While the implications at home in the US to the Democrats winning the House of Representatives are more about holding Trump to account and pushing forward on a number of investigations into his private, business and fiscal activities, the case for impeachment against him is less clear. Many fear a repeat of the mistake of impeaching Bill Clinton and how it actually made the former Arkansas governor more popular.
Trump may well use the lower house to horse trade his way out of impeachment, rounding the edges of his Middle East policies which irk the democrats.
Traditionally, when Presidents have lost support mid-term, there has been a firming of their policy in the Middle East. Yet with Trump, the opposite is likely.
Iran, a country now feeling the pinch from US sanctions, might well look forward to Trump having to take his foot off the gas while trying to force other nations to go ahead with secondary sanctions, as the EU gears up for a mechanism which will allow its governments to bypass them altogether. Indeed, the fear that the US president would return to threatening the EU with 25% steel and aluminum tariffs may well wane, given that most of what Trump will seek to accomplish through his tempestuous style in tackling geopolitical wrangles around the world — and in particular the policy against Iran — will have to be scrutinized and rubber stamped by a lower house which not only has a majority but is in half a mind to impeach the president “just for the hell of it.”
The news of the Democrats taking the lower house would have been received by Israel’s Prime Minister as a death in the family. There is no bigger loser in the Middle East, after all than Israel which has invested its entire strategy on Trump’s loyalty to muster more anti-Iran sentiment in the region; that feral, almost unhinged level of support for Israel doing more or less what it pleases in the region, is firmly over and explains, in part, the move by Netanyahu to forge new relations with Oman, to be used as a communicator and mediator with Iran.
Since Russia told Israel firmly that the previous arrangement of allowing Israel to bomb Hezbollah and Iranian targets in Syria is over (following the downing of a Russian surveillance jet by friendly fire from Syria’s ground forces), Israel has had to accept that it has been defeated. Yet the real blow was the silence from the Trump administration.
There are other shifting tectonic plates as well in this part of the world, timed, it would seem with the House losses for Trump. Recently, the UAE announced that it planned to open its embassy in Damascus, signalling a calming of the hysteria by Gulf Arab states towards Assad, Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah. Egypt and Bahrain are also looking to do the same.
Saudi Arabia too will likely have to accept that “the party’s over.” Congress will now undoubtedly seek a more accountable relationship with the Kingdom, sparked by the Khashoggi affair but also concerns over the war in Yemen, which will now receive more scrutiny by democrats, who do not view the Middle East in such a simplified, polarized way as Trump or the neocons who would like things to revert back to 1982 when Israel was goaded into bombing Syria, due to the latter’s relations with Moscow.
Trump will no doubt have to distance himself from Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen and the recent news that the US will no longer fuel Saudi jets bombing Yemen is a taste of things to come.
Trump has, for the first time since moving into the Oval Office, a rival who punches above her weight: Nancy Pelosi, whose ideas about the region do not gibe with his at all.
We should remember that it was Pelosi, a democrat and former house speaker, who in 2007 vexed George Bush by travelling to Syria to meet Bashar al-Assad — and later championed a less belligerent approach towards Assad which led to the West bringing the Syrian leader in from the cold. The thinking at the time, which was replicated by the EU, is that the Syrian leader had excellent relations with Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Iranians and should be used to ease tensions in the region and aide dialogue. This more rational approach towards the Middle East from the (then) House speaker is what we can look forward to in the coming weeks. This is good news for Iran, Russia, and China, and the worst possible news for Israel.
For Saudi Arabia, it is at best ominous news as both Riyadh and its allies will have to cherish the six-nation Muslim “NATO” which they have created, but will not have a US president who will fully support its ambitions, nor a powerful ally in the region to threaten Iran.