End America’s Unauthorized War in Yemen
This article was originally published in The Hill.
Of all the facets of our cherished democracy that have begun to erode, few erosions are more horrifying than Congress’ abdication of its duty to debate and vote on whether or not we go to war. Of all the people that have suffered the consequences of this erosion, few have suffered them more acutely than the people of Yemen, residents of a country where unauthorized U.S. military action has helped give rise to the worst humanitarian disaster in the world. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Mike Lee(R-Utah) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) introduced legislation last week aimed at confronting this erosion and its consequences in Yemen—legislation to end the U.S. military’s role in Yemen’s civil war unless and until Congress authorizes it.
For nearly three years, the U.S. has been a stalwart partner for a Saudi-led coalition of Gulf nations in its brutal military intervention in Yemen’s civil war, a struggle for power between pro-government forces and Yemen’s Houthi rebels. American ships have bolstered coalition naval blockades, which have choked Yemen’s access to food, fuel and life-saving medical supplies. American planes are conducting mid-air refuelings of coalition war planes that regularly target civilian infrastructure. American bombs—part of the tens of billions of dollars worth of arms sales to coalition states approved since the intervention began—are still killing civilians in their homes, marketplaces, schools and hospitals. In December of last year, at least 68 civilians including eight children were reported killed in a single day in coalition airstrikes that struck a farm and a crowded marketplace. As the war drags on into 2018, so do reports of coalition airstrikes killing and maiming civilians.
As a direct result of the war, and the coalition’s blockades and bombing runs in particular, life for millions of Yemenis has become a daily struggle for survival. According to the U.N., as of December 2017, roughly three quarters of Yemen’s population or about 22 million people—more than the population of Florida—depend on humanitarian aid. About 8.4 million people—a population the size of New York City—are on the verge of starvation. More than 1 million people—a population the size of Montana—have contracted cholera, a normally preventable disease, from lack of access to clean water and sanitation.
While the war has been an unmitigated disaster for the people of Yemen, it hasn’t done any favors for U.S. interests either. Taking advantage of the instability and desperation created by the war, terrorist groups have significantly expanded their territories and reach inside Yemen. According to a State Department report covering counterterrorism in 2016, “Throughout 2016, al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS in Yemen (ISIS-Y) have continued to exploit the political and security vacuum created by the ongoing conflict…”
Beyond exploiting the power vacuum, AQAP has formed a de facto alliance with the Saudi-led coalition as they both battle their shared enemy, Yemen’s Houthi rebels. In some cases, AQAP has even acquired heavy weaponry from Yemeni forces that originally came from the Saudi-led coalition, which the U.S. has been arming. Predictably, terrorist groups in Yemen have also made powerful recruitment tools out of fragments of U.S.-made bombs found in wreckage across the country.
Following President Obama’s unilateral decision to support the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, Congress could have raised the alarm and demanded a hold on U.S. support until it had time to debate and vote on the question. But while a small group of senators and representatives have raised concerns for years now, Congress as a whole has been deafeningly silent, until recently.
Last fall, in a vote of 366-30, the House overwhelmingly passed legislation acknowledging what many observers have realized from the start; that Congress never authorized the U.S. military’s role in Yemen’s civil war. Following that vote, a J. Wallin Opinion Research poll of American voters found that 57 percent believe military aid to foreign countries is counterproductive; 63.9 percent believe military aid including money and weapons should not be provided to countries like Saudi Arabia; 70.8 percent believe Congress should pass legislation to restrain overseas military action; and, most notably for members of Congress, 51.3 percent say they would be less likely to vote for their congressional representatives if they do not act to withdraw U.S. forces from the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
Now that senators have stepped forward to force a vote on the U.S. role in Yemen, members of Congress are faced with an obvious question: how can they uphold their oaths to the Constitution and to the American people without supporting an end to unauthorized military operations in Yemen? The answer is they can’t.
Paul Kawika Martin is the Senior Director for Policy and Political Affairs at Peace Action, the nation’s largest grassroots peace organization working towards the elimination of nuclear weapons, promoting government spending priorities that support human needs, encouraging security through international cooperation and human rights and supporting diplomatic solutions to international conflicts.