Monday night, the House of Representatives finally took some actions in regards to the horrifying situation fostered in Yemen by the U.S.-supported, Saudi-led military intervention and blockade on the war-torn Gulf nation. Politico reports:
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.
Several thoughts here. First, this is much overdue. There is absolutely no credible argument that U.S. military action in Yemen — which was started under President Obama and now continues under President Trump — is in any sense legal per the Constitution’s assignment of war powers to Congress. Monday’s resolution doesn’t state this fact as strongly as it could, but it is great to see Congress recognizing we do, in fact, have some laws about this sort of thing.
Second, this is not an acceptable substitute for more meaningful congressional action. I don’t mean to kick a gift horse in the mouth, but this is a bit like getting socks — admittedly good and needful socks — when you wanted an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time.
That’s because the resolution is a symbolic statement that will not compel any behavioral change from the Trump administration. It amounts to Congress saying, “Look, you can’t do what you’re doing, but we’re not gonna stop you.” (The really troubling part is that a nonbinding statement like this is, at this point, more than I would have expected from a legislature that has long since ceded most of its policy leadership role to the executive branch.)
To be clear, I don’t fault the resolution’s sponsors for the tepid nature of their bill. They correctly realize stronger language would not receive the broad, bipartisan support seen in Monday’s vote. “The shift in our foreign policy is not going to happen overnight,” said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who introduced the resolution. “If I’m looking at something from a scale of 1 to 10, in terms of shifting U.S. foreign policy, maybe this is a 2. But it is a 2.”
Khanna and the other lawmakers who got this resolution to the floor deserve applause for their work here; their many colleagues who would not support something toothier do not.
And third, we cannot pay too much attention to how the Saudi coalition’s blockade and airstrikes have exacerbated the incredible humanitarian crisis in Yemen. The House resolution acknowledges this enormous suffering:
Whereas, according to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, at least 10,000 Yemeni civilians have been killed in this conflict since 2015; […]
Whereas the war in Yemen has contributed to a humanitarian crisis in Yemen, leading to an April 2017 announcement by the World Food Program that Yemen is on the brink offull-scale famine, with approximately 7,000,000 Yemenis, including 2,200,000 children, being classified asseverely food insecure;
Whereas over 500,000 new cholera cases have been detected in Yemen, and approximately 2,000 people have died from cholera-related issues;
Those numbers are staggering, but their impact may pale next to the experience of looking at photos of skeletal Yemeni children who are starving to death thanks to the Saudi intervention made possible by U.S. support.
It is to Congress’ shame that a more forceful resolution would not pass.