IRBIL, IRAQ - Donald Trump's victory in the U.S. election has prompted a scramble by foreign leaders and analysts to understand what his presidency might mean for their countries. And no more so than in the Mideast, which reacted angrily when he first proposed last year to impose a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States and declared “Islam hates us.”
In Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, politicians say they could get no access to the Trump campaign to try to work out what his thoughts are on Kurdistan independence or how the war against the Islamic State terror group would change.
“What is Trump’s secret, foolproof plan to beat Daesh militants?” asked a senior official with close links to Kurdistan Regional Government President Masoud Barzani. “He says the Islamic State’s days would be numbered, but they are anyway, we are making good progress in the campaign to defeat Daesh. What would he alter?” he added, using the Arab acronym for IS.
While Trump hasn’t specified what he would do in Iraq, he has spoken frequently about working more closely with the Kurds, and for Irbil those remarks are a source of some comfort.
Figuring out Trump
There is a guessing game going on in Iraq about the meaning of Trump.
Some regional Arab politicians have found encouragement from a promise he made in February to be “sort of a neutral guy” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a remark that alarmed Israel and many American Jews.
But in March he said that as president he would move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, something that would delight Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu.
More recently top Trump aides told The Times of Israel he doesn't see a two-state solution as a priority and he would pursue warmer relations with Tel Aviv, following eight difficult years in U.S.-Israel relations under President Barack Obama.
But his inconsistent campaign speeches and off-the-cuff remarks have prompted nervous head-scratching and bewilderment.
Hillary Clinton was a known figure. She had a known foreign policy team and the people she would have likely appointed to key jobs at the State Department would have come from the “old familiars,” as an adviser to the Saudi royal family put it.
There’s nothing familiar about the property mogul and celebrity TV personality when it comes to foreign policy and national security. He didn't have an established foreign-policy team during the campaign and most of the "old familiars" in the Republican foreign-policy establishment shied away or openly opposed him.
Trump didn't help answer the questions in the minds of Mideast leaders with his victory speech in which he said he would “deal fairly” with foreign countries and “seek common ground not hostility, partnership not conflict.”
On the campaign trail, Trump reserved some of his sharpest criticism for Tehran and the nuclear deal the West struck with it, describing the agreement as “one of the worst deals ever made by any country in history.”
In reaction to Trump’s win, Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is visiting Romania, said, “The U.S. president must fully understand the realities of today’s world.
Considering that Iran and the U.S. don’t have formal political relations, what’s important is that the future U.S. president complies to the commitments of the multilateral nuclear deal.”
Ankara offers congratulations
All governments in the region were quick Wednesday to congratulate President-elect Trump and to start maneuvering quickly to get access to advisers around him.
Ankara was among the first to offer congratulations. It took the opportunity to press for the extradition of the U.S.-based exiled cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who it accuses of masterminding the failed coup attempt of July 15.
Syrian rebels who have been battling to oust President Bashar al-Assad for nearly six years, appear among the most anxious about what a Trump presidency might entail.
Trump has said although he didn’t like the Assad regime, he would side with it and its patron Russia in the battle against IS.