House Votes to End Military Support for the War in Yemen

BRANDON DURAN: On February 13th, the House overwhelmingly passed a bill that would force President Trump to withdraw U.S. military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. The 248-177 majority presents an outright rejection of Trump’s foreign policy and entrenched defense of Saudi Arabia, despite growing concerns over the nature of the relationship.

The bill will now head to the Senate, who passed a parallel resolution back in December that was blocked at the time by House Republicans. Former Republican Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, had used all means available to prevent the legislation from reaching the House floor.

Named House Joint Resolution 37, the bill invoked the War Powers resolution of 1973. It was sponsored by California Democrat Ro Khanna, who has been heading the frontline of opposition to the war.

The war in Yemen is a proxy battle between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The conflict began in the early months of 2015, when a Saudi-led, multinational coalition intervened in Yemen in hopes of restoring the government of Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. The initial air campaign by the Saudis received logistical and intelligence support from the U.S., Britain, and France. Early estimates foresaw an extremely short war, but a devastating stalemate has characterized the near 4-year war. The Houthi forces, who originally backed Yemen’s deposed former leader Ali Abdullah Saleh, control some territory in Yemen. Divisions between the Houthis and Saleh’s loyal forces ultimately led to Saleh’s death in late 2017.

The Saudis and their coalition have pushed an extremely tight blockage on Yemen, with an intent of stopping the arrival of smuggled weapons into the country. However, the blockade has severely hurt the Yemeni people, increasing prices of crucial items, including food and fuel. The result has been a catastrophe that can only be aptly described as the worst humanitarian crisis of all time.

The U.S.’s role in the coalition has been severely clouded over the past several months. Mounting pressure has been put on President Trump to withdraw support of Saudi leader Mohammad bin Salman following the vile assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was very critical of the regime. The CIA has overwhelmingly concluded that the Saudi Prince ordered the killing, which occured in Istanbul in October 2018, but President Trump has refused to accept the intelligence community’s assessment. Trump’s problematic business ties with the Saudis has only increased scrutiny of his defense of the Saudi regime.

It is an absolute outrage that we have a president so chiefly motivated by personal profit that he is unable to even condemn a foreign leader so clearly involved in the murder of a prominent, respected U.S. inhabitant, let alone withdraw his support of him. Instead, demonstrating a character devoid of basic morality, President Trump instead reaffirmed his support for a human rights abuser and assassination planner. Trump’s troubling romance with extremely flawed, oppressive leaders such as Mohammad bin Salman and Vladimir Putin have pushed global democracy farther into darkness, speeding up the erosion of democratic principles worldwide. When the world looks to the U.S., it now sees a leader who decries the media as the ‘enemy of the people,’ cozies up to foreign leaders who he is financially invested in, and imagines a world structured by walls rather than bridges. The Trump-bin Salman relationship was never in doubt of collapsing - Trump lacks the moral resolve to place principle over profit.

The U.S. must withdraw from its role in the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Since America’s leader seems highly unlikely to withdraw his support from a vital business partner, it is vital that Congress puts public pressure on the Saudi regime and works to end the war in Yemen. No matter how close the Saudi-American relationship has been in the past, and the financial ties we may have with them, there is no excuse to support a regime who has caused the worst humanitarian crisis in history and murdered a U.S. journalist, among other gross abuses.

What is perhaps just as troubling is the lack of media attention the situation in Yemen has received. In an era defined by ever-shortening news cycles and attention spans, journalism driven by clicks has little room or reason to report on Yemen. Nevertheless, I believe there to be a moral imperative to inform the public of how the Yemeni people have suffered.

Over 20 million Yemenis rely on humanitarian assistance just to survive. Both sides of the conflict have worked to impede the delivery of aid, exacerbating the already unbelievable suffering of civilians. Over 3 million people have been displaced from their homes by the fighting. Over 2 million children have been forced out of school. Amnesty International has found that all parties have committed “serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including war crimes.” Civilians have been deliberately targeted; hospitals, schools, markets, and mosques also appear to have been purposely targeted. Although many countries have halted arms trading to parties involved in the conflict, countries like the U.S. and the U.K. have continued their supply of military equipment. Amnesty International’s Lynn Maalouf says there is “no reasonable explanation” for this continued supply of arms.

There is no doubt that the U.S. has played a role in perpetuating the worst humanitarian crisis in history. The suffering of Yemeni civilians over the last 3-plus years has been agonizing. The U.S., with or (most likely) without President Trump, must serve as an example for other countries and withdraw from the Saudi-coalition. With the powerful forces of the military-industrial complex so deeply invested in the conflict, it will be difficult to overcome the strength of special interests. Saudi Arabia has also been increasing its lobbying efforts in Congress, and have a vital ally in the form of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. But when a Mark-82, a bomb produced by the third-largest defense company in the U.S., Raytheon, is used to bomb a funeral in Yemen that left over 140 dead and 500 wounded, the blood is as much on the U.S.’s hands as it is on the Saudis. Large-scale arms sales have been conducted under the Obama and Trump administrations, veiled under the guise of balancing against Iran. These arms have enabled a crippling conflict that threatens systemic collapse in Yemen and further fighting in the region.

Mohammed bin Salman is well aware that no matter what, he will always have American support as long as Trump remains in power. The war in Yemen will continue if the U.S. remains a part of the coalition. But if Congress can show that American support is not there, it could serve as a catalyst for other nations to withdraw. Yemen remains forgotten in most American minds, but it can stay that way no longer.

Max Magid