The War on Yemen and the Senate Vote on the Saudi Arms Sale
Alex Emmons and Zaid Jilani report on the Senate’s failed resolution of disapproval aimed at blocking a sale of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia:
On Tuesday, only five Democrats voted against the resolution — Virginia’s Mark Warner, Missouri’s Claire McCaskill, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, Florida’s Bill Nelson, and Indiana’s Joe Donnelly.
Some prominent Democrats who had voted against the September bill changed their tunes on Tuesday. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Ben Cardin, D-Md., both came around to supporting the measure of disapproval against the arms sales.
Cardin told The Intercept that many Democrats changed their vote because they didn’t see a commitment from Trump to end the conflict. “The main reason is we don’t see from President Trump,” he said, “a foreign policy that ends this conflict and the humanitarian crisis it’s causing.”
The good news from Tuesday’s vote is that there is now much broader opposition to selling weapons to the Saudis when there is every reason to expect that those weapons will be used in Yemen. Sens. Murphy, Paul, and Franken have done great work in persuading many more of their colleagues to oppose such sales, and if they can continue to bring more senators over to their side the Senate may well block one of these sales before long. A close vote on this issue makes it much more likely that there can be a real debate over U.S. support for the atrocious and unnecessary Saudi-led war.
There were a few honorable Republicans, including co-sponsor Rand Paul, who voted to disapprove the sale. The full roll call can be found here. Unfortunately, all but four Republican senators voted to support the latest sale and even now still have shown their backing for our disgraceful policy of enabling the destruction and starvation of Yemen. If there had been a unified Democratic front against the sale, enough Republicans broke ranks with the White House that the resolution of disapproval would have passed.
The bad news is that the resolution still failed. Resistance to shameful U.S. support for the war on Yemen started very late, and it is not growing as quickly as it needs to in order to provide Yemen with the help that its civilian population needs right now. Blocking arms sales to members of the Saudi-led coalition is an important start to helping Yemen, but when the country is in the grip of both famine and a rapidly spreading cholera epidemic there is much more that must be done quickly to address the severe humanitarian needs there.
There has not been a serious effort from Washington under the Obama and Trump administrations to seek an end to the conflict, and neither administration has done much of anything to pressure the Saudis and their allies to halt their campaign. Obama belatedly made a few half-hearted gestures at the end of his presidency, but they had no effect and they have been quickly undone by his successor. If there is to be any chance of changing that policy, the White House needs to start losing votes on these arms sales on a regular basis.