Yes: Congress must act quickly to end America’s atrocities in Yemen
Your taxpayer dollars and military forces are at work, on the other side of the world, in Yemen — one of the world’s poorest countries.
Every 10 minutes another child dies of preventable disease. It’s not a natural disaster but a human made one: Saudi Arabia has cut off most supplies of food, fuel and medicine from Yemeni ports.
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This has put more than 8 million people on the brink of starvation. The destruction of infrastructure has also created the worst epidemic in history of cholera, a water-borne disease that has sickened more than a million people there and killed thousands. Saudi and Emirati planes have also killed more than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, with bombs.
What does the U.S. government have to do with this suffering, which has created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today?
Unfortunately, a lot. The U.S. military is directly involved, providing mid-air refueling to Saudi and UAE warplanes during their bombing runs, as well as targeting assistance for their bombs, and other logistical aid.
In November the New York Times editorial board accused the U.S. government of complicity in war crimes in an editorial titled “Saudis try to starve Yemen into submission.” That is exactly what they are trying to do.
Most Americans would be horrified by the U.S. role in these atrocities. Now there is something we can do about it.
Last week a bipartisan group of senators, led by Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.; Mike Lee, R-Utah; and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., introduced a bill to end U.S. military participation in this war, which was never authorized by Congress.
The bill is historic in that it invokes the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which was legislated toward the end of a long struggle to end U.S. military involvement in Vietnam.
The law requires that Congress must have a debate and vote on ending involvement of U.S. military forces in unauthorized hostilities if a member of Congress requests it.
In November, this law was used to force a vote in the House of Representatives, in which the House voted 366 to 30 to confirm that the U.S. military was indeed involved in mid-air refueling and bomb targeting assistance, and that this U.S. military involvement was not authorized by Congress.
But the Senate vote will be much more powerful, in that the Senate bill, if passed into law, would actually require the withdrawal of U.S. forces from participating in Saudi Arabia’s war.
It has a good chance of passing, too, since the last arms sale to Saudi Arabia — in June — was approved by a vote of just 53-47. And in December, Trump called for Saudi Arabia to “completely allow food, fuel, water and medicine to reach the Yemeni people who desperately need it.” According to press reports, he made this statement after a briefing that included pictures of starving Yemeni children.
In his speech introducing the bill, Sanders said: “The Founding Fathers gave the power to declare war to Congress, the branch most accountable to the people. For far too long, Congress under Democratic and Republican administrations has abdicated its constitutional role in authorizing war.”
Since Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution clearly allocates to Congress the power to decide whether the U.S. goes to war, numerous legal scholars have wholeheartedly endorsed this effort.
Many organizations from across the political spectrum have also joined in, as well as celebrities and other public figures. Renowned actor Mark Ruffalo, in a viral video seen by millions, made an impassioned appeal for Americans to call their senators at (833) 786-7927 and ask them to end U.S. participation in this terrible war. It’s well worth the phone call.
Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a leading progressive think-tank in the nation's capital. He holds a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Michigan. Readers may write him at CEPR, 1611 Connecticut Avenue, NW Suite 400 Washington, DC 20009.
No: Chaos will erupt in the Middle East if U.S. leaves Yemen
Three years ago this month, a Saudi-led coalition of Gulf nations waded into Yemen’s civil war. The U.S. is aiding the coalition, supplying special forces and sharing intelligence with our Saudi and UAE allies.
For some Americans, that’s too much. On Feb. 28, Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah; Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.; and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., introduced a joint resolution invoking the War Powers Act. The goal: to yank all U.S. military support from the conflict.
Legal scholars debate the constitutionality of the War Powers Act. Still, even if the Hill could tell the president to pull out of Yemen, it should not. If America walks away, it will only bring more war, not peace.
America is there for a reason: to keep the region from falling apart. The collapse of any friendly regime there is bad for us.
The greatest threats to Middle East stability and security are Iran and transnational Islamist terrorists groups, principally ISIS and al-Qaida. And it is precisely these forces that are fueling the Yemen war.
If Congress forces the administration to abandon our allies, Tehran, ISIS, and al-Qaida would feel emboldened and likely double-down on expanding the war.
Meanwhile, Washington would lose its ability to influence how Saudi Arabia and the UAE conduct coalition operations. Without our mitigating presence, the carnage of this vicious war would only increase.
And Russia would be tempted to further complicate the situation. Moscow has already vetoed a draft U.N. Security Council resolution to hold Iran accountable for providing Yemen’s rebels with the long-range missiles recently fired at the Saudi capital.
Putin would interpret an American withdrawal as a green light for additional Russian meddling — the type that Moscow has brought to the Syrian civil war.
Instead of turning our back on Yemen, the U.S. should focus on ending the war. The longer the conflict persists, the more the chaos benefits terrorist groups in the region and the more the main rebel group, the Houthis, becomes dependent on Iran.
There are no easy answers. Just ask American Enterprise Institute analyst Katherine Zimmerman, who follows the issue as closely as anyone. Her assessment: “The (Saudi-led) coalition’s efforts to end the war militarily have been unsuccessful and will likely continue to fail ... .”
There is no clear military solution. There is no clear political resolution either. Yemen’s political landscape remains hopelessly fractured. Any settlement talks that exclude key stakeholders are likely to go nowhere.
A new U.N. envoy, Martin Griffiths, is expected to try to launch another round of negotiations. But for now, at least, too many key actors seem unwilling to engage in serious peace talks.
Rather than pull out, the U.S. should continue to use its presence and influence to establish the conditions that will allow for the delivery of humanitarian aid and the start of real peace negotiations that put the people of Yemen first.
U.S. military activities contribute to both those goals, particularly by supporting counterterrorism operations against ISIS and a-Qaida.
In addition to continuing that support, the U.S. should work to diminish Iranian meddling — not just by disrupting its aid to the Houthis, but by broadly attacking Tehran’s foreign escapades throughout the region.
Pressing the regime overall will strain its capacity to support the rebels in Yemen — and that may lead to all sides in the conflict coming to the peace table sooner rather than later.
If Congress wants to see an end to the humanitarian suffering in Yemen, then writing off the current U.S. role there ought to be the last thing lawmakers think about.
The U.S. cannot be a bystander. In fact, it may be the only actor with sufficient influence to drive the other players toward a peaceful political settlement in Yemen.
James Jay Carafano is director of Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation. A 25-year veteran of the U.S. Army, Carafano is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and a holds a Ph.D in diplomatic history from Georgetown University. Readers may write him at Heritage, 214 Massachusetts Ave NE, Washington, DC 20002.