Three US senators have introduced a resolution that will force the chamber to vote for the first time on whether the US should continue to support Saudi Arabia in the war in Yemen, a conflict that has led to the deaths of at least 10,000 civilians there and driven the Middle East’s poorest country to the brink of famine.
The joint resolution, sponsored by two senators from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, independent Bernie Sanders and Republican Mik
e Lee, is a rare effort by Congress to claw back its war powers from the executive branch. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, also backed the bill. Aides to the senators say the resolution, which would trigger a vote over whether to end US participation in the conflict, is unprecedented in the Senate.
The intent of the resolution is to revive the decades-long debate over defining – and in their view, reclaiming – Congress’s constitutional role in declaring war, according to aides to both senators.
“This is about the process,” said an aide to Lee. “What decisions do we make for a country that has been at war constantly for almost 20 years? When do we say that something is worthy of intervening in and when do we make that determination? It’s about the how.
“And it’s about who is involved in that decision. It’s not about who is in the White House but it’s about Congress reasserting its power and having it’s true control to make those authorizations.”
Yemen’s conflict began in 2014, when the Houthis, Shia rebels from the country’s north, seized the nation’s capital and ousted the Saudi-backed ruler, Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who lives in exile in Riyadh. In response, a Saudi-led Arab coalition began a bombing campaign in 2015, to restore the exiled government to power.
While the US has not formally backed the Saudi coalition, it has provided targeted intelligence to the bombing campaign and has assisted with refueling coalition bombers. The United Nations has said the nearly three-year civil war has created one of the worst manmade humanitarian disasters, as millions of Yemenis have been displaced and the population faces famine with aid agencies struggling to supply assistance.
As the humanitarian crisis deepens, lawmakers are increasingly questioning support for the Saudis, even as the Trump administration refuses to criticize the kingdom.
The House voted overwhelmingly last year to adopt a resolution that declared the US military had not been authorized to assist Saudi Arabia in its war in Yemen. The resolution, however, did not stop America from providing support to Saudi Arabia in its war.
Sanders and Lee are working to win support from colleagues as well as the Senate leadership, aides said, and the White House has been made aware of the forthcoming resolution. If the Senate passed the resolution, the chances of which are very unclear, it would go to the president’s desk.
According to material provided by the Senate offices, the legislation would remove “US armed forces from hostilities between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis in Yemen pursuant to the War Powers Resolution”, a law passed in 1973 as a check on the president’s war-making powers.
The War Powers Resolution, passed in reaction to US involvement in Vietnam, requires the commander-in-chief to consult Congress when sending US combat troops into an armed conflict. But it also enables the president to act unilaterally in the event of “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces”, a provision successive administrations have expanded – well beyond its limits, critics argue – to confront new international threats.
“Support for this intervention began under a Democratic president and has continued under a Republican president. This is not meant to be a specific critique of either president,” said an aide to Sanders. “It’s about the left and right coming together about very basic questions of Congress’s responsibility in terms of oversight when the United States chooses to make war.”
For decades, members of Congress have wrangled with how to restore its war-making powers from a succession of assertive administrations.
Under the US constitution, the president cannot declare war without the approval of Congress. But recent administrations, through the use of drone strikes and so-called special operators, have expanded the interpretation of when a commander-in-chief can send US troops abroad.
Congress approved an Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) days after 9/11 to justify the war in Afghanistan. Since then, the executive branch has continued to use the 17-year-old authorization to justify new threats in the Middle East and around the globe, although a separate AUMF was passed for Iraq in 2002.
Critics have argued that the powers of the post-9/11 AUMF have been stretched beyond their limits and have long demanded a serious debate over the authorization of US force, especially as it relates to the fight against the Islamic State.
Aides to the senators said the debate over AUMF reauthorization, while important, is separate from the one they want to have over US involvement in the conflict in Yemen.
(c) 2018 The Guardian