The U.S. Midterms as Seen from the Middle East

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region

November 21, 2018

Two weeks since the U.S. midterm elections, there is a lively discussion in the region on the foreign-policy implications of the Democratic Party’s victory in the House of Representatives. Given the Trump White House’s dramatic departures from traditional U.S. foreign policy, some have wondered whether a split U.S. Congress and the prospects of a difficult re-election campaign in 2020 may force Donald Trump to seek a less confrontational path in the Middle East. Most observers, however, only expect further discord in the U.S. government, ultimately leading to impasse and no perceptible change in the way the U.S. engages with the world.

Some of the excitement of outside observers is related to the election of young progressive and Muslim women in Congress, as this Khaleej Times editorial optimistically highlights: “Enhanced checks and balances have been added to the legislative process through this verdict. This means U.S. politics could see a shift from President Trump’s aggressive form of governance as his ability to push through laws on his terms could be curtailed…. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Abby Finkenaue, both 29, are the youngest women to win House seats. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib are the first Muslim women Congresswomen. There’s more diversity with Sharice Davids and Debra Haaland becoming the first Native American women to sit in Congress. America should see the emergence of these youthful and vibrant politicians as a ray of hope for a new dawn. Perhaps it’s time to Make America Heal again.”

Others are less optimistic about the future. A recent op-ed by Jordan Times’s Osama Al Sharif shows the conflicted thinking of many in the region: “There are two contrasting views on how the midterm elections will affect Trump’s foreign policy programme. One believes that he will be enmeshed in domestic political wrangles over the coming two years that he will hardly have time to follow his broad foreign policy objectives whether on Iran, North Korea, Russia or the Middle East…. The other view says that a divided Congress will end up crippling Trump domestically and that Democrats will derail his grand designs to build a wall along the borders with Mexico, reduce taxes further and tighten immigration laws, among others…. Trump maybe weakened internally in the wake of the midterm elections, but there is little evidence that his foreign policy agenda will be affected by it.”

One of the more telling worries in the region is on U.S.-Iranian relations. For example, writing for Asharq Alawsat, Eyad Abu Shakra warns that the Democratic victory in the House means that many in the Arab world should be prepared for a softening of “anti-Iran policies”: “With regard to the U.S. midterm elections, Trump warned about the likelihood that the Democrats may win the House of Representatives. This, surely means weakening his ‘anti-Iran’ policies, and undermining any effective measures against Tehran. If we recognize that European positions have been open against the sanctions, we need to prepare ourselves for a difficult period in the Middle East, one which would include another round of the blackmail-intended psychological war.”

But Arab News’s Hussain Abdul-Hussain disagrees, asserting that the loss of the GOP majority in the House may actually prove detrimental to Iran in the long run: “While Tehran and its friends hope that the Republican loss in Congress will foreshadow his presidential loss in 2020, there is little evidence that the two are connected. Losing the House relieves the president of vast responsibility for whatever policy failures happen on his watch…. A much better outcome for Iran — though counterintuitive — would have been for the Republicans to keep both chambers of Congress until 2020, which would have kept Trump busier with domestic affairs and further weakened his re-election chances. But, unlike what Tehran and its friends in Washington might think, Republicans losing the House might prove to be well against the interests of the Iranian regime.”

Then there is this assessment by Iranian observer Hanif Ghaffari, who, in an op-ed for Tehran Times, suggests that Iran will not be any better or worse off as a result of the election outcome: “[T]he Islamic Republic of Iran hasn’t basically counted on the U.S. midterm elections results. Neither the victory nor the failure of one of the two traditional American parties could change the American authorities’ policies towards our country. The hostility of the U.S. Democrats and Republicans to our nation, and the vicious and extensive efforts of the two to confront the foundations of the Islamic Revolution of Iran, have been proven to all. In this equation, there’s no difference between Jimmy Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush, Obama, and Trump. The United States midterm elections were merely a reflection of the anarchy which rules over the American political system.”

A similar conclusion, but this time regarding U.S.-Turkish relations, is reached by Daily Sabah’s Gloria Shkurti Özdemir, who argues that “dramatic changes cannot be foreseen in terms of Turkish-American relations. A couple of days ago, the Trump administration offered $12 million as a reward for three PKK leaders. The Turkish side considered this a significant step but not enough as long as the U.S. keeps supporting the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria. As Trump’s policy toward the YPG is unlikely to change, relations with Turkey will remain the same as well; however, it is important to highlight the fact that the tension between the two states has lessened considerably in the last weeks.”

Finally, in Israel, one of the more interesting debates is over the lack of support among U.S. Jewish voters for Mr. Trump. One of the clearest articulations is provided for the Times of Israel by John Rosove, who challenges the U.S. president on a number of issues: “The Pittsburgh massacre brought home to us, in the most dramatic way possible, that President Trump’s racism, constant lying and demonization of minorities, women, asylum seekers, Muslims and immigrants in general also have direct consequences for us as Jews…. In response to this unprecedented threat, American Jews are not backing down or staying silent. Through groups like J Street and others that share our values, we have mobilized politically and voted our conscience. We are battling for our goals and supporting leaders who we believe can promote a better future for our country, for Israel, and for the world.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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