A bipartisan coalition has emerged in the Senate to invoke the War Powers Resolution to stop U.S. military participation in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen.
Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT)—an independent who caucuses with Democrats—have banded together to introduce a resolution that forces the first-ever U.S. Senate vote to end an unauthorized war in the next couple weeks.
The two senators rolled out the resolution at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon.
Without Congressional authorization, our engagement in the war in Yemen should be restricted to providing desperately needed humanitarian aid, and diplomatic efforts to resolve it.
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) February 28, 2018
I am joining @SenSanders and @ChrisMurphyCT today in calling for a debate and vote on continued U.S. support for the Saudi war in Yemen. You can watch our press conference here: https://t.co/ZyV0jqAWlZ
— Mike Lee (@SenMikeLee) February 28, 2018
The plan has wide bipartisan grassroots support, as a coalition from the left and the right have come together to stop U.S. military participation in this war for which there is no congressional authorization for the use of military force.
The effort comes on the heels of a massively bipartisan House-passed resolution late last year that declared the U.S. role in the Saudi Arabia war in Yemen is unauthorized.
Politico’s Gregory Hellman wrote in a piece published on Nov. 13, 2017:
In a rare exercise of its war-making role, the House of Representatives on Monday overwhelmingly passed a resolution explicitly stating that U.S. military assistance to Saudi Arabia in its war in Yemen is not authorized under legislation passed by Congress to fight terrorism or invade Iraq. The nonbinding resolution adopted 366-30, does not call for a halt to the American support but publicly acknowledges the Pentagon has been sharing targeting information and refueling warplanes that Saudi Arabia and other allies are using to attack Houthi rebels in a conflict that is widely considered a proxy war with Iran — and a humanitarian disaster.
It also comes as a Pentagon official, Army Gen. Joseph Votel—the commander of U.S. Central Command—told the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that the United States does not have an authorization for the military force in Yemen. The sole U.S. logic for providing military support to the Saudis for the war in Yemen, Votel said, is a bilateral agreement governing logistics sales—something that falls far short of what is actually legally and constitutionally required for the United States to engage in these activities.
“The provision of fuel to — to Saudi aircraft is — is provided for under the acquisition cross-servicing agreement that we have in place with — with Saudi Arabia. And so that provides us the authority to provide that support to them,” Votel said.
The Sanders-Lee resolution, as introduced on Wednesday afternoon by the two senators and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) in the U.S. Senate, kicks off the clock for the full U.S. Senate will likely consider the resolution. There are multiple pathways under which the full U.S. Senate could vote on the matter. First, and most likely, the establishment senators who lead the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—chairman Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), an outgoing anti-Trump senator—could block it, but then a senator could force a floor vote after a 10-day window with a measure offered on the Senate floor. Second, Corker could—if he senses the measure will get 51 votes, a simple majority that is needed to pass it out of the chamber—rally behind it and discharge it himself, or he could throw out an agreement that brings it to the floor. Nonetheless, proponents of the resolution see no way in which Saudi-influenced establishment senators can block a full U.S. Senate vote on this resolution.
It remains to be seen where the Senate will go on this, especially as the powerful Saudi Arabian lobbying forces are out in full force to try to stop it so they can continue unauthorized U.S. logistical and refueling support for their lethal airstrikes in Yemen. Supporters of the resolution are confident in their chances at success on the Senate floor given a similar vote a few months ago. Republican and Democrat sources close to the process and supportive of the resolution tell Breitbart News that it is expected that approximately 47 senators are on board at the start of the rollout of the resolution, and it remains to be seen if a group of Republicans and red state Democrats will fall victim to Saudi lobbyist interests or if they will vote for what’s in the interest of their constituents.
It also remains to be seen where President Donald Trump and the White House will officially come down on this. Neo-conservative forces who support extraneous foreign intervention like Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley are likely to make the case against supporting this resolution. But President Trump, during his campaign for president in 2016, repeatedly questioned the illogical decisions of U.S. military involvement in a variety of places around the world—and could, if he wanted, pick up a massive political victory here if he rallies behind this resolution and it succeeds with his support. If Trump supported the resolution, he would get credit for ending an unauthorized war that his predecessor President Barack Obama started—a massively popular position that could prove to be instrumental to his and his party’s cause in the midterm elections right around the corner in November and beyond into 2020.
Rolling back unwarranted U.S. participation in unpopular foreign wars is actually a very popular position, part of Pat Buchanan’s view of conservatism that has evolved into President Donald Trump’s economic nationalism. Buchanan, on the television program The McLaughlin Group just this weekend, laid out how the failures of Bush Republicans have given way to Trump Republicans who believe in immigration control rather than open borders, toughness on trade, and ending needless foreign war participation.
Buchanan said on the program:
The Bush party has become a Trump party. What the Republican Party is, basically, it is a Reagan party on issues like taxes, and guns, and judges and things like that, it remains that. However, on the new issues, the populist conservative issues—control of the border, immigration, economic nationalism versus free trade, staying out of foreign wars that get us entangled and bleeding and accomplish nothing, ‘America First’—[the GOP] has become the Trump party now.
Polling on the issue is as popular as Trump’s positions on trade or immigration, but Trump hasn’t yet put a major feather in his cap on ending needless foreign war participation by the United States. Since this vote has widespread Democratic support, but backing from only a few Republicans to start and needs red state Democrat support, Trump could push the Senate wildly in his direction on this were he to get behind it and return to his campaign roots of stopping highly unpopular endless foreign war participation by the United States. In other words, it would be an easy lift for Trump if he called a few GOP senators and asked them to back the resolution. It would likely sail through the Senate with as much bipartisan support as the similar House-passed resolution.
A nationwide voter survey conducted by J. Wallin Opinion Research and Gunster Strategies found that a whopping 57 percent found that military aid to foreign countries is “counterproductive.” The survey of 1,000 respondents used “live, professional interviewers, speaking Spanish and English languages and calling both mobile and landlines,” and was conducted from Nov. 16 to Nov. 20 in 2017. The poll has a margin of error of 3.1 percent.
The question respondents were asked is: “The United States gives billions of dollars in weapons and other military aid to foreign countries, including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. Do you feel this is productive towards the goal of protecting American interests and ensuring the safety of our nation, or is it counterproductive?”
In response, a total of a vast majority of 57 percent said it was counterproductive—while just 29.6 percent said it was productive and 13.4 percent were unsure.
In addition, near unanimity emerged around questions that focused on what this Sanders-Lee resolution would do when respondents were asked what Congress’s priorities should be with war policy: 78.8 percent said it should be a priority for Congress to “Require clearly defined goals to authorize military engagement overseas, including what will constitute victory or success and an authorized timeline.” An astonishing 77 percent said it be a priority to “Require Congress to have both oversight and accountability regarding where troops are stationed around the world and what they are doing there.” And an even higher 84.8 percent said it should be a priority that Congress should “Require that any donation of military funds or equipment to a foreign country be matched by a pledge of that country to adhere to the rules of the Geneva Convention, which are designed to protect civilians – including children – from attack, injury or harm during combat or combat related activities.”
The next polling question in the Gunster-Wallin survey pressed respondents on their reaction to the lack of accountability and action on this front from congressional leadership. “Only Congress is authorized by the Constitution of the United States to declare war, fund war and regulate war. Congress hasn’t used its constitutional power to formally issue a war declaration since World War II, some 75 years ago, yet the United States has fought in countless wars and military conflicts during that time, including most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan. Congressional leadership from both political parties won’t even allow Congress to debate our involvement in foreign war conflicts. Do you approve or disapprove of this behavior by Congressional leadership?” respondents were asked, to which 67.4 percent said they disapproved, while just 25.1 percent approved.
What’s more, a vast majority of the American public supports Congress passing legislation reining in the Pentagon on this matter. Respondents were asked:
“Congress may consider passing legislation that would: (1) Require clearly defined goals to authorize military action overseas, including what constitutes victory or success and a clear timeline (2) Require Congress to have both oversight and accountability regarding where troops are stationed around the world and what they are doing there (3) Require that any donation of military funds or equipment to a foreign country be matched by a pledge from that country to adhere to the rules of the Geneva Convention, which are designed to protect civilians from attack, injury or other harm during combat. Would you support or oppose Congress passing such legislation?
A clear overwhelming supermajority of Americans—70.8 percent—support the effort, while just 23 percent oppose the effort and 6.2 percent are unsure.
Even more astonishing, when asked specifically about Yemen—a majority of 51.9 percent support the legislation to withdraw U.S. military forces from Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. “Congress is considering a bi-partisan bill to withdraw U.S. forces from the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Would you say that you support or oppose this bill?” respondents were asked, to which 51.9 percent say they backed it and just 21.5 percent oppose the legislation—and 26.6 percent are unsure.
“Do you feel that American military aid – including money and weapons – should be provided to countries like Saudi Arabia?” respondents were also asked, to which 63.9 percent said no and just 24.2 percent said yes.
In addition to being a popular position in line with his campaign promise of ending pointless U.S. involvement in foreign wars, the Saudis have been defying Trump when it comes to Yemen.
A Dec. 29, 2017, headline in the Washington Post detailed Trump’s frustration with Saudi Arabia’s misleading him and his administration when it comes to Yemen: “Why Trump lashed out at Saudi Arabia about its role in Yemen’s war.” Washington Post reporters Josh Dawsey and Missy Ryan wrote:
President Trump’s public rebuke of Saudi Arabia this month for its role in the conflict in Yemen was an impromptu move quickly set in motion after intelligence officials presented him with images of the deepening humanitarian crisis there, officials said. In a strongly worded statement that surprised foreign diplomats and even key figures in his administration, Trump called on Saudi Arabia to allow food and supplies to reach ‘the Yemeni people who desperately need it.’ ‘This must be done for humanitarian reasons immediately,’ he said.
Since the Saudis have not heeded Trump’s demands on this matter—they continue to defy him and his administration—Trump could use, as his White House has suggested, this congressional resolution to strengthen his hand in negotiations with the Saudis over Yemen.
Reuters reported on Dec. 8, 2017:
The United States has warned Saudi Arabia that concern in Congress over the humanitarian situation in Yemen could constrain U.S. assistance, as it pushed Riyadh to allow greater access for humanitarian aid, a U.S. official said on Friday. Yemen’s situation has remained dire. About eight million people are on the brink of famine with outbreaks of cholera and diphtheria. That has led the White House to take the rare step of issuing two written statements in a week on Yemen, including one on Friday calling on the Saudi-led coalition to help facilitate the free flow of humanitarian aid and critical goods, like fuel.”
The Reuters report quoted a “senior Trump administration official” speaking on condition of anonymity about the dire situation in Yemen.
“I think there has just been mounting concern over the continued humanitarian conditions in Yemen, and while we have seen progress, we haven’t seen enough,” the Trump official said. “We want to see more in the coming weeks.”
But, while the Saudis offered a fig leaf semi-weakening of the blockade in Yemen in response to the Trump pressure, they have not truly assuaged the president’s concerns. Instead, they have launched a full-scale pressure, lobbying, and influence campaign to attempt to achieve their agenda.
Later in March, the Saudi Crown Prince Prince Mohammed bin Salman is scheduled to visit the United States after a trip he is making to the United Kingdom, a Saudi government source told Reuters. “The prince is expected to visit Washington D.C., New York City and Boston, the source told Reuters, adding that the details of the trip have yet to be finalized,” Reuters reported.
The Saudi embassy pushed a letter to Capitol Hill highlighting a humanitarian aid conference it hosted earlier this week, writing to U.S. lawmakers:
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has taken on a pioneering role in serving the humanitarian needs of the region and international community. With the growing global need for increased humanitarian aid and relief, KSRelief sees an opportunity to drive meaningful, relevant and practical change in the humanitarian sector through this inaugural forum by bringing together experts to exchange knowledge and lessons learned. The forum will focus on three pillars: humanitarian aid, the capacity of humanitarian funding, and innovation as well as reform in localizing aid.
But the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Jan Egeland noted in a statement that the Saudi aid package is a facade, and does not actually solve the problem.
“Increased resources and efforts that will bring more aid to Yemeni civilians are welcome,” Egeland said in a statement. “But if the Saudi-led Coalition really wants to relieve the suffering in Yemen, it should completely lift the blockade on commercial imports, including fuel, that is crippling the country.”