Syria) but she knows that her party isn’t with her on projecting serious military force in the Middle East.

America’s traditional Arab friends, especially Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have found the Obama-Clinton fare to be unpalatable and they are not looking forward to a second helping.

The Iranians know this, too. They are counting on it. As the Supreme Ayatollah said just the other day, the United States is Iran’s number one enemy (Israel comes in number two).  A disengaged America means that Iran will be free to protect and expand its interests in the Levant and the Persian Gulf, and to continue its ballistic missile program and military build-up.

What more could a Shi’ite fanatic ask for?

Iran’s junior partner, Bashar Assad of Syria, would probably prefer a large helping of Donald fish. Trump is a fan of one-man rule by hard-handed dictators such as Saddam Hussain and Muammar Qadaffi.  Assad is a member of that club, but he isn’t currently strong enough to bash his people into submission. He sups at the table of Iran (and Moscow), and he has a short spoon.

America’s traditional Arab friends, especially Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have found the Obama-Clinton fare to be unpalatable and they are not looking forward to a second helping.  The Donald fish has some tricky bones---he wants the Arabs to pay for their own defense and actually join the fight against ISIS—but it also has its temptations. Trump won’t hector Cairo or Riyadh about human rights, coddle the Muslim Brotherhood in the name of democracy or foment civil unrest of the Arab Spring variety.  He will (to mix the culinary metaphor) leave the rulers to stew in their own juices.  

King Abdallah of Jordan has long borders with Iraq and Syria and a volatile Palestinian population.  If Trump is serious about taking drastic military action against ISIS, Jordan could find itself in the center of the battlefield. On the other hand, if Trump actually can defeat the ISIS (which King Abdullah doubts) the Kingdom would be more secure.  Given a choice, he’d probably like to skip the meal.

For Bibi Netanyahu, the Hillary-Trump choice is a dilemma. Steak a la Hillary can be tough--especially when it is served with a side dish of the State Department’s famous Palestinian flavored spinach—but it is familiar and kosher. It may be hard to swallow, but it won’t kill you.

Trump is fugu, the Japanese pufferfish that is both delicious and potentially fatal.

This week, The Donald broke with fifty years of foreign policy doctrine and declared support for Israeli settlement of the West Bank. He evidently sees the area as a real estate developer, not a peace-process diplomat. Hey, Israel needs that land.  The Arabs already have plenty. What’s the problem?

In principle this should make Bibi Netanyahu happy.  In practice it is stomach ache. The future of the West Bank is deeply controversial among Israelis. Hillary would preserve the status quo. A sudden presidential permission to keep the West Bank would create chaos. And Bibi isn’t a chaos kind of guy.

In November, Bibi and the other leaders of the Middle East will be served a new presidential dish. One thing is certain:  Like it or not, they will be forced to swallow the choice of the American voters—and it isn’t going to be Paul Ryan.

Zev Chafets is a Fox News contributor. His latest book is "Remembering Who We Are: A Treasury of Conservative Commencement Addresses" (Sentinel 2015).