US role in Iraq and Syria expected to grow following Republican victory

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US Senator John McCain speaks at the Reagan National Defense Forum "Building Peace Through Strength for American Security" event at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum in Simi Valley, California on November 15, 2014. AFP / Mark Ralston

Published Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Insiders who are familiar with the changes that have come with the Republican win in the midterm elections assert that Washington is determined to boost its role in the Middle East, not reduce it.

Denver – In Denver, where the Republicans celebrated winning back the state of Colorado, an activist expresses joy that the Republicans have finally regained control of Congress. She feels a euphoria of victory after – what she calls – the successive "losses" that resulted from the leadership of the Democrats. She argues that the Republicans should no longer make concessions nor justify their beliefs and priorities under any pretext.

The midterm election results continue to generate different opinions and analyses in the local media, American research centers, and among university lecturers. It is clear that the Republicans will not give US President Barack Obama an easy time in the last two years of his term. The mere announcement that Senator John McCain may become chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) means that many issues will be at stake, such as Washington's role in the Middle East, particularly in Syria and Iraq. This is especially true given McCain's well-known positions on the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime and the level of US intervention in the region, for example.

McCain's future role in the SASC has received widespread attention in the media and political circles as he has recently become a topic of discussion in political debates and on talk shows. He will be a key player in the coming period with regard to the level of US involvement in various files, the military budget, and doubling the size of troops, especially amid the ongoing controversy as to how far he would be able to put pressure on the Democratic administration.

The Republicans will not allow Obama to act [freely] in the Middle East as if he was still at the beginning of his presidential term, when he made “failed” promises, as a current official has said. They will also not give him full freedom to act in Eastern Europe, especially Ukraine.

An insider believes that the Republicans will be more “harsh” and severe in the Middle East. However, a former diplomat says the main problem is that the Republicans themselves are divided over the US role in the Middle East, and the limits and mechanisms of this intervention, and that they are also divided over McCain’s performance and ability to make clear and practical decisions on the US presence in the region.

Some political topics have become givens in US political debates. The two most notable ones concerning the Middle East are the following:

According to political commentators, the main concern in the next two years is to improve the relationship with Iran. Talk about holding a dialogue with Iran is widely discussed [in the media], and is being described as serious and potentially surprising to a lot of Americans concerned with Middle Eastern affairs. They add that Obama has been insistent on his bet on holding this dialogue. Also, although the Americans cannot predict the prospects of a nuclear deal [with Iran], the Obama administration insists on giving dialogue with Iran a greater chance, and this chance will remain open in the near term. They add that Arab countries, namely Washington's traditional allies, must adapt to this prospect and its requirements, especially since there is a strong belief that the dialogue – within the framework of the issues to be addressed – may result in halting the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which implies that the Arab countries that are "harmed" by the dialogue with Iran and do not trust it would have to take part in stopping the group’s advance.

Second, multiple sources have asserted that the remaining two years of Obama’s term will not see a decline in the US presence in the Middle East, contrary to some expectations. Since the return of the Republicans to Congress has impacted US foreign policy and the administration’s decisions with regard to the military, US intervention will likely increase from now on. This intervention will not be manifested through a direct military presence, as was the case in Iraq. Although the rejection of [direct] military intervention is a decision agreed on by both the Democrats and Republicans, there will likely be a high level of political interference and military aid. Many commentators agree that the Americans will no longer be lenient in addressing regional issues, and that a more visible US involvement will be seen at all levels, except for direct intervention, and this will apply in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.

According to an insider, there won’t be any internal objections to such decisions as the American public completely rejects the return of US troops to any conflict zone, but they would not oppose increasing aid and political involvement. This is especially so since news of beheadings of Americans and non-Americans is widely circulated in the United States, and “ISIS” has become a common term among ordinary citizens.

(Al-Akhbar)

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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