Senators Issue Challenge: Vote for 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 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, 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. 

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.

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Author: Bruce Fein