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America's left is back, should that worry allies in Mideast?

Arnab Neil Sengupta
Filed on January 30, 2019 | Last updated on January 30, 2019 at 07.48 pm

Trouble is, in the age of self-proclaimed "progressives" and bigoted populists, even the simplest verities of the past can seem too complicated to bear in mind.

As middle-of-the-road politicians struggle to make their voices heard above the din of social media, the prognoses about a radical change in America's political direction are no longer a mere figment of imagination. However, given the sheer number of imponderables, advance planning for a left-leaning Capitol Hill or a full-on "progressive" administration post-2020 may very well prove a fool's errand.

Take the current administration's record, for instance. Since the eclipse of the establishment Republicans in the primaries by Donald Trump, followed by his victory over centrist Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, drastic change has been the only constant in America's political life.

The policies and pacts that the country's left-liberals assumed were etched in stone - the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare, the Paris Agreement on climate change, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Iran nuclear deal, and the waivers given to the Jerusalem Embassy Act, to name just five - have been tossed out by Trump one by one.

In any event, much of the hope-and-change stuff that once fired the imagination of President Barack Obama's foreign-policy team had perished in the post-2011 bloodbaths in Libya, Syria and Iraq. Not even the most wide-eyed Democrats will probably dare consider turning the clock back if they get another chance to strut their stuff after the 2020 elections.

Trouble is, in the age of self-proclaimed "progressives" and bigoted populists, even the simplest verities of the past can seem too complicated to bear in mind. What the hotheads on either side of the left-right divide fail to grasp is that politics is not a black-and-white morality play; its complex realities challenge the outlook of that category of Americans whose loyalties and antipathies tend to be fanatical. But just because polarising political ideologies are finding takers among a new generation of American voters, does not in any way confirm their efficacy or wisdom.

It is too soon to say whether the new Congress members who are causing a sensation on Twitter with their disruptive views on politics, economics and international affairs have what it takes to change things for the better. Even if - and it's a big if - one were to assume that some of the beliefs they hold dear spring from a genuine desire to see equality, justice and peace prevail around the world, to expect large numbers of Americans to rally behind them on the basis of the media buzz would be fanciful.

During past periods of the left's ascendancy (eg Jimmy Carter, Obama) over the right in Washington, strategic partners of America often got themselves in a fret over the perception that they were more pro-US than Americans themselves. Now, as competing leftist and populist ideas threaten to infect the body politic in the US and Europe, the West's most reliable partners in the Middle East have been wise to view the trend from a distance as part of the natural ebb and flow of transatlantic political tides.

Due to their physical proximity to the Middle East's conflict zones and political flash-points, to say nothing of their security vulnerabilities, these allies and partners of the US have a keen sense of perspective as opposed to the blinkered views of some Congress members and woolly-headed media liberals. The best course of action for these actors would be to stay true to their own values and philosophies - but keep their powder dry.

What's more, the Middle East's moderate leaders and regimes have little need for political posturing or ideological preening. They have enough problems, challenges and threats of every kind to stay focused, whatever the flavour of the month in Washington or London. In fact, as the Kurds of Syria and Iraq have learned in recent weeks, America's most steadfast friends cannot take the support of even Republican legislators for granted.

In the immediate term, the growing clout of the "radical socialists" - as Trump calls them - poses its biggest threat not to America's Middle East allies but to the Democrats. The many advantages the party's leaders have over their Republican rivals may get nullified in the next two years by the controversial economic ideas and foreign-policy preferences of its brash new lawmakers.

Whatever the practical significance of the sound and fury of "progressive" rhetoric, Democratic presidential contenders can ignore its fallout at their peril. If truth be told, the party's tepid support for the leftwing Syrian Kurds after their apparent betrayal by Trump, in contrast to the grumblings over his recognition of Venezuela's self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido, points to moral confusion and selective outrage.

Unless Democrats can demonstrate clarity of vision and consistency in policy, they will be regarded by America's trusted partners as no more useful than a foolish friend. Looking to the future, the changing ideological make-up of Democratic legislators should no doubt be a cause for concern for Washington's partners in the Middle East. But for now, keeping the self-destructive impulses of an otherwise friendly Republican president in check must take priority over other worries.

Arnab Neil Sengupta is an independent journalist and commentator on Middle East


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