Stop the Unconstitutional War in Yemen
October 12, 2017
Ro Khanna, Mark Pocan and Walter Jones / The New York Times & Jason Ditz / The Daily Caller
Imagine that the entire population of Washington State -- 7.3 million people -- were on the brink of starvation, with the port city of Seattle under a naval and aerial blockade, leaving it unable to receive and distribute countless tons of food and aid that sit waiting offshore. This nightmare scenario is akin to the obscene reality occurring in the Middle East's poorest country, Yemen, at the hands of the region's richest, Saudi Arabia with US military support that Congress has not authorized.
Stop the Unconstitutional War in Yemen
Ro Khanna, Mark Pocan and Walter Jones / The New York Times Opinion Section
WASHINGTON (October 10, 2017) -- Imagine that the entire population of Washington State -- 7.3 million people -- were on the brink of starvation, with the port city of Seattle under a naval and aerial blockade, leaving it unable to receive and distribute countless tons of food and aid that sit waiting offshore.
This nightmare scenario is akin to the obscene reality occurring in the Middle East's poorest country, Yemen, at the hands of the region's richest, Saudi Arabia, with unyielding United States military support that Congress has not authorized and that therefore violates the Constitution.
For nearly three years, the United States has been participating alongside a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in a brutal military campaign in Yemen.
The United States is selling the Saudi monarchy missiles and warplanes, assisting in the coalition's targeting selection for aerial bombings and actively providing midair refueling for Saudi and United Arab Emirates jets that conduct indiscriminate airstrikes -- the leading cause of civilian casualties. Meanwhile, the Saudi coalition is starving millions of Yemenis as a grotesque tactic of war.
This is horrifying. We have therefore introduced a bipartisan congressional resolution to withdraw American armed forces from these unauthorized hostilities in order to help put an end to the suffering of a country approaching "a famine of biblical proportions," in the words of Jan Egeland, the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council. After all, as Foreign Policy has reported, the Saudi coalition's "daily bombing campaign would not be possible without the constant presence of U.S. Air Force tanker planes refueling coalition jets."
How did we get to this point?
In March 2015, the United States introduced its armed forces into the Saudi regime's war against an uprising of Yemen's Houthis, a rebel group that rapidly took control of Yemen's capital, Sana, and eventually most of the country's cities, by allying with forces loyal to an ousted former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh.
But the Shiite Houthi rebels are in no way connected to the Sunni extremists of Al Qaeda or the Islamic State, which the United States has been going after across the globe under the Authorization for Use of Military Force of 2001. American participation in the war in Yemen is not covered by that authorization.
Al Qaeda has been referred to by The Associated Press as a "de facto ally" of Saudi Arabia and its coalition in their shared battle against the Houthis. This raises the question: Whom are we actually supporting in Yemen?
American involvement in this unauthorized conflict against the Houthis was pursued by the Obama administration for political purposes -- "a way of repairing strained ties with the Saudis, who strongly opposed the July 2015 nuclear deal with Iran," as Foreign Policy put it.
There's a good reason that the Constitution reserves for Congress the right to declare war -- a clause taken in modern times as forbidding the president from pursuing an unauthorized war in the absence of an actual or imminent threat to the nation. Clearly, the founders' intent was to prevent precisely the kind of dangerous course we're charting.
The State Department found that the Saudi war against the Houthis has allowed Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State's Yemen branch "to deepen their inroads across much of the country." In other words, the power vacuum left by the war has made Al Qaeda's deadliest branch stronger than ever -- yet there's never been a public debate over the American role in deepening that threat to our own national security.
Four decades ago, as a bloody United States military campaign across Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos drew to a close, Congress overrode President Richard Nixon's veto to enact the War Powers Resolution of 1973, reflecting the legislature's determination to confront executive overreach as a coequal branch of government.
Now we congressmen are invoking a provision of that 1973 law, which defines the introduction of armed forces to include coordinating, participating in the movement of, or accompanying foreign military forces engaged in hostilities.
That law affords our bill "privileged" status, guaranteeing a full floor vote to remove unauthorized United States forces from Saudi Arabia's war against Yemeni Houthis. In doing so, we aim to reassert Congress's sole constitutional authority to debate and declare war.
This resolution may create discomfort for some of our colleagues who have been content to cede Congress's oversight responsibilities to the White House and Pentagon in recent decades.
But now more than ever, the House of Representatives must serve as a counterweight to an executive branch that has long run roughshod over the Constitution -- especially at a time when our president has threatened, in front of the United Nations, to "totally destroy" an entire country, North Korea.
Exercising our constitutional duty is the key to alleviating the catastrophe that's engulfing Yemen.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs declared last April that "Yemen is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world," and in August the charity Save the Children warned that one million malnourished Yemeni children were at risk of contracting cholera.
Nowhere else on earth today is there a catastrophe that is so profound and affects so many lives, yet could be so easy to resolve: halt the bombing, end the blockade, and let food and medicine into Yemen so that millions may live.
We believe that the American people, if presented with the facts of this conflict, will oppose the use of their tax dollars to bomb and starve civilians in order to further the Saudi monarchy's regional goals. Our House resolution is a first step in expanding democracy into an arena long insulated from public accountability.
Too many lives hang in the balance to allow this American war to continue without congressional consent. When our bill comes to the floor for a vote, our colleagues should consider first the solution proposed by the director of Unicef, Anthony Lake, for stopping the unimaginable suffering of millions of Yemenis: "Stop the war."
Ro Khanna, a California Democrat, and Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican, are members of the House Armed Services Committee. Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin Democrat in the House, is a co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
The Hurricanes You Control
Vs. The Hurricanes You Don't
Jason Ditz / The Daily Caller
(October 5, 2017) -- Two hurricanes hit the American island of Puerto Rico in less than a month. Damage is severe, and many places remain without power. Clean drinking water is tough to come by, and supplies are being shipped in, though there is much justifiable anger at the slow rate of arrival.
Yemen should be so lucky. In early 2015, Saudi Arabia attacked Yemen, vowing to oust the Shi'ite Houthis from the capital city and reinstall the Hadi government, which had fled into exile. The US backed this invasion, and the ensuing naval blockade of Yemen, and has participated both as an element of the blockade, and as a mid-air refueler of the Saudi planes that continue to bomb Yemen to this day.
Puerto Rico has a long road to recovery. Two storms raged through, wreaked their havoc, and left the scene. Now charities, aid groups, and government agencies try to ease the situation for islanders as they begin to reconstruct their lives.
By contrast, the "storm" in Yemen has parked itself over the country's northern half, content to rain bombs down on the same buildings for years on end, killing thousands of people, many of them civilians. At the same time, a naval blockade has ensured that almost no aid reaches northern Yemen, facilitating one of the worst cholera epidemics in history.
While natural disasters routinely visit misery on those unlucky enough to live in their lines of fire, the damage, suffering, and sheer cost of lives from such incidents simply pale in comparison to the "fire and fury" wrought by American-made hurricanes of foreign policy.
Whether bombing a nation like Yemen, or systematically starving a populace through heavy sanctions, as America did to the Iraqis in the 1990s and early 2000s, the tolls are graver. Innocents are targeted every bit as much, while the poorest and weakest in society are the most vulnerable.
Compounding matters, humanitarian aid is heavily restricted in such cases, often as part of official policy. Getting medicine into 1990s Iraq, or today to cholera sufferers in Yemen, remains a monumental challenge.
Puerto Rico is facing critical near-term shortages, as well as years of rebuilding. Yemen is facing genocide, and the recovery of the Shi'ite tribal areas most often targeted is likely to take generations, if it's ever allowed to happen at all.
The US budget is always strained, but finding a way to cope with natural disasters is non-optional; these things happen, and we deal with them up front, as best we can.
The same cannot be said of American-made disasters, the resulting reconstruction of which the US taxpayer will be expected to finance. The United States is not only wasting billions of dollars destroying nations like Iraq, Yemen, and Afghanistan, but will also be on the hook for untold billions in the years and decades to come fixing things we shouldn't have destroyed in the first place. Wars of choice are, in the end, disasters of choice.
The "Worth It" Line
In 1996, presented with reports that half of a million Iraqi children had died because of US-led sanctions on the nation, then-Secretary of State Madeline Albright told 60 Minutes "we think the price is worth it."
She was rightly demonized at the time for putting a price on the lives of 500,000 children. With the benefit of over two decades more of hindsight, we can take an even broader look at what happened, and how not worth it the whole thing was.
The disaster of Iraq sanctions, and the invasion and occupation that inevitably followed, killed an enormous number of Iraqis. Studies have attempted to quantify the overall cost of America's disaster just for Americans: it's in the trillions of dollars, and continues to rise. The disaster that is Madeline – and all the Madelines that came before and after – destroyed a major country, and will be costing America for decades to come.
President Trump has warned that "big decisions" will have to be made on rebuilding Puerto Rico. There were big decisions ahead of the multiple decades of effort to destroy Iraq, which has left America with a many-fold greater cost.
At some point, we must recognize that these wars are not only disasters of our own making, but the result of calamitous decision-making. Instead of lamenting the costs after the fact, wouldn't it be better to commit now to stop causing disasters in the first place?
The Yemen Problem
It took decades to destroy oil-rich, reasonably well-developed Iraq. Yemen began as the region's poorest nation, dependent upon imports for roughly 90% of its food sources. Simply cutting off the food supply and bombing the cities for a couple of years did monstrous damage. Yemen is now in rapid decline.
While this may, officially, be a "Saudi" war, it's got America's fingerprints all over it. US ships participate in the blockade, and US planes refuel the Saudi bombers, themselves of American manufacture, as are the bombs within their bellies. This is America's war, and America's disaster, two facts wholly evident to Yemenis. We, too, should be fully cognizant.
Food scarcity has placed Yemen on the brink of famine. A cholera epidemic continues to mount, and largely goes untreated because the blockade is keeping much of the aid out of effected areas. The cholera epidemic is approaching half a million and could soon reach one million. This is a disaster that is getting worse all the time, and we can't even start reckoning how much it'll cost to fix until we decide to stop making it worse.
With respect to Yemen, these decisions are being made behind closed doors; the American people's Congress never authorized any of this. By neglecting to weigh in on the destruction of Yemen, Congress gives the false impression that this isn't an American-made disaster.
To be clear, the Saudi war against the Houthis is not a fight against al-Qaeda. Indeed, the war has enabled the nation's al-Qaeda affiliate to grow and expand. The focus of the Saudis is narrow and total self-interest: destroying Shi'ites. The attendant boost to Sunni Islamist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS has been largely ignored.
The 2001 US Authorization for the Use of Military Force has been used by US officials as justification for myriad American military actions: Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, and so on. An authorization to fight al-Qaeda plainly does not apply to the Yemen war, where al-Qaeda is plainly not being fought. That means there is no authorization being offered as even a flimsy pretext for war. Congress should invoke the War Powers Act to put a stop to this.
Yemen is definitely a man-made disaster, and a mounting one. As badly as Iraq has swollen the US deficit, the costs associated with destroying Yemen will do that, and then some. All of this destruction is driving the US toward outright bankruptcy. Congress needs to reassert itself as the decision-maker on wars, instead of allowing presidents to simply impose massive man-made disasters upon the world, to the detriment of everyone, especially the American taxpayer.
Jason Ditz is news editor at Antiwar.com, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the cause of non-interventionism. His work has appeared in Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Daily Caller, The American Conservative, Washington Times and Detroit Free Press.
Perspectives expressed in op-eds are not those of The Daily Caller.