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8 November 2018

What do the midterms mean for the region?

By: Daoud Kuttab
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Even though the US presidential system gives foreign policy powers to the resident of the White House, the American midterm elections will have an effect, albeit a small one, on international affairs.
The 2018 elections have shown a defeat for President Donald Trump’s policies in three important areas: refugees, women and Muslims. The results of the elections, as well as exit poll answers, show that Trump's anti-immigrant policy suffered a major defeat. Despite the fact that the US economy is doing very well, the American president has chosen to continue picking on immigrants, with special emphasis on the so-called caravan of South Americans wanting to make it to the United States. Exit polls show that voters stated that the number one issue for them was the rejection of the president's anti-immigration rhetoric.
On the issue of Trump's anti-women policies, Americans have elected more than 100 women who have won seats on the national level, which is clearly a statement against Trump and company's misogyny.
Perhaps the most visible vote against a Trump policy was the victory of two Muslim women to the new 116th Congress. Somali immigrant Ilhan Omar and the daughter of a Palestinian immigrant, Rashida Tlaib, will be swearing in on a Koran, for the first time in the history of the US, and this is a clear response to Trump's anti-Muslim policies, enacted by the controversial bans to individuals from largely Muslim countries.
Perhaps Tlaib more than any newly elected congressperson typifies the response to the anti-immigrant, anti-women, anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian policies.
But despite the clear vote against many of Trump's domestic policies, it will be difficult to summarise that the results of the midterm elections will make much difference as to President Trump's overall foreign policy, or even his policies on the Middle East. The scandal surrounding the killing of Saudi Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi will probably have more effect on Trump's Middle East. The fact that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman is accused of responsibility for the killing of the journalist has gone a long way in hurting the potential US-Israeli-Saudi axis that is aimed at pushing through on Palestinians regarding the so-called ultimate deal.
Internally, the midterm elections have clearly weakened the US president. By gaining the gavel in the House of Representatives, democrats will now have subpoena powers, which means that they will be holding many public investigations of Trump’s officials and might even possibly be able to officially demand the tax returns of President Trump, which could highly embarrass the resident of the White House.
This power, along with the expected damning report of the US special investigator Robert Mueller, might bring down the US president.
But even if the subpoena powers will not bring down the US president, it is highly likely that they will weaken him and will shift attention from his attempts to please his base and right-wing supporters to the need to govern and find common ground with Nancy Pelosi and others in the US House of Representatives, which will now be able to slow down if not stop many of Trump’s signature social policies. The fact that younger, progressive and more diverse candidates will be in Congress will have a direct effect on the natural Christian right-wing and conservative base of the Republican party, which is highly pro-Israel and anti-Palestinian, anti-Muslim and anti-Iran. The ability of these new fresh congresspeople to affect foreign policy is probably small in legislative terms but they will have access to media and will be able to leverage their ideas using the fact that they will have an important say on how the US budget is spent.
Naturally, the big question that will be asked over and over in this part of the world will be how the midterm elections will affect the US foreign policy and the answer is still unclear.
The elections in America will have much more effects on internal issues, which might mean one of two things: either Trump will have less time to dedicate to foreign issues or conversely it could mean that a weakened Trump will take more international risks.

* A Palestinian columnist based in Amman, Jordan. - dkuttab@ammannet.net

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