The three-year, Saudi-UAE-led war on Yemen has, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council, resulted in what is currently “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.” The blockade on imports to Yemen has, according to a senior UN official, brought 8.4 million Yemenis “a step away from famine,” while UNICEF reports that Yemeni children are dying at the rate of one every ten minutes from preventable diseases.
And yet the Saudis continue their blockade on Yemen, even in defiance of their most committed Western sponsor, President Donald J. Trump, who as recently as December 2017 called for the cessation of “all hostilities” and an end to the blockade and “completely allow food, fuel, water, and medicine to reach the Yemeni people who desperately need it.”
Yet, despite calls from the White House and the international community for an end to the savage war on Yemen, the United States has continued to lend military support to the Saudi-UAE effort. In addition to providing intelligence and aerial-refueling to Saudi bombers, the US military, according to NBC News, “drastically stepped up its air campaign in Yemen” during the course of 2017, “conducting more than six times as many airstrikes as in 2016, according to data from U.S. Central Command.”
But yesterday’s announcement by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Utah Republican Mike Lee that they, along with Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy, have introduced a joint resolution calling for an end to the unauthorized US participation in the Saudi/UAE-led war shows signs that Congress is beginning to resist continued US involvement.
The joint resolution calls for “the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress.” The resolution claims that “no specific statutory authorization for the use of United States Armed Forces with respect to the conflict between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis in Yemen has been enacted, and no provision of law explicitly authorizes the provision of targeting assistance or of midair refueling services to warplanes of Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates that are engaged in such conflict.”
According to Sanders, the resolution is necessary because the United States is acting without legal justification. Sanders, Lee, and Murphy contend that the 2001 AUMF, which granted the president wide statutory authority to combat the Sunni radical terror groups such as those which attacked the US on 9/11, does not cover US action against Shia militias, such as the Houthis.
“We believe that, as Congress has not declared war or authorized military force in this conflict, the United States involvement in Yemen is unconstitutional and unauthorized, and U.S. military support of the Saudi coalition must end,” said Sanders.
“This,” said the Senator, “is not a partisan issue. If the administration believes we should be involved let them come before Congress, let them make their case and let Congress vote.” As one Lee staffer familiar with the legislation commented earlier this week, the resolution “is about Congress reasserting its power.”
Does the bill have any chance at passing?
The Washington Post got it wrong yesterday when reporter David Weigel asserted that “it’s unclear how Sanders and Lee’s resolution could get a vote. On Wednesday, they said frankly that they would try to move it through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where it could be tabled, ending the debate.”
Not quite. Because the resolution is “privileged,” if the SFRC does not move the legislation to the floor, the Senators can move it themselves. As Bruce Ackerman, Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale, has commented, “their motion cannot be bottled up in committee.”
The Sanders-Lee-Murphy resolution is not the first bipartisan attempt on Capitol Hill to try to end US involvement in Yemen. In October, Congressmen Ro Khanna, Marc Pocan, Walter Jones, and Thomas Massie introduced a bill directing Trump, in accordance with the provisions of the 1973 War Powers Resolution, “to remove United States Armed Forces from unauthorized hostilities in the Republic of Yemen.”
Despite the best efforts of a few committed elected officials to bring attention to this most pressing of international problems, the media, perhaps until now, has largely ignored the issue. The media watchdog Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting has found that the leading liberal cable network, MSNBC, “did not run a single segment devoted specifically to Yemen in the second half of 2017.”
“And in these latter roughly six months of the year, MSNBC ran nearly 5,000 percent more segments that mentioned Russia than segments that mentioned Yemen.”
“Moreover,” writes the journalist Ben Norton, “in all of 2017, MSNBC only aired one broadcast on the US-backed Saudi airstrikes that have killed thousands of Yemeni civilians.”
The support for the Gulf State tyrannies among DC’s media and political class might seem monolithic, but the passage of the joint resolution would represent a rejection of the Beltway consensus on Saudi Arabia and pave the way for a genuinely popular policy alternative. After all, a poll commissioned late last year by the Committee for a Responsible Foreign Policy found that 51.9 percent of those surveyed would support, as against 21.5 percent who would oppose, a bipartisan bill to withdraw US forces from the Saudi war on Yemen.
Will that support carry over and move the establishment and the administration to withdraw? One can only hope. But it would be foolish to underestimate the scope and power of the Gulf lobby in Washington.
As I reported for The Nation last May, filings at the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) have reveled a flurry of activity on the part of Saudi Arabia’s DC-based lobbyists since the war’s commencement.
The FARA filings show the Saudis have engaged the services of several high-profile lobbying firms such as the Podesta Group, Squire Patton Boggs, the Glover Park Group, and Burson-Marsteller, ostensibly with the aim to keep the US government on-side.
For its part, Saudi Arabia’s coalition partner, the UAE, has been funding DC think tanks such as the Center for a New American Security, the Center for American Progress, the Brookings Institution, and the Middle East Institute, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), to the tune of millions of dollars annually.
Meanwhile, the Saudi lobbying blitz continues. An e-mail addressed to “Prominent Think Tanks” from the Saudi Embassy in Washington obtained by the advocacy group Win Without War shows the Embassy promoting its Yemen Comprehensive Humanitarian Operations (YCHO) Support Center, and their alleged efforts “to facilitate scaled aid efforts in Yemen.”
Nevertheless, the efforts of Bernie Sanders, Mike Lee, and Chris Murphy in the Senate—and Ro Khanna and the bipartisan group of 50 co-sponsors in the House—may yet disturb what the late historian Tony Judt once referred to as “the easy peace of received opinion” and shake Washington from its shameful complacency over the US participation in the war on Yemen.