On Monday, in a sign of a new and welcome assertiveness on the part of Congress, which has long shunned its mandate to oversee matters of war and peace as laid out in Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution, the House of Representatives passed a resolution calling for an end to the violence in Yemen.
It passed by an overwhelming majority, 366 to 30.
The resolution, which was introduced by California Democrat Ro Khanna, states that, “To date, Congress has not enacted specific legislation authorizing the use of military force against parties participating in the Yemeni civil war that are not otherwise subject to the Authorization of Use of Military Force,” which was initially passed in 2001 and granted the president wide authority to combat those who attacked us on September 11 (read: Al Qaeda, with a healthy assist from Saudi Arabia).
“This resolution makes abundantly clear that we cannot be assisting the Saudi regime in any of its fight with the Houthi regime. And we have to limit our involvement in Yemen to take on Al Qaeda and to take on the terrorists that threaten the United States,” said Khanna.
The resolution’s overwhelming passage is a victory for the forces of restraint on both the right and the left. “This has,” one congressional aide told me, “energized those of us who have been pushing for a more realistic and restrained foreign policy on the Hill, now there is a feeling these ideas are on the cusp of breaking through to the mainstream.” Indeed, the next step may well be the creation of a war-powers caucus that would, in the words of the aide, “institutionalize the momentum and allow us to build on this progress.”
When future historians take stock of the current era, America’s complicity in Saudi Arabia’s war on the civilian population of Yemen will surely stand out as one of the more shameful episodes in a century that has not been marked by a lack of them.
The Saudi war on Yemen has, by most estimates, taken the lives of over 12,000 people and resulted in the destruction of the ancient Yemeni capital, Sanaa, and a cholera epidemic. According to Amnesty International, “approximately 18.8 million Yemenis today rely on humanitarian assistance in order to survive.”
In late August, a UN report found that the Saudi-led war has resulted in 1,340 child casualties. The report went on to note that the UN had also received “220 reports of incidents of denial of humanitarian access,” including “violence against humanitarian workers, assets and facilities and interference with the implementation of humanitarian activities.”
Last week it was reported that the Saudis have closed all entryways into Yemen as part of an effort to stanch the flow of weapons to the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. But, in fact, the closure of all air-, land, and seaports has another, more sinister purpose: the mass starvation of Yemeni civilians.
This week, the United Nations coordinator for Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, told Reuters, ”We have some 21 million people needing assistance and seven million of those are in famine-like conditions and rely completely on food aid.”
The Saudis have been aided and abetted in their wholesale destruction of Yemen by the United States and Britain, which together have sold the kingdom billions in arms. In June, the State Department approved a $1.4 billion deal, which the CEO of Lockheed Martin deemed “historic.” In late October The Guardian reported that British arms sales to Saudi Arabia will top £1.1 billion in 2017.
Why should the United States (and close NATO allies like Britain) be involved in such an undertaking?
Partly because Trump has stocked his national-security team with unreconstructed Iran obsessives like Defense Secretary James Mattis, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, and the wondrously vapid UN Ambassador Nikki Haley.
And, partly, to please the Saudis. In this context, the passage of the bill could not have been more timely. In just the past month, the Saudis have forced the resignation of the prime minister of Lebanon, who was later put under “house arrest,” and have detained the exiled president of Yemen.
All this while the kingdom’s 32-year-old crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has placed 11 other princes, four cabinet ministers, and dozens of businessmen under arrest at the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh.
As the columnist Mehdi Hasan observed, “That the crown prince of Saudi Arabia can, essentially, kidnap the elected leaders of not one but two Middle Eastern countries…speaks volumes about not just his ‘impulsive intervention policy’ but the shameless pass he gets from Western governments for such rogue behavior.”
That is only too true. But perhaps with the passage of the Khanna resolution, Congress is signaling that Saudi Arabia’s free ride in Washington is coming to an end.