by Brian Garvey
After a year and a half of advocacy and pressure, on June 1st, Reps Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) introduced a War Powers Resolution to end America’s role in Saudi Arabia’s brutal war in Yemen. This measure to stop the US role in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis was introduced at a key moment. It has the ability to preserve a fragile peace and prevent a greater loss of life.
This path only proved necessary because President Joe Biden has failed to live up to simple promises made during the campaign and in the early days of his presidency. The president has all the power he needs to stop Saudi Arabia from continuing their war on Yemen. Because he has failed to do so, Congress is now stepping up to challenge him. Importantly Senator Bernie Sanders has joined with his colleagues in the House, stating his intention to introduce a version in the US Senate in the announcement of the resolution’s introduction. In the Senate, War Powers Resolutions enjoy privilege. This means that unlike most bills that never receive a full vote the measure can be forced to the floor, putting politicians on record and shedding light on a war that receives little attention from the American mainstream press.
Since its start the Saudi led war has created hell in Yemen, with over 17 million people currently on the brink of famine. Estimates from the UN World Food Programme have warned that a child under the age of 5 could die from the effects of this war every 75 seconds. This devastation is wrought with US, planes, US bombs, and US assistance. Over the course of the conflict the Saudi-led coalition has used a strategy of blockade by air, land, and sea to weaken Yemen, already the poorest country in the Middle East before the war began. It has also targeted fields, flocks, wells, water treatment plants, food production and distribution sites, weddings, funerals, hospitals, and schools, turning famine and disease into weapons of war.
There are urgent reasons to gather as much support as possible for the War Powers Resolution. Right now we’re in the middle of a ceasefire deal that has resulted in talks that eased some aspects of the blockade. The looming threat of a War Powers Resolution can now be used as leverage to prevent future airstrikes. Saudi Arabia and the UAE must now think hard before renewing their assault, or risk grounding a large portion of their air forces. The more support it receives in Congress, the stronger the leverage.
To be clear, this is a war that Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and their allies can’t continue without US help and facilitation. A recent investigation by the Washington Post showed that, “the United States provided arms, training or maintenance support to the majority of the fighter jet squadrons in the campaign.” Their planes cannot fly without constant maintenance and spare parts from the United States. “It’s critical that the Biden Administration take the steps necessary to fulfill their promise to end U.S. support for the disastrous Saudi-led war in Yemen,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, the lead sponsor of the Yemen War Powers Resolution. “We should not be involved in yet another conflict in the Middle East— especially a brutal war that has created the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, and contributed to the deaths of at least 377,000 civilians.”
President Biden has also announced formal plans to meet with de-facto leader of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman in mid-July. The Crown Prince, also known as MBS, was the architect of the war in Yemen as the kingdom’s former defense minister and was implicated in the 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist and US resident Jamal Khashoggi. This diplomatic trip represents formal recognition of MBS’s leadership, something Biden has been unwilling to extend. It’s a major reversal in policy, especially from a man who called Saudi Arabia a “pariah state” less than two years ago. Though the Administration denies that the trip has anything to do with the lack of oil on the global market and high gasoline prices, the change in policy is suspicious. Whatever the reason, this situation calls for congressional oversight.
The War Powers Resolution, first passed during the Nixon presidency in response to the secret bombing of Cambodia, was designed specifically to check the president on war, a power granted to Congress not the president. In 2019 both houses of Congress passed a War Powers Resolution to stop participation in the war on Yemen. Though it passed by bipartisan majorities in both the House and Senate, Donald Trump took out his veto pen to strike it down.
Using veto power to defend Saudi Arabia and its allies became a pattern for Mr. Trump. 40% (4 of the 10) vetoes he issued during the course of his 4 years in office were used to continue arms sales and military support to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Bragging as only he can, Trump told veteran reporter Bob Woodward of Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader Mohammed bin Salman, “I saved his ass…I was able to get Congress to leave him alone. I was able to get them to stop.” Unfortunately little has changed under President Biden concerning the US-Saudi alliance.
Right now the Yemen War Powers Resolution is gaining support in the House, with 70 members currently cosponsoring (as of June 14th). The more support it accumulates the more likely it can be used to sustain the peace and prevent a resumption in deadly airstrikes. There’s an urgent need to increase the number of cosponsors, to save lives and end US participation in heinous war crimes.
In a statement with Rep. Jayapal and Rep. DeFazio said, “we will not sit by as the Constitution is ignored and the Yemeni people suffer seven years into this unauthorized war. If the administration refuses to act, Congress will force them to.” Almost a year and a half into his presidency Joe Biden has ignored the Constitution he took an oath to defend. He has placed an alliance with a rich, oil producing, human rights abusing, authoritarian monarchy above the needs of suffering Yemenis he promised to side with. This is what the War Powers Resolution was made for. It’s time to force this injustice into the light of day and end it once and for all.