January 24, 2017

The Trump Administration and Implications for the Gulf States

U.S. President Donald J. Trump signs the first of three executive orders in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, Jan. 23. (Ron Sachs/ Pool via CNP /MediaPunch/IPX)

On January 20, Donald J. Trump was sworn in as president of the United States. AGSIW senior resident scholars examine statements made by some of the president’s key Cabinet nominees during their confirmation hearings – and by the president himself – for clues to the new administration’s likely policies on the issues of most pressing interest to the Gulf Arab states.


Trump’s Saudi Agenda: Advance Shared Goals and Change the Channel

By Hussein Ibish

U.S. President Donald J. Trump leaves Washington on Friday for his first overseas trip, under a mounting cloud of domestic controversy, beginning with a crucial visit to Saudi Arabia. Despite Trump’s widely-reported aversion to travel and an instinct to stay close to home to deal with perceptions that the administration is spinning out of control, the president may find himself welcoming an important and ambitious international journey that can allow him to build his global profile as a statesman and create a firmer imprint on U.S. Middle East policy.
Read more


In Search of a Trump Administration Middle East Policy

By Hussein Ibish

U.S. President Donald J. Trump is about to embark on his first overseas trip, with an emphasis on Middle East peace and security. His visit to the region raises the question of whether a definitive Trump administration Middle East policy may be starting to take shape, and how that process relates to both the policies and regional strategic circumstances that the new administration inherited from its immediate predecessor. There are several significant reasons to think a coherent new approach may be emerging, but also serious grounds – particularly given unprecedented unpredictability in U.S. Middle East policy – for doubting it. This paper seeks to identify and evaluate both perspectives, and provide a framework for appraising the ongoing evolution of U.S. Middle East policy under Trump.
Read more


International Institutions and Human Rights Take Back Seat in Tillerson and Mattis Senate Confirmation Hearings

By Kristin Smith Diwan

Political observers have been monitoring the Senate confirmation hearings of President Donald J. Trump’s appointees to see if they reinforce or ameliorate his bolder and more controversial foreign policy positions, and whether they provide greater clarity on the many contradictions of Trump’s pronouncements on global affairs.

The hearings of the country’s top diplomat and defense official, Rex Tillerson and retired Gen. James Mattis, respectively, did reveal their willingness to separate from Trump on some controversial relationships, most notably in expressing greater skepticism toward Russian motives and recognition of the Cold War rival as a strategic adversary. Yet in essential ways, their testimonies reinforced one critical predisposition: a tendency to see global affairs in terms of discrete relations between states with particular emphasis on the quality of those bilateral relationships. This bodes for a return to a state-centric posture where stability of states and personal relationships with rulers take precedence over international institutions and defense of liberal norms such as human rights.
Read more


Gulf Countries May Find Encouragement on Iran in Confirmation Hearings

By Hussein Ibish

Unlike many others in the United States and around the world, Gulf Arab countries are looking at the administration of President Donald J. Trump with as much anticipation for improvement for their interests as concern about potential changes to traditional U.S. foreign policy. Roughly speaking, Gulf Arab governments have been more comfortable with Republicans than Democrats since the United States emerged as a major player in the Middle East following World War II. Many Gulf policymakers had generally friendly and respectful relationships with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and therefore would not have been alarmed if she had been elected. They certainly shared the broader interest in stability and continuity in U.S. foreign policy she was expected to represent in contrast with President Trump. Yet, the substitution of even an unpredictable Republican for a familiar Democrat is not an entirely unwelcome U.S. power shift in the view of many in the Gulf.
Read more


International Trade, Investment, and Finance in the Trump Administration

By Karen E. Young

Leaders across the Gulf states, like leaders and citizens around the world, are listening for clues from the confirmation hearings of President Donald J. Trump’s first appointees on how the new administration will deal with a number of policy issues. The issues of most interest to the Gulf finance and business community, including the interests of state-owned entities, are likely: infrastructure, trade, monetary policy, and financial regulation. These might be the drier of the issues reported by U.S. media, but they are salient for Gulf-owned assets in U.S. financial markets, and for Gulf private and state-owned entities that might have a business presence in the United States, given uncertainty surrounding what the Trump administration might seek to change.
Read more