Next week is the deadline for Pompeo to certify that the Saudi coalition is meeting all of the conditions laid out by Congress in Section 1290 of the National Defense Authorization Act:
A bipartisan group of lawmakers inserted a provision in this year’s congressional defense spending bill requiring Pompeo to certify by Sept. 12 whether Saudi Arabia and its military ally, the United Arab Emirates, are taking meaningful steps to reduce civilian casualties, increase humanitarian aid and find a political solution to the Yemen conflict. If Pompeo doesn’t offer the certification, the law prohibits the U.S. from refueling Saudi aircraft.
When the president signed the bill, he listed Congress’ Yemen conditions among the sections that he intended to ignore, so it is possible that Pompeo will let the deadline pass without doing anything. It is more likely that Pompeo will issue the certification despite all of the evidence that shows that the Saudis and their allies haven’t met any of the conditions. The flaw in conditioning U.S. support in this way is that the administration has no interest in reducing or cutting off military assistance to the coalition, and it is going to use whatever loopholes that are available to avoid doing that.
In order to continue U.S. refueling of coalition planes, Pompeo has to certify that the Saudis and the UAE are 1) making a good faith effort to support diplomatic efforts to end the war; 2) taking “appropriate measures” to alleviate the humanitarian crisis; 3) taking “demonstrable actions” to reduce the risk to civilians and civilian infrastructure; 4) taking actions to reduce unnecessary delays in shipments into the country. The Saudi coalition is not doing any of these things. The evidence that they are not can be found in the recent massacres of children, the devastation of civilian infrastructure, and the ongoing food and fuel shortages created by the coalition blockade. Saudi coalition “aid” efforts are little more than a cynical P.R. stunt, and aid groups have criticized the Saudi aid “plan” as a war tactic. The Saudi coalition may pay lip service to supporting the work of Martin Griffiths, the U.N. envoy, but they have made a point of doing everything they can to make his job as difficult as possible. Just by launching the Hodeidah offensive the coalition has made it clear that they aren’t interested in ending the war through negotiations.
The recent Saudi “investigation” into the Aug. 9 massacre shows that the coalition isn’t taking the requirement to reduce harm to civilians seriously. When confronted with the overwhelming evidence that the coalition blew up a bus full of schoolchildren, the coalition’s response has been to say that the bus was a “legitimate” target and to deny that there were any children on board. Pompeo cannot honestly review this record and conclude that the Saudi coalition is doing any of the things that Congress has required.
Pompeo can also use a waiver that allows U.S. support for the war to continue:
Even if Pompeo determines he cannot certify that the Saudi-led coalition is taking steps to improve the situation, he could still allow for a continued U.S. role by invoking a legal waiver that says it would jeopardize U.S. national security to end support of the Saudi-UAE mission. To do that, however, Pompeo must still detail why he cannot make the certification and what steps the administration will take to rein in the Saudis and Emiratis.
Given how invested the Trump administration is in this war and the relationships with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, it is extremely unlikely that Pompeo is going to pass up the chance to keep the U.S. involved in the wrecking and starving of Yemen. The administration doesn’t want to rein in the Saudis and Emiratis. They just want to find excuses to deflect criticisms of an indefensible policy. Members of Congress will have to do more than place conditions on U.S. support, because the administration will always find a way to get around or abuse the requirements they have created. It is imperative that Congress cut off all assistance and arms sales to the Saudi coalition.