This doesn’t happen very often—the Senate will soon debate and vote on an American war. Specifically, it will take up a bipartisan resolution (S.J.Res. 54) to end U.S. participation in the Yemen civil war.
This is a big deal. The United States’ role in the Yemen war is complicated and controversial. Importantly, it also hasn’t been authorized by Congress.
For too long, Congress has ceded its war powers to the executive branch. That’s always been a dangerous trend—but it’s especially perilous now that Donald Trump is the commander-in-chief.
There’s a lot at stake here. Here’s what you need to know.
- Yemen crisis: Who is fighting whom?
- What exactly is happening in Yemen?
- What can you do to reduce the Trump Threat Level? Support the resolution.
- Sample Call Script
WHAT EXACTLY IS HAPPENING IN YEMEN?
Yemen has experienced years of political strife that has culminated in a civil war. Saudi Arabia leads a coalition of nations fighting against a Yemeni rebel group called the Houthis.
The United States supports the Saudi-led coalition. This mainly involves providing refueling services for airstrikes, and sharing intelligence for targeting. This military support is essential to the continuation of Saudi’s air campaign that continues to target civilian areas and vital civilian infrastructure in violation of international law.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE PEOPLE OF YEMEN?
The Yemen civil war has created the largest humanitarian crisis in the world. Yemen was already the poorest country in the Middle East, and the war has only made a bad situation worse.
At least 10,000 people have died, with more than 40,000 injured—and most of those killed or wounded are civilians. A massive famine is sweeping Yemen due to the war, with more than 8 million on the brink of starvation. The war has created the conditions necessary for Yemen to become home to the largest and fastest-growing cholera crisis ever documented in modern history.
HOW DID THINGS GET SO BAD?
There are a couple of factors contributing to this shocking situation. One is the relentless pounding of U.S. supported, Saudi-led coalition airstrikes, many of which amount to war crimes. The UN has stated that these airstrikes from the Saudi-led coalition are the biggest source of civilian casualties in Yemen and a key driver to the humanitarian crisis.
The targets of these airstrikes are vulnerable civilian structures and public gatherings that are supposed to be off limits, including schools, hospitals, weddings, markets, and sanitation systems. Again—these strikes are war crimes. And this is the side the United States is supporting.
There’s another major factor contributing to the suffering. The Saudi-led coalition has sealed off key naval ports in a blockade, preventing desperately-needed food, medicine and other assistance from getting into Yemen. Report after report continues to emerge with evidence of how cruel and destructive this tactic has been, and the UN has been unequivocal in stating that Saudi Arabia—and by extension the United States—is using starvation as a weapon of war, which is a war crime.
WHAT IS THE UNITED STATES’ ROLE?
The United States is supporting the Saudi-led coalition, by providing mid-air refueling services for the airstrikes, and intelligence to help them target airstrikes in Yemen. The U.S. also sells massive amounts of weapons to the Saudis and the UAE for this war.
This support means the United States owns some of the blame for the humanitarian crisis these airstrikes have created. By helping to facilitate unlawful airstrikes that are pummelling Yemeni civilians, and supporting the side that is blocking food and aid from those same civilians, the United States made clear which side it is on, with horrific results.
This war didn’t start with Trump—the United States has been helping the Saudis commit war crimes in Yemen for years now. But Trump’s Administration has doubled down on a military-only strategy by increasing the U.S. military’s role in the Yemen conflict, only paying limited lip service to the need for diplomacy, and increasing arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
That’s an important factor to keep in mind—there are U.S. companies that stand to lose a lot of money if Saudi Arabia isn’t relying on the United States and purchasing weapons from us.
IS THIS GOOD FOR OUR NATIONAL SECURITY?
No. In fact, U.S. participation in this lengthy war has only helped international terror groups grow in power and strength.
Keep in mind, the United States has already been waging a second war in Yemen for years, directed against armed groups like al-Qaeda affiliates and ISIS.
But with the chaos caused by the other war in Yemen—the civil war in which the United States is helping Saudi Arabia in its bombing campaign—our intelligence community has said those terror groups have been able to gain more power and more land.
Even more cringe-worthy is the fact that al-Qaeda and its affiliates have also been fighting alongside government and Saudi-led coalition forces against Houthi rebels in Yemen. This means that the United States is technically on the same side as al-Qaeda and has essentially become a de facto ally in this conflict.
There’s no military solution to the Yemeni civil war, and its long, drawn-out chaos is directly helping international terror groups grow stronger. Further, by helping to ramp up this civil war, the United States has by proxy involved itself in a conflict threatening to destabilize the region with no clear strategy or endgame in sight. Paired with Trump’s dangerous warmongering, this sets the stage for more escalation of war, the creation of new enemies, and direct U.S. complicity in war crimes.
It’s the #TrumpThreatLevel in action, and it affects us all.
HAS CONGRESS AUTHORIZED THE UNITED STATES MILITARY TO PARTICIPATE IN THE YEMEN WAR?
No. (There’s really nothing more we can say here).
So this war is not only terrible policy, it’s completely unconstitutional. Congress, not the President, is supposed to decide where we go to war and when. As long as Congress refuses to do its job, it is complicit in this tragedy.
This joint resolution, led by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Mike Lee (R-UT), uses a procedure to force a vote on the Senate floor within ten days.
If passed by both chambers of Congress, the resolution would declare the U.S. participation in the Yemen war unauthorized, and would end American support for Saudi war crimes.
Of course, this resolution has a nearly impossible path toward becoming law. If it passes the Senate, it still would have to go through the House. And House leadership has already proven that they will not let a binding resolution go to the floor (the House did, however, pass a similar nonbinding version of this resolution in November 2017).
But if the Senate passes this resolution, it will be a major step toward getting Congress to act boldly to resist the Trump threat level. If they’re successful, it would set vital precedent for Congress to do this again in other contexts in the future—perhaps to stop a war with North Korea. As progressives, this is something we must demand from Congress. (Click here to read more about our progressive foreign policy principles.)
It only needs a simple majority to pass. Essentially, a small handful of Democrats will decide the fate of this resolution.
Constitutional powers are meaningless if Congress doesn’t exercise them. While it’s important not just to end our role in the Yemeni civil war, it’s also important for Congress to use this opportunity to flex its war authority muscle, and remember that they have the sole power to put reins around Trump’s warmongering.
We only have ten days to stop Trump’s war in Yemen. Call your senators today and demand that they support S.J.Res. 54.
Caller: Hi, I’m a constituent calling from [part of state]. I’m calling about the joint resolution introduced by Senators Lee and Sanders to end our unauthorized war in Yemen. It is essential for Senator [name] to support this resolution when it comes to the floor for a vote.
Staffer: Thank you for calling. The senator is still reviewing the language and I will relay your concerns.
Caller: Please do—Congress has never authorized this war, and evidence shows that the airstrikes the U.S. is supporting are causing a humanitarian crisis and may amount to war crimes. The chaos has allowed terror groups such as ISIS and Al Qaeda affiliates to gain more power and land. It’s time for Senator [name] to exercise Congress’ constitutional power and end this unauthorized war.
Caller: I’ll be sure to share that with the boss.
Staffer: Thank you—I’ll be closely monitoring the senator’s vote.