May 02 2019
Over the past few months the members of this body and of the House of Representatives resoundingly voted in favor of S.J. Res 7, which would remove U.S. armed forces from Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen.
This unconstitutional, unjustified, and immoral war has repeatedly come up over the past year; and thankfully, America’s elected representatives have taken a stand on it.
Now, the President has vetoed our resolution.
But today we have the opportunity – and the Constitutional duty – to once again to take a stand on this matter. Today, we have the opportunity to override this veto in pursuit of justice, prudence, and upholding the separation of powers enshrined in our Constitution.
As we have already heard, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is dire. And estimates show that the crisis is even worse than we previously thought.
The Yemeni war has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people – including innocent civilians – in horrific attacks. It is believed that from 2016 to 2018, over 60,000 combatants and civilians were killed from direct violence.
But the scale of suffering from starvation, poverty, and disease is even more staggering. Over half the population in Yemen is considered to be in the “crisis” stage of famine. An estimated 3.3 million children are malnourished; and over 84,000 children have died between the start of the war in 2015 and October of 2018.
Poor water and sanitation conditions have also led to the largest cholera outbreak in history, with more than 1.3 million suspected cases and over 2,600 related deaths since the April 2017 outbreak.
And, contrary to the claims of some of our critics, the U.S. has been aiding and abetting these horrors of war.
Indeed, these critics claim that we have somehow not been involved in a war in Yemen.
But in March 2015, shortly after Saudi Arabia launched their war against the Houthi rebels, the Obama administration authorized U.S. military forces to provide “logistical and intelligence support” to the Saudi coalition – without approval from Congress. Since then, we have helped the Saudis with surveillance, reconnaissance information, target selection assistance, and until recently, midair refueling.
In other words, we have been helping a foreign power to bomb its adversaries – and sometimes helping them to bomb innocent civilians in the process.
Other opponents claim that our involvement is constitutional under the War Powers Act of 1973, which authorizes the executive branch to use armed forces in cases of emergencies and under time constraints.
But the conflict in Yemen – a conflict between a regional rebel group and the Saudi-backed government – by no means constitutes a threat to the safety of American citizens. And our involvement has far surpassed the allotted emergency time constraint.
Still others say that we are not engaged in “hostilities” that constitute a conflict of war under the War Powers Act. But these critics are relying on an overly narrow and outdated definition from an old 1976 memorandum internal to the executive branch – one that does not include the indisputably hi-tech activities of war today, which usually involve cyber activity, reconnaissance, surveillance, and target selection…
The precise activities we are undertaking in Yemen.
But even aside from that, under the War Powers Act we ourselves do not have to be involved in hostilities. It is triggered so long as we are sufficiently involved with the armed forces of another nation when they are involved in hostilities. And there can be no doubt in our minds that the Saudis are engaged in hostilities in Yemen.
And finally, some opponents say that removing U.S. forces would hurt our efforts to combat terrorism in the region – specifically al-Qaeda and ISIS – and would endanger the lives of American citizens and soldiers.
First, these critics are dangerously conflating different geo-political conflicts: the conflict in Yemen is a regional, civil war; it is not about Al Qaeda or ISIS.
And even if it were, our resolution explicitly states that it would not impede the military’s ability to fight these terror groups.
But furthermore, there is evidence that our involvement in Yemen has further destabilized the region and has actually undermined the effort against al-Qaeda’s affiliates. A 2016 State Department report found that the conflict between the Saudi-led forces and Houthi insurgents has actually helped al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS’s Yemen branch to “deepen their inroads across much of the country.”
No, involvement in Yemen is far from being in the best interest of the United States, Mr. President. Not in the slightest, not even by shred.
And every day it only becomes clearer and clearer that Saudi Arabia is not an ally that deserves our support or military intervention – especially when our own security is not on the line.
Last October, there was of course the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.
In February, a report came out suggesting that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have actually transferred American-made weapons to al Qaeda-linked fighters and other militant groups. In other words, the Saudi-led coalition is possibly giving our own weapons – in violation of our own end-user agreements with them – to the very terrorist groups we are trying to fight.
And just this past week, news surfaced that the Saudis ruthlessly beheaded 37 men who were mainly minority Shia Muslims, five of them gay men who were suspected to have been tortured into confession.
Perhaps we ought not be supporting this regime at all, Mr. President.
But a bare minimum, we should not be fighting in an unjust civil war on their behalf, half a world away, without congressional authorization.
Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution unequivocally states that Congress shall have the power to declare war—Congress, not the President, not the Pentagon, not someone else within the Executive branch, but Congress.
And they did so because they understood that the decision to go to war is about whether or not to put American blood and treasure on the line. It is literally a matter of life or death.
That is why they placed this power in the legislative branch – where it can be exercised squarely in front of the American people, by their elected representatives.
If you truly believe that our involvement in Yemen is crucial to the safety of American citizens and America’s best interests, that is all the more reason to debate and discuss it. Right here, right now. In fact, the Constitution demands it of us.
Today, we still have an opportunity to have a say – to take a stand – over this most grave matter. I urge my colleagues to take it.
I yield the floor.