CAIRO – The Republican Party’s candidate for the American presidency, Donald Trump, is clearly not the GOP establishment’s first choice. Even this close to the November 8 election, more than a few prominent Republicans refuse to endorse him, and it goes without saying that Democrats loathe him. He won his party’s nomination because he was by far the most popular choice among Republican primary voters.
On the other hand, the centrist Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, is clearly an establishment candidate. Still, to clinch her party’s nomination, she had to combat a strong challenge from Senator Bernie Sanders, a declared socialist whose political leanings are far left of hers, and whose message resonated particularly among younger primary voters.
The Trump and Sanders phenomena suggest that American voters are uncomfortable with traditional political choices. According to recent polls, Trump and Clinton are running within 5% of each other, and both have historically high unfavorable ratings. Regardless of who wins, Americans will most likely elect their next president not because they like their choice, but because they dislike the alternative.
So far, the two candidates seem to be focusing less on policy alternatives and more on their opponent’s character flaws: the Clinton campaign describes Trump as lacking the appropriate temperament, knowledge, and experience to be president, and the Trump campaign portrays Clinton as a corrupt political opportunist.
Americans alone will determine the election result, but they should remember that a concerned and perplexed world is watching. For outside observers, the paramount question is not who will be elected, but whether the United States will be an effective global leader in the years to come.
Many countries are justifiably worried that a Trump administration would not appreciate the complexity of global issues, and would recklessly disrupt existing strategic alliances. At the same time, regardless of who wins, many countries also fear American inaction. Will the US continue to focus on short-term crisis management with an eye to domestic considerations? Or will it adopt the global perspective that today’s interconnected world needs?
Trump’s “America first” approach is obviously inconsistent with an expansive international leadership role and would lead the US down a path of isolationism. Clinton’s inclination for political calculation suggests a preference for incrementalism on global challenges. Neither approach is bold or inclusive enough for a world plagued with bloodshed and instability, especially in the Middle East, where conflicts rage in Syria and Libya, and tensions mount between Israel and the Palestinians.
Very few Middle Easterners miss George W. Bush’s administration, and we continue to pay a heavy price for the disastrous 2003 invasion of Iraq. But just as few people still applaud President Barack Obama, whose foreign-policy achievements in the region fell far short of the lofty ideals and expectations he set in his first inaugural address, and in his subsequent speech in Cairo in June 2009.
The next US president will have to devise ambitious solutions not just to challenges in the Middle East, but to issues affecting the entire planet, including climate change, poverty, epidemics, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and regional conflicts on almost every continent. He or she, may even participate in reforming key international institutions, such as the United Nations, that have led global-governance efforts since World War II – and will confront a world order in which non-state actors can play as prominent a role as traditional nation-states.
The next president will also have vast opportunities to leverage new technologies for the benefit of all people. But, like security, technological and economic progress is sustainable only with the active involvement of major international stakeholders such as the US, which continues to have the largest economy and strongest military.
World leaders attending the 71st session of the UN General Assembly will have had an opportunity to acquaint themselves with Trump and Clinton, and with the candidates’ most senior advisers. Along with my country’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, I have personally met both candidates, and I predict that foreign leaders will leave these meetings less alarmed, but still uncomfortable.
To confront past and present demons, and to build a more just and stable world order, members of the international community must engage with one another, even when they hold conflicting views on particular issues. The US must not – and cannot – withdraw into an opaque cocoon of false isolationism, or allow strategic global decisions to be clouded by domestic political considerations.
As we outside observers await the election of the next American president, we can only hope he or she will set an example of respect and compassion for their country, and bring wise, courageous leadership to the global stage.