Bruce Riedel comments on the Saudi coalition’s escalation in the days following Mattis and Pompeo’s call for a ceasefire in 30 days:
Congress is ready to take action to curtail America’s involvement in the war after the midterms. A Democratic majority in the House would likely hold hearings on alleged Saudi war crimes and the murder of Khashoggi. The crown prince’s tarnished reputation will be in the docket.
But the Saudis have escalated their airstrikes on Sanaa and Hodeidah instead. The capital and the main port have been heavily pounded by the Saudi coalition since Pompeo and Mattis spoke.
It is likely that the Saudis and Emiratis don’t take the administration’s ceasefire demand seriously, and so far they have no reason to do so. There is no hint that Trump will withdraw support from the coalition if they refuse to comply with the demand, and administration officials have made such a habit of covering for coalition wrongdoing that the Saudis and Emiratis have to assume that they are not in any danger of losing the administration’s backing. The Soufan Center notes in its analysis of Pompeo and Mattis’ statements that both of the statements are toothless:
However, in both statements, there were no details as to how to bring the warring sides to the table, or how to restrain the Saudi bombing campaign. In fact, just after the U.S. tentatively called for a cease fire, Saudi jets pounded Sanaa with a series of air strikes, perhaps sending a message to Washington that Riyadh has its own timetable. The coalition also has moved thousands of troops into position for an expected push into the port city of Hodeida. It remains unclear whether the U.S. will actually pressure Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. with any meaningful leverage beyond the statements supporting a cease fire.
Regardless, another month of intensified fighting in and around Hodeidah threatens the lives of millions of Yemenis who depend on the port for their food supply. Even if the ceasefire demand is genuine and the coalition eventually takes it seriously, there could be irreparable harm done to the civilian population before a ceasefire takes effect. If the administration is trying to buy time for the coalition, it is time that millions and millions of starving Yemenis can’t afford to waste.
If the Saudis and Emiratis take for granted that they still have the administration’s full support, nothing less than cutting off all U.S. military assistance and halting all arms sales will get the message through to them that they no longer have a blank check from Washington. Since the administration is still unwilling to do that, Congress has to do it for them. The House should pass H.Con.Res. 138 and the Senate should pass S.J.Res. 54 to put an end to U.S. involvement. Congress has to act to end our involvement and pressure the Saudi coalition to stop the war, because we know the administration will almost certainly do nothing.