The War Over War Powers in Yemen

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The Yemeni Civil War, also known as the conflict that never ends. Since 2015, Yemen has been in a state of turmoil, filled with widespread famine and a thousand-day war. Some have deemed it the greatest humanitarian crisis of the modern age while others link the regional instability to Saudi Arabian influence, and by extension, United States involvement.

In an effort to expel extremism, the United States actively bombed and drowned the Arabian-Peninsula, causing an onslaught of civilian deaths. For more than 15 years, this has been the relationship between the U.S., Saudis, and Yemen.

Flash forward to the present, a time in which our national foundational for diplomatic relations and and geopolitical involvement has characterized the United States’ role in Yemen as a situation that “is not our war.” However, this sentiment is not unique to the Trump administration, for the legacy of President Obama is not one that shines favorably on U.S. relations in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Beyond senseless genocide of the Yemeni people which was fundamentally rooted in U.S. airstrikes, the UN Security Council, in accordance with U.S. diplomats, must take full responsibility for its efforts to undermine international law and just war theory in relation to Saudi Arabia.

In essence, the United States has quite a lot of blood on its hands and any attempts to absolve the U.S. legacy in Yemen only serves as an ahistorical representation of this massive humanitarian crisis. So where do we go from here?

In a rare showing of genuine partisan alliance, Senators Mike Lee (UT), Chris Murphy (CT), and Bernie Sanders (VT), a Republican, Democrat, and Independent, respectively, introduced Joint Resolution 54. Also known as the Sanders-Lee-Murphy War Powers Resolution, this piece of legislation is meant to discourage continued U.S. involvement in the Saudi coalition bombing in Yemen.

Specifically, it outlines the following: “Congress has not declared war with respect to, or provided a specific statutory authorization for, the conflict between military forces led by Saudi Arabia, including forces from the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Senegal, and Sudan (the Saudi-led coalition), against the Houthis, also known as Ansar Allah, in the Republic of Yemen [therefore Congress calls for] the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress.”

Positioned as a premier catalyst for genuine peace in the Middle East, SJR 54 serves to prioritize and protect the Constitutional power granted to Congress in times of war. Unsurprisingly, however, not everyone is in agreement that it is in the best interests of U.S. democracy and Middle East relations altogether to end the senseless, unauthorized war in Yemen.

Senators Jeanne Shaheen (NH) and Todd Young (IN) filed a response to the Sanders-Lee-Murphy bill that undermines efforts to dispel abuses of U.S. war powers. While it would require the Secretary of State to form Congressional Committees in order to assess Saudi involvement in Yemen and provide increased aid, the bill stipulates that the U.S. can still arm Saudi-UAE coalitions if it is in our CVE interests.

Herein lies the primary contradiction of U.S. foreign policy. Congress is often all to quick to circumvent constitutionally mandated rights to declare war in an effort to embolden the executive and protect national security.

It’s a strange dichotomy which also subscribes to a brand of “humanitarian imperialism”, a concept which emboldens the flippant attitude towards casualties of war by using human rights to justify military intervention. Even Senator Shaheen’s recent tweets show a tendency for the U.S. Congress to manifest imperialism-lite through war powers.

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Yet, this revisionism of the role of the U.S. military industrial complex in Yemen has not gone unnoticed. Kate Kizer, Policy Director of Win Without War, was quick to point out the inaccuracies within Shaheen’s post. Not only did she denounce the “disingenuous nature” of the new Young-Shaheen legislation, noting:

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Kizer also reminded fellow citizens that SJR 54 is a necessity. Without putting pressure and genuine constraints on Saudi Arabia, a path to peace in the Middle East may never come to fruition.

As the United States continues to reinforce a state of chaos with Yemen while simultaneously entering its sixteenth year in Afghanistan, its evident why conversations regarding U.S. war powers are long overdue.

The only way to de- escalate tensions, reduce civilian deaths, and ensure a peaceful relations within the Middle East is to endeavor toward an agreement which ceases to disenfranchise already failing states and maintains that war powers belong to the legislature rather than the executive.  Failure to do so will only encourage senseless wars and counterproductive foreign policy in the Middle East.

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UPDATE:
This article has been updated to reflect the recent U.S. Senate vote on Joint Resolution 54, the Sanders-Lee-Murphy bill. As of March 20, 2018, the United States will continue to support the Saudi-UAE coalition in Yemen. This comes as no surprise given the legacy of U.S.-Saudi relations. Since June 2016, the U.S. Senate has rejected three efforts to stop support of Saudi-Arabian efforts with votes ending in 71-27, 53-47, and 54-45, respectively.

The Young-Shaheen alternative bill, which will not halt American support of Saudi-led coalitions, is said to be under consideration with potential for revision, following the pushback from human rights organizations. Based on the events of today, it’s clear that U.S. foreign policy in the Trump age will continue to prioritize foreign interests and personal business connection over diplomacy and human rights.

 

 

 

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Elizabeth Wright

Elizabeth Wright

Elizabeth is an undergraduate student passionate about diplomacy and international relations. She focuses her studies on terrorism and women in crisis in the MENA, hoping to use her voice to make a difference.

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