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Barack Obama's drubbing in the mid-terms will have implications for his domestic and foreign policies. World leaders now realise that Obama could be a lame-duck president, which means that they can ignore his efforts to put pressure on recalcitrant allies (Israel), encourage sceptical friends (more European Nato troops in Afghanistan) and deter enemies (Iran, Syria and the other usual suspects).

There is much to suggest that Middle East capitals will read Obama this way — but they will do so at their peril. First, the president has the power to do what he likes to pursue foreign policy. He does not need Congress to deliver peace in the Middle East though he does need it to launch a major war (yet he can do without it if he has to respond to provocation). The new Congress will not deny him support for a tough course of action.

The stalemate in the Middle East peace process is largely the by-product of Obama's misreading of the regional map, a misreading made stronger by the impression that his vast home majority gave him the authority to bully Israel. He may now find it harder to pressure Binyamin Netanyahu on settlements. The new Congress will be less sympathetic to Obama's lenience towards Palestinian recalcitrance. 

The Israeli PM knows that Obama's political future hangs in the balance. Anyway, the conditions to jump-start the process are simply non-existent. Still, no Israeli leader would wish to lose an American president at a time when Israel might need Washington most to confront Iran. Besides, the president might, after all, still be re-elected in two years' time. There is some wiggle room there for Obama, but not much, especially because his prestige and his chances for a second term cannot afford another failure. Expect little, therefore, on this front.

Meanwhile, the US is fighting a proxy war with Iran in Iraq. America's enemies cannot have been overly impressed from the start with the president's warrior qualities. He could choose to pre-empt Iraq's likely descent into chaos after the US departure by pursuing a tougher course, delaying troop withdrawal and seeking open confrontation with Iran. But that would require a policy U-turn that would alienate his base and not necessarily yield the kind of spectacular results needed to turn the choice between failure and stalemate into one between progress and triumph.

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