America’s Role in Yemen’s Agony Can End on Capitol Hill

America’s Role in Yemen’s Agony Can End on Capitol Hill

In all, at least eight million people are on the brink of famine, one million are suspected of being infected with cholera and two million have been displaced from their homes. Legal and human rights experts say the killing of civilians and humanitarian aid deprivations could well be war crimes.

In 2015, the Saudi-led coalition, with President Barack Obama’s backing, launched a military campaign, including thousands of airstrikes, against the Houthi-Saleh forces in support of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi. The war is now stalemated.

While the Houthis have fired artillery indiscriminately into cities, launched rockets into Saudi Arabia and impeded the delivery of humanitarian aid, the Saudi-led coalition, a vastly more powerful force, is the main driver of the misery with its air bombardments against civilian areas, and a land, air and sea blockade that is keeping large quantities of food, fuel and medicine from reaching millions of people.

The Pentagon has argued its military aid is noncombat assistance, like advising the Saudi Air Force on how to drop bombs so they kill fewer civilians. But while the Saudis pledged in 2017 to reduce civilian deaths, Human Rights Watch said six attacks since then killed 55 civilians.

Meanwhile, Gen. Joseph Votel, head of Central Command, told Congress, “We’re not parties to this conflict.” That isn’t credible. The Saudi-led coalition would have a hard time continuing the onslaught without American assistance, which has included air-to-air refueling, arms, intelligence assessments and other military advice.

Apart from the humanitarian disaster, members of Congress who have supported the resolution are concerned about the legal basis for American involvement. The United States initially deployed forces to combat Al Qaeda in Yemen under post-Sept. 11 congressional authorization measures. But Congress never specifically approved military involvement in the Saudi-Houthi war even though the Constitution and the 1973 War Powers Act give lawmakers a role.

Three senators, Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent; Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat; and Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, introduced the resolution to end America’s involvement in Yemen and curtail what they view as unchecked presidential warmaking powers. The administration and some lawmakers have been working against the measure in part because its 30-day deadline would force them to end a military operation they want to continue, and they fear it will ruin relations with Saudi Arabia.

While the deadline is abrupt, the resolution provides some flexibility: The date could be extended if the president requested that and Congress agreed. For too long, Congress has abdicated its role as America prolonged its stay in some wars and expanded into others. And presidents have been too reluctant to share these crucial decisions with lawmakers.

Resolutions like this can and must force serious debate and accountability.

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