Does the Senate decision foreshadow a possible end to US involvement in Yemen?
By Erin Flaherty
Poverty, airstrikes, water insecurity, terrorism, blockades, and disease have all been components of what many have deemed “the forgotten war”. The conflict stems from the efforts of the Houthi group to overthrow the government. The Houthis, which are a group that stems from Zaidi Islam, had control of the Yemeni government until the 1962 revolutions, which led the country into the North Yemen Civil War. The war ended with the Yemen Arab Republic taking control of the nation, and since then, the level of animosity in the Houthi community towards their government has only risen.
In 2011, Many of the Houthis citizens were angry at their new leader, Saleh, for the rising unemployment and his abuse of the Yemen oil profit. Their protests continued, and in late 2011, Saleh stepped down. His Vice President, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, took his place. Hadi’s want for more liberal and constitutional reform threatened the conservative values of the Houthis. In January of 2015, the Houthis captured the presidential palace in Yemen's capital, Sana'a, and continued to take control of the entire city.
Hadi and his government moved to the city of Eden in the South, but because of their successful capturing of Sanaa, the Houthis have been able to establish themselves in most of the country’s North. Since then, the war has been between pro-government forces from Saudi Arabia that have been supported by Riyadh’s new coalition, and the Houthis who have been partially supported by Iran. Both Saudi Arabia and Iran have gotten involved by aiding opposing sides, making Yemen essentially another proxy war in the struggle for power between Sunni and Shia Muslim sects, and those who support either side.
The humanitarian crisis in the country only escalated after the start of the conflict. In response to Iran sending in weapons to aid the Houthi rebels, Saudi Arabia imposed a full-blown blockade around the entire county. In attempting to stop Iran’s efforts to aid the Houthis, they essentially cut off all access to food and medical supplies. Fuel-driven pumps transfer the majority of water in the country, especially near the cities where the conflict is occuring, so water insecurity became a massive issue for citizens of Yemen when the blockade took effect. Saudi Arabia lifted its blockade from the largest port in Yemen, Hodeidah port, but the effects of the water and food insecurity that Yemenis have faced will not be over anytime soon. The Red Cross reported that Yemen had over 1 million cases of cholera in 2017, and many of those infected still have not received medical attention due to the lack of medical centers and workers in the country.
Although this may seem like an issue that lacks connection to the US, the opposite couldn’t be more true. The US is Saudi Arabia’s top supplier of weapons, and has backed their coalition that started the blockade in the first place. Many in the United States political sphere have criticized US support for Saudi Arabia not only because of the Saudi-imposed blockade of Yemen, but also because of their inaccuracy with airstrikes intended to hit rebel groups. Several stories have come out over the course of the war about Saudi-led airstrikes hitting funerals, hospitals and schools– one of the most controversial being the Saudi airstrike that hit a Doctors Without Borders medical facility. The Trump administration has faced condemnation for continuing to supply Saudi Arabia with weapons when they recurrently hurt innocent citizens in an attempt to suppress the rebel groups.
US involvement escalated even more recently, when news came out that the Green Beret US soldiers were secretly deployed to Yemen in 2017. They were sent, supposedly, to train the Yemen troops and take down Houthi bases with them. This marked a huge step in US involvement, since beforehand the US was only involved in 'refuelling and logistics', as the Pentagon said.
Until recently, not much had been done regarding US involvement in Yemen, but on November 28th, the Senate voted to stop all US support of the Saudi-led coalition. Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, a heavy advocate for this bipartisan action, said on the 18th that “the time is now to tell Saudi Arabia that we are not committing to partner with them in this horrific crisis.”
But this bill did not pass all of a sudden; it precipitated from the death of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi died at the hands of Saudi government agents who tortured him at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Despite this assassination, Trump continued to support the Saudi Arabian government, angering many lawmakers. The 63-37 vote in the Senate was quite bipartisan, since many Republicans have turned against their original stance on the issue which aligned with Trump’s view. U.S. intelligence officials have confirmed that the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, was at least aware of the plan for the murder of Khashoggi. This news has been denied by several members of Trump's cabinet, but has ultimately confirmed for many that Khashoggi’s death at the Saudi consulate was no coincidence or accident.
United States Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has condemned the Senate’s decision, saying that “degrading U.S.-Saudi ties would be a grave mistake for the national security of the U.S. and its allies.” Trump has also continued to reinforce the importance of the United State’s alliance with Saudi Arabia, even advocating for a new proposed arms deal that would supply Saudi Arabia with more weapons from the United States, saying that it would provide citizens of the United States with new jobs. Though Trump has touted that Saudi arms deals provide 500,000 additional jobs, Reuters estimates between 84,000 and 168,000.
This decision brought up a huge question that could set precedent for many issues in the future; Who has the right to pull our country out of war? Well, Senators cite the War Powers Resolution of 1973, which says that if US troops are involved in any hostile conflict abroad “without a declaration of war or specific statutory authorization, such forces shall be removed by the President if the Congress so directs by concurrent resolution.”
This means that the House would need to pass the bill, which does not seem as unlikely as it has before, since Democrats will be taking the majority in the next House due to their midterm victory. House Democrats have been advocating for an end to US involvement in Yemen for a while and would most definitely vote in accordance with the Senate. Then, only Trump would need to approve ending American assistance in the war. If he tried to reject their decision through a veto, it would still go back to Congress, which logically would still end in a vote to end United States involvement.
The Senate’s decision speaks volume about the increasing concerns among lawmakers in regards to the United State’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. The vote on the 28th may not ultimately end our questionable role in the war in Yemen, but it signifies an important step in possibly changing our country’s current role in said foreign affair.
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