Washington, D.C. — February 28, 2017 — Today, Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Mike Lee (R-UT) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) introduced bipartisan legislation that would remove U.S. forces from hostilities between the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels in Yemen pursuant to the War Powers Resolution, setting up the first-ever Senate vote to end unauthorized U.S. military action.
Since March 2015, the U.S. has been providing intelligence and logistical support to a Saudi-led military coalition’s intervention in Yemen’s civil war aimed at wresting control of the country from Yemen’s Houthi rebels. This military support, which was never authorized by Congress, has included participation in naval blockades, mid-air refuelings of coalition warplanes, targeting assistance and more. The U.S. has also approved tens of billions of dollars worth of arms sales to coalition states since the start of the intervention.
Paul Kawika Martin, Senior Director for Policy and Political Affairs at Peace Action, explained how Congress’ dereliction of duty landed U.S. forces in an unauthorized war in Yemen. “The Constitution imbued Congress with the power to decide when the United States goes to war, but despite new and ongoing wars, Congress hasn’t exercised that power since it authorized the Iraq War in 2002. Congress has effectively ceded its war powers to the executive branch, allowing three presidents now to wage war virtually anywhere in the world without input from the American people. This legislation led by Senators Sanders and Lee is a chance to start remedying that, and in a way that could mean the difference between life and death for millions of Yemenis.”
According to the United Nations and a host of human rights and peace groups, the Saudi-led bombing campaign paired with a ongoing blockades of Yemen’s borders and ports has choked the country’s access to food, fuel and medical supplies, contributing to widespread famine and disease. According to the U.N., as of December 2017, some 22 million people in Yemen are in need of humanitarian aid, about 8.4 million are on the verge of starvation, and over 1 million people have contracted cholera, a normally preventable disease.
Martin argues U.S. support for the campaign has helped create what experts are calling the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. “The U.S. role in Yemen has made us complicit in human rights violations, war crimes and suffering on a massive scale. American taxpayers have been floating the bill for mid-air refuelings of Saudi warplanes, but the people of Yemen are paying the real price.” In the last two weeks of 2017, at least 109 civilians were killed in coalition airstrikes that hit a marketplace and a farm.
“By continuing to blindly back Saudi Arabia’s starvation campaign, on top of fueling Yemen’s suffering, the U.S. is creating more enemies and fueling the very extremism the War on Terror is supposed to be eradicating,” said Martin. “Congress knows this, but Saudi Arabia’s legions of lobbyists on Capitol Hill have convinced some members of Congress to bury their heads in the sand.”
Last fall, the House of Representatives acknowledged in an overwhelming vote that the U.S. military’s role in Yemen’s civil war was never authorized by Congress. According to Martin, now is the time for Congress to act on that acknowledgement. “If the war in Yemen rages on, hundreds of thousands or even millions of Yemenis could die of starvation. Ending U.S. support for the war could force Saudi Arabia to finally negotiate in good faith with the Houthis. In other words, ending the U.S. role in Yemen could bring about an end to the war itself.”
In Martin’s view, the decision facing Congress is straightforward. “A vote against this legislation is a vote for more unchecked war powers for President Trump and future presidents, and for more U.S. complicity in Yemen’s suffering,” said Martin. “Polling indicates that Americans are tired of unrestrained interventionism and want Congress to reassert its authority on matters of war and peace. In what promises to be a pivotal election year, members of Congress would do well to remember where the American people stand.”
A November 2017 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 by requiring “clearly defined goals to authorize military engagement” (78.8 percent), requiring Congress “to have both oversight and accountability regarding where troops are stationed” (77 percent), and requiring that “any donation of funds or equipment to a foreign country be matched by a pledge of that country to adhere to the rules of the Geneva Convention” (84.8 percent); 51.9 percent support H.Con.Res. 81 (similar legislation to the bill being introduced in the Senate); and 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.
Founded in 1957, Peace Action (formerly SANE/Freeze), the United States’ largest peace and disarmament organization, with over 100,000 paid members and nearly 100 chapters in 36 states, works to abolish nuclear weapons, promote government spending priorities that support human needs, encourage real security through international cooperation and human rights and support nonmilitary solutions to international conflicts. The public may learn more and take action at www.PeaceAction.org.