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A Weak Defense for an Indefensible Veto

Trump's statement in defense of his indefensible veto is exceptionally weak and dishonest, and members of Congress should treat his message with the contempt it deserves.
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The full White House statement on Trump’s shameful Yemen veto is full of the usual obfuscations and lies that the administration has used to defend involvement in the war for the last two years:

This joint resolution is unnecessary because, apart from counterterrorism operations against al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS, the United States is not engaged in hostilities in or affecting Yemen.

As long as the U.S. is providing logistical and intelligence support to the Saudi coalition, deploying troops to the Saudi border with Yemen, and assisting in the enforcement of the naval blockade, it is a party to the conflict and engaged in hostilities.When the president and other officials claim otherwise, they are not telling the truth. The administration very much wants to have things both ways. On the one hand, they will say that the U.S. isn’t a party to the conflict and therefore the resolution isn’t needed, but then they’ll insist that U.S. involvement in the conflict must continue for the sake of the Saudi relationship, weapons sales, and so on. Supporters of the war are desperate to claim at the same time that U.S. involvement is so meager that it doesn’t amount to hostilities but also so vitally important that it must not be ended. Of course, if the U.S. role were really as small as they sometimes claim, there would be no danger in ending it, and if it is as significant as they say at other times it is absolutely appropriate for Congress to shut it down because Congress never authorized it.

Much of the rest of the statement is the same tedious propaganda they have been reciting for years:

The joint resolution would also harm the foreign policy of the United States. Its efforts to curtail certain forms of military support would harm our bilateral relationships, negatively affect our ongoing efforts to prevent civilian casualties and prevent the spread of terrorist organizations such as al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS, and embolden Iran’s malign activities in Yemen.

The “ongoing efforts to prevent civilian casualties” have been famously unsuccessful because Saudi coalition pilots so frequently attack civilian targets on purpose. If the U.S. is giving them the right advice on how to avoid causing civilian casualties, the coalition forces are either incapable or unwilling to follow it. That means that the U.S. is enabling more civilian casualties by continuing to provide support for the bombing campaign. The Saudi coalition war has strengthened AQAP and the local ISIS affiliate in two ways: it has distracted from and interfered with combating these groups and that has allowed them to become more powerful, and the coalition has taken to arming, recruiting, and funding AQAP members and their allies when it suits them. The Saudis and UAE have been providing known terrorists with access to weapons sold to them by the U.S. and other arms suppliers in violation of the agreements they signed. Continuing to back the war means backing the allies of AQAP. The Saudi coalition governments are not reliable or trustworthy partners, and if curtailing assistance to them damages relations with them in the near term that is not such a great price to pay for ending our complicity in war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Trump absurdly claims that aiding and abetting Saudi coalition war crimes has something to do with protecting Americans in Gulf countries, but there would be no threat to those countries if the bombing campaign were halted. The continued bombing of Yemen’s cities and villages is what puts coalition countries at risk of retaliation. Trump’s determination to keep assisting this bombing campaign is what’s truly dangerous.

At one point, Trump unwittingly provides an argument against his own position:

In addition, the conflict in Yemen represents a “cheap” and inexpensive way for Iran to cause trouble for the United States and for our ally, Saudi Arabia.

To the extent that Iran is involved at all, it is the continuation of the war that gives Iran this opportunity to cause trouble. The longer that the U.S. supports the Saudi coalition and keeps the war going, the better things are for Iran. Iran’s involvement in Yemen has always been very limited, but it has increased because of the war and the best way to make sure that it doesn’t continue to increase is to pressure the Saudis and Emiratis to bring the war to an end. Otherwise, the Saudis and the UAE will remain bogged down in a quagmire of their own choosing, and the U.S. will continue to be implicated in their many crimes because of the support Trump refuses to end.

The war on Yemen is indefensible, so it is no surprise that the arguments offered in support of it are always so weak and riddled with falsehoods. Trump’s statement in defense of his indefensible veto is exceptionally weak and dishonest, and members of Congress should treat his message with the contempt it deserves.



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