Trump as seen from the Middle East

The new US president has much to prove – and allies here will be watching carefully

Republican president-elect Donald Trump delivers his acceptance speech during his election night event at the New York Hilton Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP
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As so often, reality doesn’t intrude until it is too late. Reading the bare description of Donald Trump in US media (“a real estate developer-turned-reality TV star”), the enormity of the shock Mr Trump has staged becomes clearer.

Here is a man with no government experience whatsoever, suddenly catapulted to the heady heights of the US government. Yes, it is true Barack Obama was barely tested when he become US president, but he had spent a life in community politics. Mr Trump, as the campaign proved, has little time for the diplomatic language and niceties of politics. He little understands them nor indeed sees the need for them.

Around the world, people will be analysing Mr Trump’s words, searching for hints as to what his presidency might seek to achieve. In his first speech after declaring victory, he struck a conciliatory tone, reaching out to his opponents within America and a watching world, promising he would be “president for all Americans” and that “we will get along with all other nations willing to get along with us”.

Some, especially in the Middle East, will hear those words with trepidation. The legacy of the last US president to have used such a formulation still continues. It has been 15 years since George W Bush warned “you are either with us or you are with the terrorists”. The impact of that way of thinking, that disregard for international law and alliances, led to the disaster of the Iraq war – a war that is inextricably linked to the battle to reclaim Mosul that currently rages. In this region, perhaps more than in most, we know that the careless words of a US president too often become careless action. Much Arab blood has been spilt because of US actions.

And indeed, much Arab blood has been spilt in support of the US alliance. The battles that the Arabs are fighting in Syria, Iraq and Yemen are not regional battles – they are the front lines in a global war. Whether Mr Trump understands that and supports the region in its efforts will go a great deal towards deciding the kind of relationship he will have with his allies here.

So the Middle East will wait to be convinced, as will many other countries. In polls conducted before the election, citizens of other countries were asked who they preferred – most preferred Mrs Clinton. (Two notable exceptions were Russia and Israel.) Mr Trump, then, will have his work cut out to convince countries around the world that America is an ally.

He will also have to convince their governments. Some of the more worrying statements from Mr Trump have come on the subject of international alliances. Europeans will be particularly worried by the suggestion that America under Mr Trump would not immediately back Nato allies if they were threatened by Russia. And Japan and South Korea will have heard his suggestion that they build their own nuclear arsenals with great alarm.

Much, then, will depend on who Mr Trump chooses for his White House team.

Americans and those abroad will be carefully scrutinising his cabinet for heavyweights who can offer advice, experience – and criticism.

For now, Mr Trump has said the right words in his latest speech. But there has been little consistency in his words and actions in the past. Like all Americans, we will be watching closely what he says and does over the coming days.