x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Republican win would be unlikely to change US foreign policy

Analysts say the results of the US mide-term elections are unlikely to affect its foreign policy or the Middle East directly.

WASHINGTON // With polls predicting a Republican landslide in today's mid-term elections, the consequences for US foreign policy and the Middle East could be both subtle and potentially significant.

Democrats are expected to lose control of the House but not the Senate. Analysts, however, say the results are unlikely to affect foreign policy or the Middle East directly. That is because US presidents have more control over foreign policy than domestic issues and so Mr Obama does not have to rely as much on Congressional approval. Also, Republicans generally agree with many of the Obama administration's foreign-policy positions.

"I don't really see foreign policy being greatly affected by the election," said James Lindsay, senior vice-president of the Council on Foreign Relations. "Foreign policy has not been an issue and it's not an issue for the Tea Party movement. The angst in the country is about domestic issues. It's not about Afghanistan and it's not about Iraq."

There has, moreover, been little opposition in the US to Mr Obama's policies on a range of Middle East issues, including Iraq. For the most part, Republicans support the scheduled withdrawal there and the administation's tougher sanctions against Iran.

Some Republicans may oppose Mr Obama's ambitious schedule to pull troops out of Afghanistan, but Americans, largely, are tired of the conflict and confused about its aims.

Arms deals to the region are also unlikely to be affected. A US$60 billion (Dh219.56) package to Saudi Arabia, potentially one of the largest US arms sales in history, was recently approved by the White House. Congress, even a less pliable one, is not expected to block it.

The Palestinian-Israeli peace process, meanwhile, remains in limbo and is unlikely to be directly affected by the election outcome.

On the Israeli side, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has stalled Mr Obama's push for a settlement, a strategy that probably will help him as Republicans gain power in Congress. The Palestinians will see their hopes in the Obama administration frustrated, and the process itself, while it may survive, unlikely to yield much progress.

"The bark of the Obama administration has been much worse than its bite in the first two years," said Geoffrey Aronson, of the Washington-based Foundation for Middle East peace. "It's been clear from the outset of Netanyahu's tenure that he's been striving to get to these elections unscathed…but he wasn't really forced against the wall in any case."

The Republican gains may have more significant indirect results, however. Much will depend on how the White House directs its energies between now and the presidential election in 2012. With more power over foreign policy, Mr Obama could decide to focus on foreign issues or he could hunker down and fight for his domestic agenda.

"If the Republicans get really influential and block all the president's domestic programs, the president might want to go more international," said Graeme Bannerman, a scholar at the Middle East Institute who worked on the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1979 to 1987.

There's every indication the strengthened Republicans will fight Mr Obama on domestic issues. The contentious mid-term campaigns have been fought in large part over the president's domestic agenda, and new Congressmen will likely focus on jobs and the economy.

Moreover, with the rise of the far-right Tea Party movement, and the fact that Democrats who win re-election are those in safe seats that are generally more left-leaning, the composition of especially the House will be more partisan, making it tougher for the administration to push through domestic legislation.

Should Mr Obama decide to devote more energy to foreign affairs between now and 2012, he will have to demonstrate to foreign leaders that he still has Congressional and public support for his foreign initiatives despite the mid-term losses.

"As a matter of principle, if the president is seen to be weakened or strengthened as a result of this election result, that perception will also exist beyond the borders of the US," said Mr Aronson. "To help or to hurt is hard to say, but the perception of the president's strength is somehow in the balance here."