We all won on 4 Nov

As he bids farewell to the US, Ashish Prashar shares his final thoughts on Obama's election victory

The backdrop of this election has long been the comprehensive failure of conservative policies during the last eight years, and what "change" for those policies should mean. So it wasn’t style but, in fact, substance that dictated the outcome of the election – an election that gave Obama a larger share of the popular vote than either George W. Bush or Bill Clinton ever received.

Obama spoke of "government" in a positive context more than any presidential candidate has in at least 20 years. He embraced an "FDR-style infrastructure building program". He consistently placed energy independence as his top domestic priority, backing up the rhetoric with a plan of public investment to get it done. He said health care "should be a right for every American" during the town hall debate and he had a positive message of engagement with the rest of the world.

Obama was taking positions supported by the liberal progressive base of the Democratic Party, but that also held considerable support among self-described moderates. Obama never needed to "pivot" significantly towards the centre. His core positions already represented the American common ground. In the election exit poll, voters expressed the desire for government to "do more" by an eight-point margin.

Much will be made of McCain's "mistakes" in his campaign, but almost every mistake he made was not a personal failing, but were part of a futile but necessary effort to bridge what had become a gulf between conservative base voters and moderate swing voters. After the utter failure of conservatism in every domestic and foreign policy area, there simply was no overlap left between the moderate and conservative camps, no overriding issue that could be the glue to hold together a centre-right coalition.

Then McCain hastily picked a woefully unqualified and uninformed person to be his running mate because he lacked options. He urgently needed someone who could resonate with both base and potential swing voters, and Governor Sarah Palin seemed to offer hope of energising the base while reaching out to undecided women. They delighted conservatives by attacking Obama as a "socialist," which undermined McCain’s attempt to attract moderates.

McCain's erratic style may have made these flops seem particularly spectacular, but the deep rift created during the last eight years between conservatism and the rest of America was probably too big for even a polished candidate to overcome.

Obama's tremendous skills helped navigate the difficult waters of racial politics and fend off an avalanche of smears. But all that did was return the presidential race to its substantive fundamentals, made all the starker as the financial crisis put an exclamation point on the damage already wrought on our economy.

Trying to figure out how to repair the breach between conservatives and moderates is a problem for the conservative movement, not for us. We won - and I don't mean just the Democrats or the people who voted for Obama. I mean all of us. Every man, woman and child, no matter what colour their skin, no matter their ancestry, no matter their faith or sexual orientation has won something from the election of Obama as the next President of the United States.

The people of America still have a lot of work to do, but they can do it knowing that one of the last borders has finally been crossed. The challenge is to turn the progressive mandate the public has given President-elect Obama into bold action. And that work starts ... now.

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Under pressure at home, Donald Trump will struggle to deliver what Saudi Arabia wants

Above all, the Gulf states want stability. Can this beleaguered US president bring order?

There is a nervous energy around Riyadh. Fresh palm trees line the roads from the airport, punctuated by a wall of American flags and corporate slogans: “Together we prevail.” All the street lights are suddenly working.

The visit of any American president is always a lavish affair in Saudi Arabia, but there is an optimism to this visit that evaded the Obama years and even the recent visits of Theresa May and Angela Merkel.

Yet, there are two distinct parts to this trip – Trump’s first overseas engagement as president – that will determine its success. The first is relatively straightforward. Trump will sign huge defence contracts worth billions of dollars and offer trading opportunities that allow him to maintain his narrative of economic renewal for American businesses.

For the Saudis, too, these deals will fit into their ambitious project – known as Vision 2030 – to expand and diversify their economy away from its current dependence on oil revenues. Both parties are comfortable with this type of corporate and transactional government, enjoying the gaudy pomp and ceremony that comes with the signing of newly minted deals.

The more complicated aspects of the trip relate to its political dimensions. As the Middle East continues to convulse under the most significant turmoil to envelope it since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, what Gulf leaders desperately want is the re-establishment of order. At its core, that is what will define Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia – and the Saudis are optimistic.

Their buoyancy is borne of shared regional interests, not least curbing Iranian influence. Ever since the Arab uprisings in 2011, Tehran has asserted itself across the Levant by organising hundreds of proxies to fight on its behalf in Syria and Iraq. Closer to home, too, the Gulf states accuse Iran of fomenting unrest within Shia communities in Saudi Arabia’s eastern provinces, in Bahrain, and in Yemen.

All of this has left the House of Saud feeling especially vulnerable. Having enjoyed an American security umbrella since the 1970s, Obama’s pursuit of the Iran deal left them feeling particularly exposed.

In part at least, this explains some of the Kingdom’s more frantic actions at home and abroad – including the execution of prominent Shia cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, and the war in Yemen. Both are really about posturing to Iran: projecting power and demonstrating Saudi resolve.

Trump shares these concerns over Iranian influence, is prepared to look the other way on Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, and is deeply opposed to Obama’s nuclear deal. Riyadh believes he will restore the status quo and is encouraged by the direction of travel.

Just last month Trump commissioned a review of the Iran deal while the US Treasury imposed sanctions on two Iranian officials. Saudi Arabia also welcomed Trump’s decision to launch cruise missiles against a Syrian military base last month after Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons in the town of Khan Sheikhoun.

These measures have been largely tokenistic, but their broader impact has been very significant. The Saudis, and their Gulf partners more generally, feel greatly reassured. This is an American presence in the region that is aligned to their interests, that they know well and can manage.

That is why Gulf states have rushed to embrace the new president ever since he first entered the Oval Office. Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (colloquially known simply as “MBS”), already visited him in Washington earlier this year. The Emiratis and others followed shortly afterwards.

A spokesman for Mohammed bin Salman later described the meeting with Trump as an “historical turning point” in relations between the two countries. A White House readout of the meeting baldly stated: “The President and the deputy crown prince noted the importance of confronting Iran's destabilising regional activities.”

Now that Trump is visiting them, the Saudis are hoping to broker an even broader series of engagements between the current administration and the Islamic world. To that end, they are bringing 24 different Muslim leaders to Saudi Arabia for this visit.

This is where Trump’s visit is likely to be fraught because he plans to deliver a major speech about Islam during his visit – a move that has seemingly no positives associated with it.

There is a lot of interest (and bemusement) from ordinary Saudis about what Trump will actually say. Most are willing to look beyond his divisive campaign rhetoric – he did, after all, declare “I think Islam hates us” – and listen to him in Riyadh. But what can he say?

Either he will indulge his audience by describing Islam as a great civilisation, thereby angering much of his political base; or he will stick to the deeply hostile rhetoric of his campaign.

There is, of course, room for an informed, careful, and nuanced speech to be made on the topic, but these are not adjectives commonly associated with Donald Trump. Indeed, the pressure is on.

He will be on the road for nine days at a time when pressure is building over the sacking of the former FBI director James Comey and the ongoing investigation into former national security advisor Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russia.

It is already being reported that Trump is not entirely enthusiastic about such a long overseas programme, but he is committed now. As with almost everything concerning his presidency, this extra pressure adds a wild air of unpredictability to what could happen.

Away from the lucrative deals and glad-handing, this will be the real standard by which to measure the success of Trump’s visit. For a relationship principally defined by its pursuit of stability, whether Trump can deliver what the Gulf really wants remains to be seen.

Shiraz Maher is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and a senior research fellow at King’s College London’s International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation.

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