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Senators Issue Challenge: Vote On War in Yemen, or Get Out

On Wednesday, in a show of bipartisan unity against unauthorized wars of choice, Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah),Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) courageously introduced a Senate joint resolution [1] under the War Powers Act, directing President Trump to halt all current U.S. military activities in Yemen.

If passed, the president would have 30 days to stop U.S. forces and resources from continuing to assist the Saudi-led conflict against the Houthis there. The war has been raging on for two years and has resulted in millions of Yemeni displaced, starving, and suffering from a catastrophic cholera epidemic.

In a joint press conference [2], Lee and Sanders said the U.S. military has been “engaging in hostilities” with the Saudi-led coalition against the rebel Houthis in Yemen in two critical ways: refueling Saudi bombers and providing aerial targeting intelligence and reconnaissance.  These activities should have triggered a declaration of  war or an authorization of force under the War Powers Act.

“This legislation is neither liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican— it’s constitutional,” said Lee.

“As congress has not declared war or authorized military force in this conflict our involvement is unconstitutional and unauthoroized,” said Sanders. “It’s long overdue for congress to re-assert its constitutional authority.”

The Pentagon has long turned national security fleas into elephants to justify gratuitous undeclared wars and bloated budgets. It races abroad in search of hornets’ nests to destroy and creates new opponents to fight. In the eyes of our multi-trillion-dollar military-industrial-counterterrorism complex (MICC), to lose a friend is a misfortune, but to lose an enemy is a catastrophe.

These background dynamics explain our unconstitutional and gratuitous intervention in Yemen.    

At present, the U.S. military’s sustained assistance makes us a co-belligerent with Saudi Arabia under international law. It makes our soldiers legitimate targets for Houthi counterattacks. It makes the United States complicit in Saudi Arabian war crimes committed against civilians, including bombings of hundreds of homes and the starvation of millions caused by a Saudi blockade. 

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Houthis do not endanger the United States. They are not listed as a foreign terrorist organization. Among other things, they are fighting our arch-enemies, al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, both of which are listed as foreign terrorist organizations. 

The murderous 19 9/11 hijackers included 15 Saudis and zero Houthis. A congressional report implicated Saudi Arabian officials in 9/11, not Houthis.  

The Houthis are Shiites, which makes them infidels in the eyes of the Sunni Wahhabi Saudi Arabia. The rival Muslim sects have been fighting for centuries as Protestants and Catholics did in Europe after Martin Luther. The United States has no national security dog in that endless sectarian conflict. Our co-belligerency with Saudi Arabia enriches the MICC 1 percent, but at the expense of the prosperity and safety of the other 99 percent.

Begun under President Barack Obama and continued under President Trump, our co-belligerency in the Yemen war is flagrantly unconstitutional. It also violates the War Powers Resolution of 1973 (WPR), which says that the President may only engage the United States in hostilities pursuant to a declaration of war, specific statutory authorization, or in response to actual or imminent aggression against the U.S.:

Every participant in the drafting and ratification of the Constitution agreed with James Madison in his letter to Thomas Jefferson: “The constitution supposes, what the History of all Governments demonstrates, that the Executive is the branch of power most interested in war, & most prone to it. It has accordingly with studied care, vested the question of war in the Legislature.

Congress, however, has never declared war against the Houthis. It has never even authorized our participation in military force against them. The 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force enacted just after the 9/11 abominations falls short because the targets of this war are not persons or organizations suspected of complicity in 9/11. And though Congress has allotted money for this conflict, congressional appropriations cannot be construed as authorizations for the president’s use of military force under section 8 (a) (1) of the WPR.

Presidents Obama’s and Trump’s co-belligerency with Saudi Arabia also flouts section 5 (b), which fortifies the Constitution’s exclusive entrustment of the war power to Congress under the Declare War Clause (Article I, section 8, clause 11) by also prohibiting the president from unilaterally using the USAF in hostilities abroad for more than 60 days.

Presidents Obama and Trump never asked Congress to authorize their unconstitutional military caper in Yemen because they knew and know they would lose the vote and the support of the American people. House Speaker Paul Ryan, the White House’s poodle, has thwarted a House vote for the same reason. 

In other words, in the manner of Russian and Chinese despots, our political leadership is refusing a vote on our co-belligerency in Yemen to circumvent the will of the American people and congressional majorities. 

Fortunately, today’s legislative push by Senators Lee, Sanders and Murphy may be the deus ex machina we have been waiting for. 

The time to restore regular constitutional order in matters of war and peace is long overdue. The Lee-Sanders-Murphy resolution is an encouraging beginning. From there it will be up to citizens to call, email, and text their United States senators, and demand that they become co-sponsors. The greatest danger to liberty, after all, is an inert people.

Bruce Fein is a constitutional lawyer and international consultant with Bruce Fein & Associates and The Lichfield Group.

30 Comments (Open | Close)

30 Comments To "Senators Issue Challenge: Vote On War in Yemen, or Get Out"

#1 Comment By Banger On February 28, 2018 @ 10:35 pm

All current U.S. wars including Syria are illegal under U.S. and international law except, of course, the U.S. has a decades-long tradition of ignoring international law.

These Senators are doing great work in beginning the process of returning the U.S. government to somewhere in the general vicinity of the Constitution.

#2 Comment By Clyde Schechter On February 28, 2018 @ 11:15 pm

It is heartening to see the anti-interventionist factions of both the left and the right working together on this issue. Both the Democratic and Republican parties are dominated by neoconservatives, but if their anti-interventionist factions work together, we may be able to make progress.

#3 Comment By romegas On March 1, 2018 @ 6:18 am

“In other words, in the manner of Russian and Chinese despots, our political leadership is refusing a vote on our co-belligerency in Yemen to circumvent the will of the American people and congressional majorities.”

Don’t know why you need to mention either. The Russian have always acted legally bought dometically and internationally. The Russian Duma has consistently granted its authprity for the interventions in Crimea and Syria. The Chinese as far as I am aware are not involved in any foreign adventures.

#4 Comment By Ian Perkins On March 1, 2018 @ 10:39 am

You may see this as some kind of constitutional squabble between different sections of the US government.
The rest of the world increasingly sees the war on Yemen as confirming the USA’s bullying belligerence and total unconcern with the most basic norms of humanity and international law.
If any other country were to behave this way, US liberals would be demanding sanctions. When will you stop pleading with the war-mongers and start demanding international isolation of the USA (and its UK, Saudi and UAE) allies?

#5 Comment By Ian Perkins On March 1, 2018 @ 10:45 am

You seem to see this as some kind of constitutional squabble between different sections of the US government.
The rest of the world increasingly sees the war on Yemen as another example of the USA’s bullying belligerence and total disregard for the most basic norms of humanity and international law.
If Russia or Iran, say, were behaving this way we would be deafened by calls for sanctions and regime change.
When will US liberals stop pleading with the war-mongers and start demanding their international isolation?

#6 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 1, 2018 @ 10:51 am

Unless they repeal the AUMF, portions if not all of the Patriot act, and a myriad of other less well known terrorism protocols making a case for declarations of war might be nice media fare, but hardly effectual in retraining regime change and meddling in the affairs of other states to advance US policy.

#7 Comment By Howlvis On March 1, 2018 @ 11:51 am

I support this measure, but I’m not holding my breath.

#8 Comment By Andre S. On March 1, 2018 @ 12:04 pm

A commendable effort by the three Senators. As one of the other commentators has pointed out, this and the other conflicts we are involved in the Middle East are violations not only of our own Constitutional arrangement, but of international law as well. This is especially so in Syria where, before and after the fall of ISIS, we have continued to supply and arm various factions, including dangerous Sunni Islamist groups, in their fight against the internationally recognized Syrian government. A government that, although undoubtedly not democratic in our understanding of the word, nevertheless maintained a secular and stable society in which non-Sunni minority groups, including Christians, were not under constant threat of murder, rape, and forced expulsions from their homes. Both the neoliberal and neocon Establishment interventionists and warmongers in Washington have made our foreign policy hypocrisy blatantly obvious to the outstide world, endangered our national security, and squandered billions of dollars of taxpayers money.

#9 Comment By Aaron Paolozzi On March 1, 2018 @ 12:09 pm

I live in washington state, I have emailed Maria Cantwell, and Patty Murray and have asked for their support of this and any future resolution in which the conduct of our nation can and should be corrected. We should not visit violence against people who have not, cannot, harm us.

Always ready to call politicians to task. I used to live in DC, they say that one note actually written is worth a couple percentage points in opinion polls. Don’t anyone think they are not listening, they do. And do not think your voice does not matter, it does.

#10 Comment By Cynthia McLean On March 1, 2018 @ 1:08 pm

These law makers must be reading TAC and finally have caught up with Larison on the US-aided disaster in Yemen!

#11 Comment By Donald (the left leaning one) On March 1, 2018 @ 2:09 pm

Cynthia McLean–

You are probably joking, but in case you aren’t, yes, Larison is probably the person who has written the most about Yemen and deserves a lot of credit for that, but there have been some congresspeople (in both parties) pushing for an end to our support for the war since at least 2016.

And I agree with Clyde upthread. It is encouraging to see a good sort of bipartisanship for a change, where people in different parties work together to try to stop American war crimes. We need more of this and less of that other type of bipartisanship where they unite in supporting endless stupid unjust wars.

#12 Comment By Someone in the crowd On March 1, 2018 @ 2:40 pm

Why isn’t the US calling for sanctions against a nation that is continuously violating international law through its repeated invasions and willful use of force?

One would think that force of habit alone would compel such a step, even if the object of such sanctions would, of course, be the US itself.

#13 Comment By Fred Bowman On March 1, 2018 @ 2:48 pm

While I applaude and support the efforts of Senators Lee, Sanders and Murphy in their efforts to end US support of Saudi Arabia in the Yeman War, that when push comes to shove, the Senate will do little or nothing to end US support of Saudi Arabia in this terrible endeavor in Yemen. Such is the power of the MIC and neo-conservatives/liberal interventionist.

#14 Comment By cka2nd On March 1, 2018 @ 2:52 pm

Ian Perkins says: “If any other country were to behave this way, US liberals would be demanding sanctions.”

I think US and European liberals were pretty supportive of “liberal, modern, supra-nationalist” NATO in its imperialist crimes against Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, not to mention the partly-fascist coup in Ukraine.

Ian Perkins says: “When will you stop pleading with the war-mongers and start demanding international isolation of the USA (and its UK, Saudi and UAE) allies?”

I’m not sure the ruling classes of the NATO/EU countries with troops in Afghanistan, or that have supported the isolation and then destruction of Libya, etc., will be too interested in isolating their biggest ally, the U.S. I think its time to revive the proletarian side of the class war, myself, to fight imperialist war and intervention.

#15 Comment By fabian On March 1, 2018 @ 3:04 pm

Good to see that Sanders is not completely tamed.

#16 Comment By Wizarat Rizvi On March 1, 2018 @ 3:31 pm

“The murderous 19 9/11 hijackers included 15 Saudis and zero Houthis. A congressional report implicated Saudi Arabian officials in 9/11, not Houthis. ”

We all know but for some strange reason Saudi money like AIPAC’s drown all reasonable and legal speech.
Thank you Bruce for writing a reasonable factual synopsis on yemen and if I may say so it is also applicable to many countries in the area.

#17 Comment By b. On March 1, 2018 @ 3:33 pm

It is unfortunate that Sen. Sanders, Murphy and Lee have not taken the opportunity to file another resolution drawing on the War Powers act, to put Congress on record with respect to any unilateral action against North Korea. It appears that the atrocities in Yemen have, after 3 years, finally reached a point where opponents are attempting to make the perpetrators and their enablers take a stand – any conflict in North Korea will not accommodate the leisurely deliberations that our Senators and Representatives appear to have come accustomed to.

#18 Comment By Just Dropping By On March 1, 2018 @ 3:51 pm

What excuse is Rand Paul giving for not co-sponsoring this bill?

#19 Comment By lenny On March 1, 2018 @ 4:38 pm

Iran will benefit the most of this, just like they did from the US invasion of Iraq.

#20 Comment By FreeOregon On March 1, 2018 @ 5:16 pm

Go ahead and vote. When the Pentagon and the CIA do not comply we’ll learn who’s really the boss. They did not respect the Constitutional restrictions on waging war, so why would they care what Congress says of does? Don’t black budgets and missing Trillions at the Pentagon really mean Congress is powerless, just as was the Roman Senate?

#21 Comment By Colonel Bogey On March 1, 2018 @ 7:25 pm

This is the best and most encouraging news to come out of Congress in quite a while. The Houthis are OK by me.

#22 Comment By Peter Tobias On March 1, 2018 @ 7:36 pm

I find the debate in congress overdue. Our military support in the conflict in Yemen cannot be justified with any prior solution of congress. I feel ashamed to contribute to making the lives of so many people in Yemen more miserable.

#23 Comment By WorkingClass On March 2, 2018 @ 1:06 am

2 little 2 late
2 cheers

#24 Comment By Anti-American Hegemony On March 2, 2018 @ 3:18 am

And though Congress has allotted money for this conflict, congressional appropriations cannot be construed as authorizations for the president’s use of military force under section 8 (a) (1) of the WPR.

Why would Congress allot money for a war they now claim deniability of co-belligerence of Presidential war crimes with the Jewish-controlled Saudis? Has someone eaten more than enough from that side of the table? Which country will be next for “take the money, use it as intended until we can no longer tolerate”?

#25 Comment By rta On March 2, 2018 @ 11:04 am

It’s not like our congress is actually against any of our overseas adventures. There is bipartisanship for only two things in congress: War and loyalty to a certain foreign country.

#26 Comment By David Moore On March 2, 2018 @ 5:13 pm

Some say a “good start,” but nobody is talking about the elephant in the room. We have ten bases and thousands of soldiers in Syria. This is an invasion and much more serious than simply bombing a country. Neither Senator, however, will condemn our illegal occupation of Syria as well as arming of jihadis to overthrow Assad. They never will as we are doing this on behalf of Israel.

#27 Comment By Imissbuckley On March 3, 2018 @ 1:39 am

As much as I applaud these Senators this will likely lead to nothing. I’ve seen these bipartisan/transpartisan alliances before. The Senate’s few libertarianish conservative Senators team up with a few principled anti-war/civil libertarian liberals to check Presidential War Powers and the National Security State.

It’s a nice story, it was nice in 2005 when it was Russ Feingold and Lisa Murkowski, it was nice in 2013 when it was Rand Paul and Ron Wyden, and its nice again in 2018 with Mike Lee and Bernie Sanders. Its a nice story. Now call us back when they get a bill that has a reasonable shot of passing the both chambers of Congress.

#28 Comment By Mark James On March 3, 2018 @ 11:58 am

You can thank Obama (war criminal and US law breaker, and liar) for this mess….

#29 Comment By Tom Hagan On March 4, 2018 @ 9:35 am

To restore the Constitution, which gives only to the House the ability to declare war, we must first get big money out of politics.

Doing so will make Congress respond to voters, not donors . This will be enough to restore the republic. Nothing else will.

#30 Comment By Tom Hagan On March 4, 2018 @ 9:58 am

Congress should pass a law getting big money out of politics.

This will make Congress respond to voters, not doners.

It will also restore the Constitution and our republic.