New Year, new Congress and renewed political disaster for the Middle East

Walid Jawad
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Are you ready for the constant hypnotic humdrum of US politics yet? Now that we are counting down to the last 10 seconds of 2018, we reflect on those trivial and pivotal decisions we’ve made.

We are also reminded of the challenges within our communities, nations and perhaps internationally. Of most interest are the decisions and events that define or redefine our lives. For better or worse, when the clock strikes 12, we get a brand new year, but we continue to deal with the decisions we’ve made in 2018 and prior.


The predictive quality of the human mind cannot be overstated. Individuals have daydreams while societies have histories to guide their future. There is no crystal ball for any of us to see the future through, but reviewing the latest events can provide us with what is needed to predict what's to come.

The drumbeat of America’s ever-muddled political saga didn’t stop over the holiday season. The train-wreck that is the White House, Congress, and the Court's continues to unfold in a power play of intrigue. The spillover effect regarding the Middle East is profound. Today, as I review with you a couple of those aspects we can make some predictions and verbalize our hopes. The following is at play:

Perhaps Democrats will tackle immigration reform next in conjunction with pressuring the White House to reverse Trump’s decision to pull all US troops out of Syria

Walid Jawad

White House and the new Congress

The many challenges President Donald J. Trump had with Congress over the almost years are going to pale in comparison to the acrimony to ensue over the next two. The Republican party, which Trump leads, was reinforced by leading the White House, Congress and now more conservative-leaning justices in the Supreme Court.

Since his 2016 inauguration, Trump’s Republican party had control over both chambers of Congress: the US House of Representatives (the lower chamber) and the US Senate (the upper chamber). At the time, the Republican agenda had a number of causes on its platform, but they were unable to repeal and replace Obamacare; the Affordable Care Act of the Obama presidency which Trump promised voters to reverse.

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Republicans also failed to build the wall along the US-Mexico border. Trump repeatedly promised to make Mexico pay for it, but when that failed he turned to Congress demanding to pass a spending bill that includes border wall funding. That too has failed. The current partial US government shutdown is predicated on Trump’s refusal of any spending bill that doesn’t include a $5 billion border wall.

The Republicans, however, were successful in passing a tax reform bill that was packaged as a win for all Americans. The irony is that such a win is skewed towards the rich. Further, the long-term effects will ensure that the middle class will pay a disproportionate portion toward the anticipated revenue deficits the bill will cause the US budget.

Arabs in the House

Those three fights, among other issues, gave Democratic candidates the fuel they needed to win back control of the US House of Representatives in the last midterm elections this past November.

Now that the Republican president is leading a fractured government, he will face far greater challenges to deliver on his promises or push for his Party’s legislative agenda. Many of the new Democratic Congressional Representatives have ridden a wave of diversity in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement and the racial tensions which reached a crescendo last year.

On January 3rd, the new 116th Congress will include the first female-Palestinian-Muslim American Rashida Tlaib and the first female-Somali-Muslim American Ilhan Omar, both Arab-Americans. Donna Shalala, the Lebanese American, rounds out the new cohort of Arab-American members of Congress. The total number of Arab American members of Congress stands at eight, divided equally between the Republican and Democratic parties.

Middle East to the slaughterhouse

We can predict a flurry of activities to come once the new Congress is in place including the much anticipated White House announcement of Jared Kushner’s Middle East plan. But before that announcement, Congress will offer its opinion on Trump’s latest decision to pull the remaining US troops out of Syria and the drawdown to half of the 14,000 troops currently stationed in Afghanistan.

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The White House Mideast policy trajectory does not bode well for the region. Trump’s strategy of disengagement is counterproductive to the people of the region and goes against US national interests. As a result, America’s partners in the Middle East are finding it increasingly difficult to align their goals with an absent partner.

Case in point, the US has the strategic goal of neutralizing Iran’s expansionist strategy, yet its fighting its own battle in Yemen against al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP) while Saudi Arabia and the UAE are fighting Iran’s Houthi loyalists to the detriment of Yemeni people.

Contrarian Democrats

The 116 Congress has already signaled a forward-leaning approach to international dynamics. The US House will aggressively investigate the Trump presidential election’s Russia collision allegations now that Democrats will chair the Intelligence Committee. Further, Democrats will have more input as they chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Now that they are taking over the US House of Representatives, the Democrats feel empowered to be more contrarian. Instead of formulating a proactively positive strategy, they confuse their mandate for simple opposition to anything Trump.

This is not a hopeful situation for the US. The Democrats must stop their negative position and start standing for something positive and proactive. The decades-long strategy of opposing the Republicans will not advance the US or its allies, friends, or partners.

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I predict more talk of impeachment, but Trump will avoid the process lest the Special Council Robert Mueller’s investigation yields criminality. The Democrat’s will avoid the urge to initiate the procedures if Nancy Pelosi is voted on as Speaker of the House as expected. She is fully aware that such a move might satisfy a small core of the Democratic constituency but will invite the wrath of a nation. The American people have no appetite for the theatrical indignation of a dysfunctional Congress.

First things first, what will the new Congress do regarding the current government shutdown is of utmost importance as the nation awaits a resolution. If public opinion continues to be against Trump, the Democrats will flex their legislative muscles.

Perhaps Democrats will tackle immigration reform next in conjunction with pressuring the White House to reverse Trump’s decision to pull all US troops out of Syria. My hesitation in listing any predictions lies in Trump’s White House uncanny ability to stir up controversy and create new challenges for itself.
Walid Jawad is a former Senior Policy Analyst at US Department of State and a former Washington, DC correspondent. He covered American politics for a number of TV outlets since 1997. Walid holds an undergraduate degree (BA) in Decision Science and Management Information Systems and a Masters in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. You can follow him @walidaj.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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