Clio Chang and Ryan Grim describe the delicate maneuvering that went into the Senate vote against US involvement in the war in Yemen and what happened in the House. In both cases we saw people like Bernie Sanders and progressive forces in the Democratic party push a reluctant party leadership to support the moves, while liberal groups for various reasons tended to sit on the sidelines or provide only lukewarm support.
The resolution, co-sponsored by Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., invokes the rights laid out in the War Powers Act of 1973 that assert Congress’s authority over war, and it was the result of many months of work by a coalition of progressive activists and anti-war lawmakers. The war is Saudi-led, but the U.S. has provided critical support, and an end to that support effectively means an end to the war.
Backers of the effort approached the Center for American Progress, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the American Civil Liberties Union, and all declined to specifically endorse the resolution or become members of the activist coalition. And when a procedural vote on the resolution came to the House floor, it got the same kind of half-hearted support from Democratic leadership, falling just three votes short.
As the momentum built toward the Senate victory, the lack of support from established groups in Washington became increasingly conspicuous. In the wake of the successful vote, the politics of war and peace in Washington are being reoriented, opening the possibility for a generational change that could have implications far beyond the Trump administration, potentially restraining the militaristic impulses of a future Democratic administration.
BEFORE THE SENATE vote, CAP, Amnesty International, and HRW put out statements condemning the war in Yemen and signaling broad backing of congressional action to end U.S military support in the country. There is no question that, to varying degrees, they’ve all been critical of Saudi Arabia. Yet none of them specifically endorsed the two parallel resolutions on the Yemen war making their way through Congress — when it came to using the War Powers Resolution as a vehicle to end the war, reluctance set in.
The issue is especially sensitive to the Center for American Progress, the most prominent Democratic think tank in Washington, because it has been criticized for accepting significant funding from the embassy of the UAE, one of the Gulf countries leading the war on Yemen. The UAE gave CAP between $500,000 to $999,000 in 2017, according to the organization’s website.
The nation’s ambassador, Yousef al-Otaiba, played a key role in elevating Mohammed bin Salman to the role of crown prince in Saudi Arabia. The UAE, according to the Associated Press, has operated torture chambers in Yemen “in which the victim is tied to a spit like a roast and spun in a circle of fire.”
Chang and Grim describe the Byzantine maneuvering that led to the House failing to pass a similar measure by a very narrow margin, with Republicans using as hostage a farm bill that includes provisions to aid poor people. Fearing that voting in favor of withdrawing the troops from Yemen would result in the food aid provision being stripped from the next iteration of the bill, coupled with lukewarm support from their party leadership for the measure, five Democrats voted with Republicans to defeat the measure by the slim margin of 206-203.
This could well change in January when Democrats take control of the House.