War Powers and Peace in Yemen

War Powers and Peace in Yemen

By Rep. Ro Khanna

RO KHANNA: I’m honored to be here, and very grateful for the Cato Institute’s voice. I don’t think I ever thought I’d be speaking at the F. A. Hayek Auditorium, but my professors from the University of Chicago will be proud. The reality is that the Cato Institute has been one of the strongest voices for restraint and nonintervention over the past few decades. And on that front, there is, in my view, large and growing agreement in the United States Congress.

The United Nations reports that we could have a famine that affects 12 to 14 million people in Yemen. Now, to put that in context, the largest famine in recent history was in West Bengal in 1943, and that took about 3 million lives. In the Rwanda genocide, 800,000 died, and in Bosnia, about 100,000. In Yemen, we have a possibility of suffering on an unimaginable scale. And we know what the cause of the potential famine is. There are people already dying every day of malnourishment, cholera, or starvation. But we know that the food and medicine isn’t getting to Yemeni civilians.

This is not rocket science; this isn’t some complicated foreign policy issue. Set aside what you think Yemen’s government should look like, whether it should have the old government back, or how much role there should be for the Houthis or the Saudis or the influence of Iran. On the humanitarian crisis, it’s a very simple point. The Saudis right now are bombing Hodeidah. As a result, not enough food and medicine is getting in.

Amartya Sen has said that famine is always a political problem. It’s never that we don’t have the food or medicine. If you talk to people, especially to people in my district, they’ll ask you why we can’t just get food and medicine in. The problem isn’t that the world is unable to come up with the food and medicine to supply those in need. The problem is that the bombing campaign and restrictions in the ports aren’t allowing that aid to the Yemeni people. So, what we have said is, bracket the political question. Instead, let’s have an immediate cease-fire so that we can save human lives. That should be something that everyone in our country wants.

So we introduced, about a year and a half ago, a war powers resolution that said in essence, “The United States is not allowed to refuel Saudi planes, or assist Saudi planes in targeting, without the authorization of Congress.” When we introduced that resolution, we actually had to try to convince colleagues that the United States was involved. And we finally got a compromise resolution that at least acknowledged that the United States was involved and that this involvement was unauthorized.

But back then, there was no appetite from either party’s leadership, frankly, to stop the support of the Saudis. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Mike Lee showed great courage in the Senate — they made progress, they introduced the resolution, they got to about 44 votes, and then there was a loss of momentum. And then two events changed that. First, we had horrific images coming from Yemen of kids dying, kids being bombed, and buses being bombed. Second was the death of Jamal Khashoggi. I think the death of Khashoggi was a turning point, and the irony is he was killed because he was critical of the war in Yemen. But it took his death for the world to listen to what he had to say. It says something about our capacity for moral imagination that when someone people knew, who wrote for the Washington Post, suffered that kind of gruesome death, that finally we woke up at the images of children dying. As if civilians dying in Yemen wasn’t enough.

You can read the full opinion article at Cato Institute here.

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