Senate Votes To End US Military Involvement In Yemen

Senate Votes To End US Military Involvement In Yemen

By Sofy Robertson


On 13th December, US senators from both major parties voted to end US support for the Saudi-led war against Yemen.

In a landmark vote, the motion was passed with fifty-six in favour to forty-one against. The vote was a rare move by the Senate to limit presidential war powers and send a potent message of disapproval for a nearly four-year conflict that has killed thousands of civilians and brought famine to Yemen. Moments later, senators unanimously approved a separate motion to hold Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman personally responsible for the death of Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.

The votes on both motions showed an extraordinary break with President Trump, who has refused to condemn the Crown Prince and dismissed United States intelligence agencies’ conclusions that the heir to the Saudi throne had directed the violent killing.

Although the House will not take up the measure by the end of the year, the votes signal that Congress will take on President Trump’s support of Saudi Arabia when Democrats take control of the House next month.

This landmark decision indicated a growing sense of urgency among lawmakers in both voting parties to punish those responsible for Khashoggi’s death and to call into question a tradition of Washington prioritising strategically important relationships at the expense of human rights.

Senator Mike Lee, a Republican of Utah, explained:

“What the Khashoggi event did, I think, was to focus on the fact that we have been led into this civil war in Yemen, half a world away, into a conflict in which few Americans that I know can articulate what American national security interest is at stake.” (The New York Times)

The resolution was written by Lee and Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont. It presented an unusual invocation of the War Powers Act, a 1973 law which Congress sought at the end of the Vietnam War to reassert its constitutional role in deciding when the US would go to war.

Sanders cited it as the first time that Congress has had to use the law to make clear “that the constitutional responsibility for making war rests with the United States Congress, not the White House.” He continued:

“Today, we tell the despotic regime in Saudi Arabia that we will not be part of their military adventurism.”

Both motions demonstrated clear divergence from President Trump, who has maintained steadfast support for Saudi Arabia and its Crown Prince even though the CIA has concluded that Prince Mohammed ordered the assassination of Khashoggi inside its consulate in Istanbul in October.

Last month, President Trump released an extraordinary statement for a world leader regarding the Crown Prince’s involvement, saying:

“Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”

In this statement, he argued that punishing Saudi Arabia for the death of Khashoggi would risk billions of dollars of American arms sales to the kingdom.

Tennessee Republican, Senator Bob Corker who heads the Foreign Relations Committee and sponsored the measure condemning the Crown Prince, said it was vital that the Senate “is speaking with one voice” to hold him accountable. He continued:

“Unanimously, the United States Senate has said that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. That is a strong statement. I think it speaks to the values that we hold dear.”

 

Yemen

 

Senators from both parties described the measures as a direct response to Trump and his administration’s refusal to hold Prince Mohammed and Saudi Arabia to account following Khashoggi’s death. It is also a move to counter the president’s assertion that the money made from arms sales to the kingdom is great enough to justify ignoring such a heinous crime. Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee said:

“We cannot sweep under the rug the callous disregard for human life and flagrant violations of international norms the Saudis are showing.

“A few more weapons purchases cannot buy our silence — it should not buy our silence. And if the president will not, Congress must act.”

The votes came mere hours after Defence Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo implored members of the House of Representatives to continue the military advising and logistics support for Saudi Arabia during a closed-door briefing.

The measure limiting war powers in Yemen has been under consideration for months, but senators sharpened its language two weeks ago with a procedural vote that signalled their growing frustration over the Trump administration’s refusal to blame Prince Mohammed for Khashoggi’s murder.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina made her views clear to reporters as the House debate began on Wednesday:

“The relationship with the crown prince is so toxic, so tainted, so flawed that I can’t ever see myself doing business with Saudi Arabia in the future unless there is change there.”

Before the brutal killing and dismemberment of Khashoggi, most Republicans had supported the military alliance between Saudi Arabia and the United States.

 

Yemen

 

The Pentagon continued to supply bombs and intelligence to the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen despite thousands of deaths of civilians and a famine that has hit Yemen’s children the hardest.

In late October, Mattis and Pompeo called for a cease-fire in Yemen and on Thursday, talks were brokered by the United Nations in Sweden and an agreement appeared to be reached to ease the hostilities. Peace talks are expected to continue in January in an effort to resolve what has become a humanitarian crisis in one of Earth’s poorest nations.

Speaking at the close of peace talks on Thursday, the United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, said:

“The agreements today mean a lot, not only for the Yemeni people but for humanity if this can be a starting point for peace and for ending the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.”

Menendez and Graham promised on Wednesday that they and other senators would introduce legislation early next year to impose even broader penalties against Saudi Arabia. These include suspending weapons sales and cementing a ban on American refuelling of Saudi coalition aircraft in Yemen.

With the Democrats set to take over the House in 2019, these motions mark the beginning of a new era for US politics, constituting a reckoning for Trump and his administration.

 

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