Home Opinion Bipartisan Congressional Group Proposes Unlikely End to US Military Involvement in Yemen

Bipartisan Congressional Group Proposes Unlikely End to US Military Involvement in Yemen

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By Dr. Stephen Schwalbe
Faculty Member, Public Administration at American Military University

Recently, a bipartisan group of four members of the House of Representatives put forward a resolution to force Congress to act on the War Powers Resolution of 1973. The resolution is designed to lead to the end of U.S. military support for Saudi Arabia in its operations in Yemen.

Ro Khanna (D-CA), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Walter Jones (R-NC) sponsored the resolution. It requires the removal of U.S. forces from the civil war in Yemen unless Congress votes to authorize U.S. involvement.

The latest Yemeni civil war started in 2015 when the Houthi-led Supreme Revolutionary Committee tried to overthrow the ruling government led by President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. The Houthis attacked the southern port city of Aden, the seat of power of Hadi’s government.

Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia, where he asked for military assistance to fight the Iranian-backed Houthis. Saudi Arabia quickly agreed to help and began an intensive air bombardment campaign to restore the former Yemeni government.

In turn, Saudi Arabia asked the U.S. for military support. Then-President Barack Obama agreed to help in exchange for Saudi support to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. now provides primarily aerial refueling and intelligence to the Saudi military.

International Community Rebuked Saudi Conduct in Yemen’s Civil War

However, Saudi Arabia’s conduct in the civil war in Yemen has been internationally condemned. Saudi Arabian forces have indiscriminately bombed civilian areas and given little humanitarian assistance to civilian victims. According to the United Nations, about 16,200 people (including 10,000 civilians) were killed in Yemen between March 2015 and March 2017.

The Saudi-led campaign in Yemen has created what U.N. officials call “the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.” The carpet bombing of civilian areas has resulted in famine for 7 million Yemenis and 20 million in need of humanitarian assistance.

US Involvement in Yemen War Cannot Be Stopped Unless Trump Takes Action

Some members of Congress would like U.S. military support for Saudi Arabia to end now. However, this is a decision solely up to President Trump. The War Powers Act of 1973 prevents a president from committing the U.S. to an armed conflict without congressional approval. But the law has never compelled a president to terminate a military operation.

In addition to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen that the Saudis are abetting, the conflict against ISIS is in its terminal phase. As a result, the U.S. no longer needs to be involved in the Yemen civil war and no longer needs Saudi assistance in Syria or Iraq.

The Fate of the Bipartisan Resolution Remains in Doubt

Overall, the prognosis for the House resolution to withdraw U.S. support for Saudi Arabia is not good.

First, any bill Congress might pass would still need to be signed into law by President Trump. That is unlikely to occur because Trump recently approved a $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, much of which goes for supplying ammunition to fight the Houthis in Yemen.

Consider too that most of Trump’s close advisors are former or current military generals who see the merit of combating Iran through its proxies in Yemen.

Of course, Congress could override a presidential veto, but historically that happens less than 5 percent of the time. And Congress has never overridden a presidential veto related to a foreign military operation.

Also, there is no enforcement mechanism in the War Powers Act to compel a president to do anything. In fact, members of Congress have taken the president to federal court eight times for abusing the Act – and lost every case.

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Finally, Congress could withhold funding for the Saudi military operation. Trump would have to sign off on that too, which is also unlikely. Public approval of Congress is at such historic lows that it really cannot force Trump to do practically anything he does not want to do.

Bipartisan Resolution May Be a Publicity Maneuver

Why are these members of Congress seeking legislation that has little to no hope of success? Publicity seems to be the logical reason.

For those four Democrats and Republicans, their resolution brings the Yemeni conflict to the forefront of national attention for public evaluation. Also, it probably plays well with their constituents back home to get out of another Middle East conflict.



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