Sometimes the most important stories about what our government is doing don’t get a lot of media attention. That’s the case now, when the Senate is about to hold a historic vote that could decide whether millions of people live or die in the near future. The US military is directly participating in a war that has pushed those millions to the brink of starvation and caused the worst cholera outbreak in modern history.
The war is in Yemen, and Saudi Arabia is leading the bombing and blockade that is denying people medicine and food as well as the fuel and infrastructure they need to pump clean water. The deprivation and destruction led to the cholera epidemic, which has sickened a million people and killed thousands. American military planes are not only providing midair refueling to the Saudi bombers but helping them with intelligence and targeting.
This constitutes military involvement under the 1973 War Powers Resolution, as well as Article I, Section 8 of the US Constitution, neither of which allows the executive branch to engage in such hostilities without the authorization of Congress. Any doubts about the constitutionality of US participation in the Saudi attempt to “starve Yemen into submission,” as a November New York Times editorial-board headline described it, were put to rest by a vote in the House of Representatives in November. The House voted 366 to 30 for a resolution that declared US military involvement to be unauthorized.
It is therefore illegal under US law. On February 28, Democratic Senators Bernie Sanders and Chris Murphy and Republican Senator Mike Lee introduced a bill to put an end to this illegal war. Under the War Powers Resolution, the Senate majority leaders cannot block a debate and vote on this legislation. And a number of experts believe it could pass; for one thing, the last vote in the Senate on arms sales to Saudi Arabia, in June, passed by a margin of only 53-47.
But the Saudis have a powerful lobby: They spent $16 million last year on lobbying and public relations that was recorded under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. This does not include other spending, such as contributions to think tanks (and that of their allies such as the United Arab Emirates). And along with the Saudis are the big military contractors that profit from these weapons sales.