While US President Donald Trump says Republicans defied history in the midterm elections by maintaining control of the Senate and winning a slew of governor’s races, Democrats are celebrating taking back the House of Representatives. However, the 2018 midterms have showed that America is deeply divided. It is no longer about traditional Red and Blue boundaries. Neither party can claim a clear advantage in the arithmetic that will decide who will be in the White House in 2020. This midterm election is also notable as it sets the stage for a different second half of Trump’s first term in office. And there could be consequences on his foreign policies.
The Democrats should have more power to influence decisions on these matters from Russia and Saudi Arabia to the Israel-Palestine issue. With control of the House of Representatives, the Democrats now have much more power to investigate. Does this mean we will see a more intense investigation of Trump’s possible ties to Russia?
It is assured that more investigations are coming. We will see requests for classified or private material like bank account information, tax returns and things of that nature which the committee’s intelligence and other committees in the House have the authority to do without necessarily seeking Senate approval. There will definitely be some probing going in the next month or so as Democrats try to figure out the most effective way to push back against the many things that Trump has done that they don’t like. But they have to be careful not to push too far and trigger a counter reaction both in Congress and also among the public.
Case in point: matters of foreign policy such as Russia, Syria, Iran, Yemen and the fallout of the situation after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. But the question is what they will prioritise. Arab-Israeli issues will be pretty minor right now, but they could gain prominence later on.
Of course we know that President Donald Trump is very close with the Saudi regime, but with growing outrage over the murder of Khashoggi and with Democrats in control of the House, how will that relationship be affected?
The relationship with Saudi Arabia is probably a great illustration of the two competing aspects now of the president’s foreign policy decision-making. At one level, members of his administration who work on foreign policy matters such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security adviser John Bolton will certainly be spending lot more time on Capitol Hill testifying before Congressional Committees explaining the president’s foreign policy decisions. Firstly, there will be a lot more oversight and they will face more pressure to confront challenges such as Khahsoggi murder and many other of the inconsistent aspects of the United States’ relationship with the Saudi Arabia extending to the war in Yemen. There is, in particular, a large scale opposition within the Democratic Party to the US’s ongoing role in helping to facilitate the war through refuelling and arms sales. But, there’s another side of this, which is that the president’s legislative agenda will almost certainly stall at this point.
His ability to get anything through this democratically controlled Congress is going to be severely hampered. But foreign policy might be one of the few areas where he can act out or provide distractions, something he’s not above doing as shown prior to the election with the fanning of racist fears about the migrant caravan coming up from Central America. In that regard it is quite possible he will double down on the relationship with Saudi Arabia and the backing of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
Moving forward, now that US is re-imposing sanctions against Iran where will that relationship go? There have been so many reports in the past year that perhaps Donald Trump wants to reopen negotiations with Iran. Does that happen?
US-watchers say they find it to extremely unlikely as there’s one actor in the mid-term election that we haven’t really given much attention to. That is the Republican Party’s biggest donor Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam Adelson. The two put over $100 million into this election cycle. One could argue that it was a blunder and was a huge loss for them because of the outcome for the House. But they gained ground in the Senate and, more importantly I might argue, their investment in the Republican House races still could pay dividends. Their number one concern is foreign police. They want to maintain a hawkish stance towards Iran as they’re very close with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
And, by all accounts their primary motivation for their political donations is to keep this close relationship between Republican Party and Likud Party in Israel. Admittedly, Sheldon Adelson arguably has more influence on Republican Party. This is the party that is deeply indebted to him. Any Republican member of Congress or Senate and even Donald Trump himself all owe arguably their positions to Sheldon and Miriam Adelson’s largesse with funds. Adelson has proposed in the past that the US negotiating strategy toward Iran should be to drop a nuclear bomb in ‘the Iranian desert’ and tell the Iranians that the next nuclear weapon will be landing on Tehran. This is not somebody who wants to see any sort of negotiation or diplomacy. He helped fund the opposition to the negotiation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), popularly known as Iran Nuclear Deal, under the previous administration. And, by all accounts he’s played a major role in pushing for John Bolton, a thorough Iran hawk. Nobody would doubt Bolton’s intention in trying to spark a conflict after being appointed as national security advisor to Donald Trump.
The point is – spending a hundred million dollars in elections is not just an investment on the outcome of that particular election but it also in buying continuing influence with that party.
Finally, one last observation to close this discussion. It is possible that the Democrats in the House will completely ignore Saudi intervention in Yemen because they might decide they will get more attention focusing on the Russia investigation and some of Donald Trump’s financial dealings or his sexual harassment issues. They might decide they can only focusing on so many things and might make the calculation that those are the things they should focus on. It remains to be seen whether they will drop some of their broader goals to spend more time on Saudi and Yemen.