Top Dems Claim Concern Over Yemen War—Why Aren’t They Backing a Measure To End It?

Some of the most influential Democrats in the House are refusing to throw their early support behind a new push to end U.S. participation in the Saudi-led war on Yemen.

Shireen Al-Adeimi and Sarah Lazare September 17, 2018

Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Eliot Engel (D-NY )leave a news conference discussing on Capitol Hill February 15, 2017 in Washington, DC. (ZACH GIBSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Despite claim­ing con­cern over U.S.-backed atroc­i­ties in Yemen, some of the most influ­en­tial Democ­rats in the U.S. House are refus­ing to pub­licly endorse the lat­est polit­i­cal effort to end the U.S. role in the Sau­di-led war. That effort would attempt to put a stop to Amer­i­can par­tic­i­pa­tion in the dev­as­tat­ing mil­i­tary inter­ven­tion by invok­ing the War Pow­ers Res­o­lu­tion. For more than three years, the Unit­ed States has pro­vid­ed intel­li­gence, arms and mid-air refu­el­ing for the Sau­di-led bomb­ing cam­paign as it has hit hos­pi­tals, wed­dings and schools—and killed tens of thousands.

Yet, lawmakers’ declarations of outrage do nothing to shut down U.S. involvement in the war, which began in March 2015 under former President Barack Obama without a congressional debate or vote.

Announced Sep­tem­ber 6, the res­o­lu­tion — expect­ed to be for­mal­ly intro­duced in the com­ing days — will aim to with­draw U.S. Armed Forces from uncon­sti­tu­tion­al hos­til­i­ties along­side Sau­di Ara­bia in Yemen,” accord­ing to a state­ment from Rep. Ro Khan­na (D‑Calif.). Khan­na is lead­ing the effort, along­side a hand­ful of oth­er Demo­c­ra­t­ic rep­re­sen­ta­tives, includ­ing Mark Pocan (D‑Wisc.) and Adam Smith (D‑Wash.). The new push comes on the heels of a pri­or Sen­ate effort to invoke the War Pow­ers Res­o­lu­tion in order to with­draw the U.S. mil­i­tary from the unau­tho­rized war. That leg­is­la­tion was nar­row­ly defeat­ed in March.

The office of Eliot Engel, the top Demo­c­rat on the House For­eign Affairs Com­mit­tee, is declin­ing to for­mal­ly endorse the effort at this time, a move that would sig­nal to Democ­rats that sup­port­ing the effort is backed by Demo­c­ra­t­ic lead­er­ship, which would sig­nal to Democ­rats to sup­port it. The res­o­lu­tion hasn’t been intro­duced yet, so Mr. Engel will need to review the final text once that takes place,” Tim Mul­vey, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Direc­tor for the House Com­mit­tee on For­eign Affairs, told In These Times over email.

Rep. Ste­ny Hoy­er (D‑Md.), num­ber two in the House’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic lead­er­ship, hedged at the ques­tion of whether he would endorse the leg­is­la­tion. I look for­ward to review­ing the text of the forth­com­ing res­o­lu­tion, and I want to thank Con­gress­man Khan­na, Rank­ing Mem­ber Smith, and Con­gress­man Pocan for their lead­er­ship in keep­ing Con­gress focused on address­ing this hor­rif­ic human­i­tar­i­an cri­sis, which has put mil­lions at risk of star­va­tion,” he told In These Times via email.

While both Engel and Hoy­er indi­cate they are open to back­ing the leg­is­la­tion, they are with­hold­ing their endorsements.

Robert Naiman, pol­i­cy direc­tor for Just For­eign Pol­i­cy, a group that has agi­tat­ed for Con­gress to invoke its war pow­ers to end the Yemen war, rejects their expla­na­tions. Hoy­er and Engel know very well what the res­o­lu­tion is going to say,” he told In These Times. It’s not a mys­tery. The res­o­lu­tion is going to require that all uncon­sti­tu­tion­al U.S. par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Sau­di war in Yemen has to stop, includ­ing refu­el­ing Sau­di-UAE war­planes in the mid­dle of their bomb­ing runs.”

Say­ing they have to wait and see is just a way to try to dodge account­abil­i­ty for a war they have sup­port­ed,” Naiman added.

Mazzen Mohammed, a res­i­dent of Yemen’s north­ern province of Al-Jawf, told In These Times he is skep­ti­cal of U.S. law­mak­ers’ real motives for refus­ing to end the war, not­ing that if weapons sales cease, the Unit­ed States will lose mon­ey.” He argued that stop­ping the war would help the Unit­ed States to avoid crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion in the future” and restore some of its human values.”

The office of Nan­cy Pelosi (D‑Calif.), the most pow­er­ful Demo­c­rat in the House, did not respond to mul­ti­ple requests for comment.

Ear­ly sup­port from Pelosi, Hoy­er and Engel would send a strong mes­sage to the top Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty that back­ing the forth­com­ing leg­is­la­tion is encour­aged by lead­er­ship. Giv­en the com­po­si­tion of Con­gress, it will be dif­fi­cult for any res­o­lu­tion to pass with­out over­whelm­ing sup­port from Democrats.

Hoy­er and Engel are declin­ing to open­ly sup­port the leg­is­la­tion despite hav­ing signed onto an open let­ter on August 14 to Sec­re­tary of Defense James Mat­tis express­ing our deep­en­ing con­cern regard­ing the human­i­tar­i­an cri­sis in Yemen and to request a brief­ing for all House Mem­bers dur­ing the first week of Sep­tem­ber on the pol­i­cy objec­tives of the Unit­ed States with respect to Yemen.”

That Sep­tem­ber dead­line passed with­out a brief­ing from Mat­tis, yet the letter’s sig­na­to­ries have not indi­cat­ed that they plan to do any­thing about it. The let­ter was released in the after­math of the Sau­di-led coalition’s air strike, with a U.S.-supplied and man­u­fac­tured bomb that hit a school bus in Yemen’s north­ern Saa­da province, killing 54 peo­ple, 44 of them children.

In his email to In These Times, Hoy­er dodged ques­tions about whether he plans to take any action. In August, I joined with my Demo­c­ra­t­ic col­leagues in the House in send­ing a let­ter to the Trump Admin­is­tra­tion, ask­ing them to brief Con­gress on the Unit­ed States’ pol­i­cy objec­tives in Yemen,” he said. Near­ly a month lat­er, we have yet to receive a response. Mem­bers deserve infor­ma­tion about the impact of the cri­sis, U.S. sup­port for the Sau­di coali­tion, and the prospects for a peace agreement.”

Yet, law­mak­ers’ dec­la­ra­tions of out­rage do noth­ing to shut down U.S. involve­ment in the war, which began in March 2015 under for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma with­out a con­gres­sion­al debate or vote. The Trump admin­is­tra­tion con­tin­ued giv­ing U.S. mil­i­tary sup­port to the Saud­is despite indi­ca­tions that the U.S. gov­ern­men­t’s involve­ment amounts to facil­i­tat­ing war crimes.

While Con­gress pre­pares to invoke the War Pow­ers res­o­lu­tion anoth­er time, con­di­tions in Yemen con­tin­ue to dete­ri­o­rate rapid­ly. With U.S. par­tic­i­pa­tion, the Sau­di-led coalition’s repeat­ed bomb­ing of schools and hos­pi­tals has led to the col­lapse of the edu­ca­tion­al and health sec­tors, while its tar­get­ing of food and water sup­plies along with the eco­nom­ic block­ade, has left mil­lions starv­ing. With no access to clean water or vac­ci­na­tions for mil­lions of Yeme­nis, two waves of cholera have infect­ed at least 1.1 mil­lion peo­ple — the largest out­break in mod­ern his­to­ry — with health pro­fes­sion­als warn­ing that a third wave of the epi­dem­ic is coming.

The death toll of chil­dren from pre­ventable ill­ness­es and star­va­tion is stag­ger­ing: 63,000 chil­dren died in 2016 and anoth­er 50,000 in 2017 — a total of 113,000 in just two years of the ongo­ing war. An entire gen­er­a­tion of Yemeni chil­dren is fac­ing death by star­va­tion, dis­eases, or bombs.

In Yemen, this war is broad­ly viewed as an Amer­i­can, Sau­di and Emi­rati war on their coun­try. Posters in Yemen declar­ing, Amer­i­ca Kills Yemeni Peo­ple” are preva­lent, and rem­nants of bombs with U.S. mark­ings are often found at bomb sites such as mar­kets, funer­als, hos­pi­tals and oth­er civil­ian areas.

In These Times asked Yeme­nis about the hes­i­ta­tion of some mem­bers of Con­gress to declare pub­lic sup­port for the upcom­ing res­o­lu­tion to end the war. Belqes Hus­sein of Sana’a says that mem­bers of Con­gress under­stand that [the] Yemen war is a cat­a­stro­phe in which inno­cent Yeme­nis are pay­ing a high price, and accord­ing­ly they wish to end the U.S. involve­ment in this hor­rif­ic con­flict. But, in the mean­time, they view this war as a legit­i­mate means to con­front the Ira­ni­ans’ aggres­sion inside the region.”

Saleem Abdul­lah, a res­i­dent of Hodei­dah, told In These Times, After killing count­less peo­ple in Yemen with US help and after destroy­ing Yemen com­plete­ly and mak­ing a mess out of this poor coun­try, it seems the U.S. just real­ized this now and wants to main­tain what­ev­er remains of their rep­u­ta­tion. They also don’t want to lose what­ev­er con­tracts they have with Sau­di and want to show Sau­di and UAE that their sup­port is still strong.”

Abdul­lah empha­sized, Both Sau­di and USA destroyed Yemen from A to Z, are con­sid­ered war crim­i­nals, and should get punishment.”

Shireen Al-Adei­mi is an assis­tant pro­fes­sor of edu­ca­tion at Michi­gan State Uni­ver­si­ty. Hav­ing lived through two civ­il wars in her coun­try of birth, Yemen, she has played an active role in rais­ing aware­ness about the U.S.-supported, Sau­di-led war on Yemen since 2015. Through her work, she aims to encour­age polit­i­cal action among fel­low Amer­i­cans to bring about an end to U.S. inter­ven­tion in Yemen. Sarah Lazare is web edi­tor at In These Times. She comes from a back­ground in inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ism for pub­li­ca­tions includ­ing The Inter­cept, The Nation, and Tom Dis­patch. She tweets at @sarahlazare.
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