At the end of February, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators proposed a resolution to end American military support of Saudi Arabian forces in the brutal war in Yemen.
The war in Yemen has been raging since 2015, when Saudi leaders decided to invade to crack down on Houthi rebels threatening the Saudi-Yemeni border. American troops are not directly engaged in the conflict, but have been deployed to aid in supportive roles. These include bomber refueling and logistics, such as targeting intelligence.
Despite the fact that Congress never explicitly approved involvement in the conflict, American leaders have extended the post-9/11 authorization of the use of military force (AUMF) to justify activities in Yemen.
In fact, the House of Representatives passed a resolution to deauthorize military involvement in November by a vote of 366 to 30, making our ongoing involvement explicitly unconstitutional and illegal.
The new resolution, introduced in the Senate by Bernie Sanders (I- Vermont), Chris Murphy (D- Connecticut) and Mike Lee (R- Utah), seeks to underscore that de-authorization and put an end to U.S. military engagement by using the War Powers Act, which grants ultimate power to declare war to Congress.
However, as CNN reports, some leaders in Congress and the Pentagon continue to oppose the resolution, arguing that American involvement is limited enough to avoid an explicit authorization.
“We do so much of that with our allies around the world and don’t consider that to be involved in hostilities but simply helping our allies in what they’re doing,” said Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Sen. Bob Corker (R- Tennessee), “I think if we use the War Powers Act to call these kinds of activities hostilities, we could go down a really slippery slope.”
‘Worst Humanitarian Crisis in the World’
Much of the ire from Congress has resulted from the vicious nature of the war.
According to the United Nations, more than 10,000 people have been killed, 40,000 have been injured and around 3 million have been displaced. The U.N. also highlights that three-quarters of the population — approximately 22 million people — need humanitarian assistance and 11.3 million are directly dependent on aid to survive.
Apart from the immediate conflict, most of the damage has come as a result of the Saudi blockade of Yemeni borders, seaports and airspace. Though the stipulations of the blockade were loosened slightly in recent months, those providing humanitarian aid say that their access is still far too restricted.
“The space and access we need to deliver humanitarian assistance is being choked off, threatening the lives of millions of vulnerable children and families,” read a joint statement from the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the World Food Program.
Mark Lowcock, under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs at the U.N., spoke in dire terms when discussing the rampant food insecurity in Yemen: “It will be the largest famine the world has seen for many decades with millions of victims.”
Cholera Epidemic in Yemen
In addition to the conflict and famine, Yemeni civilians are dealing with a cholera epidemic.
Cholera, an often fatal disease caused by consumption of tainted water, has infected nearly 1 million people.
Meanwhile, hospitals and healthcare providers are being targeted by militants, with BBC News reporting more than 160 attacks against medical facilities and personnel over the past two years of combat.
Among those most severely impacted are children.
UNICEF estimates that a child dies every 10 minutes from preventable causes in the civil war-hit country and reports have shown that as many as 150,000 children will be at heightened risk if current conditions persist.
The U.N. called the situation the “worst humanitarian crisis in the world.”
A Yemeni citizen protests the brutal war in his country. / Shutterstock
Despite Atrocities, Few Tangible Results for Saudis
Though the Saudis officially label the war as necessary defensive precautions against volatile Houthi rebels, it is fairly clear that the conflict serves as a proxy war — part of the broader regional conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
However, despite continued efforts in what should be a relatively easy victory for Saudi forces, they have made only meager progress in their attempts to wrest control from the Houthis.
Though the war has continued for three years, the Houthis still control land that houses about 80% of the Yemeni population and even exercise an informal zone of control in a 100-mile-deep strip of land along the southern Saudi border.
These facts are evidence that the war, and the atrocities that come with it, will likely continue for a longer period with limited results for the Saudis.
Will the Senate Resolution Be Brought to Vote?
As of now, whether the resolution will be brought to vote, and whether it will pass, are unclear.
Roll Call reported Monday that Sen. Lee was hoping to bring the issue to vote this week to avoid being ignored during next week’s upcoming spending debate.
The week has passed and now it looks like the vote will take place next week, or possibly even after the two-week recess for Passover and Easter.
“Withdrawing U.S. support would embolden Iran to increase its support to the Houthis, enabling further ballistic missile strikes on Saudi Arabia and threatening vital shipping lanes in the Red Sea, thereby raising the risk of a regional conflict.” — U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis distributed a letter to Congress on Wednesday to oppose the resolution.
Mattis wrote that drawing back from our engagement in Yemen “could increase civilian casualties, jeopardize cooperation with our partners on counterterrorism, and reduce our influence with the Saudis — all of which would further exacerbate the situation and humanitarian crisis.”
Once again, he takes the position that U.S. involvement does not constitute “hostilities” and argues that downgrading our activities would increase the risk of heightened conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Saudi Crown Prince Visits Washington
In addition to the budget debate next week, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is scheduled to visit Washington in an ironic turn of events. It is speculation to claim that his visit will have some effect on the proceedings in the Senate, but given existing Saudi involvement in American politics — they spent $16 million last year alone on lobbying and public relations — it is not an especially wild theory.
In any case, an eventual vote on the issue seems likely, but is not guaranteed. The most important unknown, however, is whether the votes will be there to secure its passage. If the tight 47-53 vote to authorize arms sales to the Saudis last June is any indication, the issue will be contentious.