An AP investigation has found that thousands of children have been recruited by Yemen’s Houthi rebels to fight in the country’s civil war. Boys describe being thrown into the heat of battle, amid bombardment and airstrikes, watching friends die. (Dec.19)
WASHINGTON – The House easily approved a measure Wednesday that would force the Trump administration to end its military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
The vote was a sharp rebuke to Saudi Arabia for its conduct in that conflict and a push-back against the Trump administration’s close ties to the kingdom.
The 248-to-177 vote also served as a stinging condemnation for the Saudi government’s role in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and highlighted the growing appetite in Congress for reasserting itself on foreign policy.
“It’s historic,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, a California Democrat who authored the measure, which invokes Congress’ authority under the 1973 War Powers Act. He noted that Congress has never before approved a resolution using that Vietnam-era law, which was designed to limit the president’s power to start or escalate military engagement.
“It shows the gravity of what’s going on in Yemen – that the first time we’re doing this is against Saudi’s brutal bombing campaign in one of the world’s greatest humanitarian catastrophes,” Khanna said.
Republican opponents of the Yemen resolution said it would give Iran a green light to spread its influence in Yemen and set a dangerous precedent by stretching the War Powers’ definition of military engagement.
GOP lawmakers noted that the Trump administration already halted its refueling of Saudi jets last fall. They argued that the U.S. role now – which involves providing logistical, intelligence and targeting assistance – did not amount to using American military force.
“U.S. armed forces are not engaged in hostilities” in Yemen, said Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He said the measure is aimed at removing troops “that simply are not there.”
McCaul and others also argued that ending American targeting assistance to the Saudis would only worsen civilian casualties.
“It does not address the humanitarian catastrophe inside Yemen and completely ignores the destabilizing role that Iran is playing” in the region, McCaul said.
The war in Yemen is a proxy battle between Saudi Arabia and Iran, as the two regimes battle for influence in the region. The Saudis, along with the United Arab Emirates, are engaged in a brutal conflict against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. The war has exacted a horrific toll on the Yemeni people, with more than 50,000 civilians killed and millions on the brink of starvation.
House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., said there have been 18,000 airstrikes, with one-third of them hitting non-military targets.
“Starving children, millions displaced, outbreaks of deadly disease,” Engel said during Wednesday’s House floor debate. He agreed with GOP opponents that countering Iran’s influence in Yemen was important, but said it did not merit supporting a “reckless” Saudi-UAE bombing campaign.
“We cannot just give the coalition a blank check when so many lives are being lost,” Engel argued.
Although most House Republicans voted against the measure, the GOP successfully amended it to include language stating that it is in America’s national security interest to combat anti-Semitism around the world. The GOP provision comes on the heels of a tweet posted by Rep. Ilhan Omar that many denounced as anti-Semitic.
The resolution will now go the Senate, which passed a similar measure in the last Congress and where proponents are confident of success again. Khashoggi’s murder, at the hands of a team of Saudi operatives, has infuriated lawmakers and helped galvanize opposition to the U.S. role in Yemen.
“Khashoggi’s murder opened up the world’s eyes to the barbarity of the regime,” Khanna said.
The California lawmaker conceded that Trump could, and probably will, veto the measure. But he noted that if it does pass both chambers, it would still send a strong signal to Saudi Arabia and to the Trump administration since it would be the first time Congress has successfully invoked lawmakers’ war powers to challenge U.S. military involvement abroad.
Wednesday’s action “fundamentally resets the power relations between Congress and the executive branch when it comes to matters of war and peace,” Khanna said.
And even if Trump ignores the resolution, he said, “the Saudis will know their relationship with the United States is on much shakier ground and that they’re going to have to make concessions.” A United Nations envoy is currently trying to negotiate an end to the conflict, and proponents of the Yemen resolution argued Wednesday’s vote would give momentum to that process.
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