By Giorgio Cafiero and Andreas Paraskevopoulos
Washington’s support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen has been controversial, to say the least. Largely that is because the war has created the world’s worst man-made humanitarian disaster. It has left Yemen’s population grappling with famine, malnutrition, and cholera outbreaks. The conflict has displaced 3.3 million people while leaving almost 18 million without access to potable water and sanitation. Roughly 80percent of the population currently requires protection and aid. Approximately two-thirds of the Yemeni population is food insecure.
Since Donald Trump began his presidency, and especially since the killing of Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018, America’s role in Yemen’s war has been subject to far greater scrutiny within the Beltway, where this devastating conflict has created a growing rift between the White House on one side and lawmakers on the other.
The Trump administration and the Saudis view the Yemen war through the same basic lens. The Houthi fighters, in this narrative, represent an extension of Iran’s influence in the Arab world and Red Sea, meaning that their consolidation of power in northern Yemen threatens Saudi Arabia just like Hezbollah’s foothold in Lebanon threatens Israel.
But this narrative, which the DC establishment largely accepted when the Saudis intervened in Yemen in 2015, increasingly lacks credibility among lawmakers, particularly Democrats. More politicians on the Hill believe that U.S. military involvement in Yemen should be geared toward countering al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Islamic State (ISIS or IS), and other violent Sunni extremists, not the Houthis. From this vantage point, the Saudi-led war has been strategically and morally misguided and the Trump administration’s policies in favor of the Arab coalition have been reckless.
In April, Congress passed a bipartisan resolution to end U.S. support for the war. The resolution is based on the War Powers Resolution of 1973 (WPR), which gives Congress the jurisdiction to force the president to remove troops engaged in “hostilities” abroad, if Congress has not given a formal “declaration of war or specific statutory authorization.”
Despite Congressional efforts, President Trump vetoed the WPR, and then circumvented another effort by Congress to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia and its allies. Specifically, 22 arms sales totally some $8 billion were “expedited without time for congressional oversight,” with Trump vetoing all resolutions attempting to block the sales. The administration used the pretext of an emergency to finalize the deals. Secretary Pompeo argued that delays in the delivery of the weapons to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Jordan would inhibit the stability of the region, and leave U.S. allies exposed and defenseless to Iranian aggression.
To reduce the president’s ability to make extensive use of the emergency provision in the future, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has passed a bill that would restrict its invocation only to cases concerning “top-tier security allies,” including NATO members, Australia, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea. That measure is still working its way through the legislative process.
Earlier this month, the House of Representatives, in defiance of Trump, voted in favor of measures to block the $8 billion in weapons sales to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. Although Trump in recent days vetoed these efforts to restrict U.S. arms sales, such votes are illustrative of how much the attitudes in Washington regarding the Yemeni crisis have shifted.
You can read the full analysis at Lobe Log here.