Senate passes resolution to end US role in Yemen war

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The measure will surely pass the House, too, but Trump will likely veto it.

The Senate just voted to end America’s involvement in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen — rebuking President Donald Trump and likely forcing him to veto the measure within days.

Despite a Republican majority, the resolution passed 54-46. It will now go to the House of Representatives, where it’s very likely to pass, as Democrats control the chamber. That means Trump will have to veto the measure to be able to continue US support in the conflict.

The US helps the Saudi-led coalition’s war effort by providing intelligence and selling arms and ammunition to fighters from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Which means that the US has played a critical role in the conflict — one that has left tens of thousands dead and millions more suffering from starvation and disease.

And now, senators on both sides of the aisle think it’s time to get out.

“This war is both a humanitarian and a strategic disaster, and Congress has the opportunity to end it,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), one of the bill’s sponsors and a 2020 presidential candidate, said in a Tuesday statement. According to humanitarian agencies, at least 85,000 children have starved to death in Yemen since the war began and around 14 million are at risk of famine.

The bill, co-sponsored by Sanders along with Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Chris Murphy (D-CT), invokes the War Powers Resolution of 1973, which states that if US troops are involved in “hostilities” 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 was the second time the GOP-controlled Senate has voted on this bill. Last December, the same measure passed 56-41. But then-Speaker of the House Paul Ryan opted not to hold a vote on the legislation in his chamber, thereby killing it in the last Congress.

Wednesday’s vote, then, was somewhat of a do-over for the bill’s champions. And now that the House is controlled by Democrats, it has a good chance of passing. That is, until Trump inevitably vetoes it, and it’s not clear Congress has the numbers to override his veto.

Still, experts note the vote is a strong push back against Trump.

“The fact that so many members of his own party were willing to join the Democrats in what amounts to a vote of no-confidence on this aspect of his foreign policy is a major political blow to the president,” Scott Anderson, a former State Department official focusing on the Middle East, told me.

The Yemen vote was really about Saudi Arabia

Last year, the White House said a vote to end US involvement in the Yemen war “would harm bilateral relationships in the region and negatively impact the ability of the United States to prevent the spread of violent extremist organizations.”

But the Washington-Riyadh relationship came under serious strain last October after the killing of Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi.

Khashoggi, who was a US resident, was killed and allegedly dismembered inside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul. Senators, including some who have historically backed the US-Saudi relationship, were angry about the killing. Shortly after Khashoggi’s death, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a staunch Trump ally and noted supporter of closer US-Saudi relations, said he felt “completely betrayed” by Riyadh.

The brutality and brazenness of Khashoggi’s killing seems to have changed many senators’ calculations about the value of the US-Saudi alliance. And pulling US support for the Saudi war in Yemen — a war personally directed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — is a powerful way to communicate their displeasure.

It didn’t help that a briefing by two administration officials last week, meant to quell concerns about Saudi Arabia, failed to change lawmakers’ minds. “It was a complete waste of time,” Graham said after the meeting.

Now the Senate once again pushed back against Trump and Saudi Arabia in one fell swoop. But if they can’t counter a likely Trump veto, then millions in Yemen will continue to suffer while America fuels the tragedy.