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Senate Fails to Stop US Support for Saudi Attacks

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Senate Fails to Stop US Support for Saudi Attacks on People of Yemen

The US Will Therefore Continue to Help Commit War Crimes in Yemen.

By Alex Ward

March 21, 2018 "Information Clearing House" - A bipartisan effort to end US involvement in a bloody, three-year war in Yemen failed in a close Senate vote on Tuesday afternoon.

The vote demonstrated growing pushback on President Donald Trump’s coziness with Riyadh, which is leading the war effort in Yemen. That same day, the president met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who was visiting Washington during a country-wide tour.

A disparate group of senators — Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Chris Murphy (D-CT) — drafted and introduced the resolution to stop America’s support for the bloodshed. “This is one of the great humanitarian disasters of our time,” Sanders told Vox in an interview last week.

But the GOP-controlled Senate voted to table — that is, kill — the resolution that says America shouldn’t assist Saudi Arabia in its three-year fight against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. By a 55-44 margin, a majority of Republicans and some Democrats effectively said the US can still help Riyadh, by refueling its planes and providing intelligence in the Saudi’s brutal air campaign.

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Supporters of the resolution claimed it would immediately end America’s involvement in the war; critics said it wouldn’t.

So far, the conflict has claimed more than 13,500 lives — many of them in airstrikes. Roughly 20 millionYemenis need humanitarian assistance to meet basic needs — including food and water — out of a prewar population of 28 million, and nearly 1 million people are suffering from cholera. However, conditions are so bad there that it is hard to have a reliable tally of any of these measures, which means the situation could be much, much worse.

Part of the reason it’s so hard to navigate Yemen is Riyadh’s relentless bombing campaign. The Saudi military has conducted more than 145,000 missions in Yemen over the past three years. A Saudi general told the Wall Street Journal that about 100,000 of those were combat missions, conducting about 300 missions per day. One human rights group counted around 16,000 Saudi airstrikes in total, killing thousands of civilians in total.

During a blockade last year, Saudi Arabia put various restrictions on Yemen’s airspace and seaports, which led to the deaths of more than 5,000 civilians, more than 20 percent of whom were children.

Lee, one of the measure’s co-sponsors, told me the push to pass the resolution was also to make a statement about how America goes to war. “We have a set of processes that have to be followed,” he said, noting that Congress has the constitutional authority to declare war. “If advocates for this war within our government are confident that this is that important to America’s national security interest, then they should bring forward those arguments and ask for an authorization,” he continued. “But without that, we have no business getting involved in someone else’s civil war.”

The Trump administration lobbied to defeat the measure. Last week, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis sent a letter to Congress requesting that lawmakers not restrict America’s support for Riyadh’s military. Heclaimed that stopping US assistance “could increase civilian casualties, jeopardize cooperation with our partners on counterterrorism, and reduce our influence with the Saudis — all of which would further exacerbate the situation and humanitarian crisis.” Mattis traveled to the Hill on Tuesday to encourage members of both parties to block the resolution.

This isn’t the first time Congress has tried to stand up to the president on America’s involvement in Yemen. Last November, the House of Representatives passed a similar resolution to the Senate version. That’s because, by a wide 366-30 margin, the House believed the US is only authorized to fight terrorist groups like ISIS or al-Qaeda. Lawmakers said the US doesn’t have authorization to fight the Houthis.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), who led the House effort, noted his displeasure with the vote in an interview with me but struck a note of optimism. “Eventually, we will prevail because our position is on the side of human decency and human rights, consistent with basic American values,” he told me. “We just need to keeping speaking up for peace and for the children in Yemen.”

Scott Paul, a Yemen expert at the humanitarian group Oxfam America, was unhappy with the news, telling me that “today should have been the day that the Senate moved to end US involvement in this catastrophe.” But Paul noted that some senators may have voted against the measure because the Senate Foreign Relations Committee may soon take up the issue. “We expect Congress to take decisive action soon,” he said.

But Tuesday’s vote was relatively close, and that is important on its own. It’s even more noteworthy because on Tuesday, Trump welcomed Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and the driving force behind the Yemen war to the White House to discuss their burgeoning relationship and arms sales.

Trump had previously issued statements asking Saudi Arabia to cease violating human rights in Yemen. But in his two public statements alongside MBS, as the crown prince is widely known, at the White House, Trump didn’t mention the word “Yemen” once.

One man drives the Saudi-led war on Yemen

Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, champions the fighting in Yemen. It’s part of his aggressive anti-Iran policy in the Middle East, which led him to intervene in Yemen in support of the internationally recognized government against the Houthis.

Iran’s government is a Shia Muslim theocracy; Saudi Arabia’s government is a monarchy closely aligned with the country’s Sunni Muslim religious establishment. The two countries represent two ideological and political poles and have spent decades fighting each other for dominance in the Middle East and for the right to represent the Muslim world.

MBS, along with his father, King Salman, completed a purge of an astonishing 11 princes and dozens of other officials and businessmen last November. That allowed MBS to consolidate even more power in Saudi Arabia, which gives him even more authority to direct Riyadh’s war in Yemen.

Trump continues to support MBS, going so far as to approve his purge in a tweet on November 6. At a joint appearance at the White House on Tuesday, Trump continued to show his backing for MBS and Saudi Arabia writ large.

“The relationship is probably the strongest it’s ever been,” Trump said. “We understand each other.”

Zack Beauchamp contributed to this report.

This article was originally published by "Vox" -

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Information Clearing House.

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Here Are the Dems Who Just Voted for Endless War in Yemen

Senators voted today to table a measure that would withdraw U.S. support for the Saudi-led onslaught.

By Sarah Lazare

March 21, 2018 "Information Clearing House" - Just one day after the 15th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, 10 Democrats voted to indefinitely stall a bill that would have withdrawn U.S. support from the Saudi-led war on Yemen.

The 10 Democrats helped Republicans table S.J.Res.54, which was introduced in late February by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah). The bill invokes the 1973 War Powers Resolution to force the Senate to hold a vote on withdrawing the U.S. military from the unauthorized war.

Some peace activists argue that the legislation does not go far enough, as it stipulates an exception for forces “engaged in operations directed at al Qaeda or associated forces,” which still leaves room for U.S. military operations in the country. A classified number of U.S. troops have been deployed to fight Al Qaeda, which has gained significant territory since the Saudi-led war began, with evidence that forces affiliated with Al Qaeda have even fought alongside U.S. coalition partners. Despite this carve out, advocates say the bill would have meaningfully rolled back the U.S. role in the Saudi-led onslaught and brought immediate relief to Yemenis living under the threat of U.S.-manufactured bombs.

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The Senate voted 55-45 on Tuesday afternoon to table the measure, meaning that the bill will not make it out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and instead will be set aside for an indefinite period of time. While some senators cited concerns with the procedural steps invoked in the bill, the vote to table effectively amounts to a green-light for ongoing U.S. support for the war. The following Democrats voted in favor of tabling the measure:

  • Chris Coons (DE)
  • Catherine Cortez Masto (NV)
  • Joe Donnelly (IN)
  • Heidi Heitkamp (ND)
  • Doug Jones (AL)
  • Joe Manchin (WV)
  • Bob Menendez (NJ)
  • Bill Nelson (FL)
  • Jack Reed (RI)
  • Sheldon Whitehouse (RI)

“The 45 Senators who voted in favor of S.J.Res.54 today made a strong statement that U.S. support to the Saudis is not unconditional,” says Shireen Al-Adeimi, who was born in Yemen and now lives in Cambridge, where she has been organizing independently to build support for the Sanders-Lee bill. “However, this is by no means a celebration, as the 55 who opposed the bill have ensured that millions more Yemenis will suffer needlessly.”

For almost three years, the U.S. military has provided arms, intelligence and refueling support to back the Saudi-led bombing campaign. While no one knows exactly how many Yemenis have died as a result, the United Nations determined in June 2017 that bombs have killed at least 4,971 civilians and wounded 8,533. Other reports have estimated more recently that the coalition has killed at least 10,000 people.

The Saudi-led coalition—which includes the United Kingdom and Gulf allies—is responsible for the vast majority of civilian deaths, targeting hospitals, weddings, schools and funeral processions. The coalition’s naval blockade, abetted by U.S. vessels, has choked off food and medical equipment to the country, driving a famine and the largest recorded cholera outbreak in world history. According to UNICEF, an average of five children a day have been killed since the war began, and “more than 22 million people—and nearly all children—are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.”

While the U.S. role in the war began under former President Barack Obama, the Trump administration has eagerly picked up the baton—and aggressively pressured senators to reject the bill. Sens. Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) recently submitted an alternative, weaker bill that would not immediately end U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition and is widely opposed by anti-war organizations which consider the legislation a red herring.

Meanwhile, many Democrats who champion themselves as part of the “resistance”—including Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Chuck Schumer of New York—declined to come out early on in support of the bill, missing an opportunity to build political support for the effort.

“The fact that 10 Democrats decided to table this resolution speaks volumes,” Matt Howard of about Face: Veterans Against the War tells In These Times. “It lets us know loud and clear that they are  complicit in the continued humanitarian disaster in Yemen and aren’t ashamed of that fact.” Howard is part of a grassroots coalition that backed the Sanders-Lee bill, including Just Foreign Policy, United for Peace and Justice and other organizations.

Some from that coalition say that the vote was far closer than they were expecting, and achieved the goal of creating a public discussion about an often-ignored war while forcing lawmakers to reveal where they stand. “This resolution was designed to do two things: send a clear message to the Saudis that the war needs to end now, and force Congress to vote on a war that we pretend we’re not involved in,” Stephen Miles of Win Without War tells In These Times.

The vote came the same day that President Donald Trump welcomed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the Oval Office by championing numerous multi-million-dollar U.S. arms deals, saying of the price tag, “That’s peanuts for you.” It follows another political effort in June 2017 to halt a $510 million U.S. arms sale to Saudi Arabia. That push narrowly failed after Democratic Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Mark Warner of Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana voted in favor of the sale.

It is fitting that the Yemen vote comes on the 15th anniversary of the 2003 U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, which is now widely recognized as a historic atrocity. The Iraq War directly killed more than one million Iraqis and continues to unleash cycles of violence throughout the region. In October 2002, the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly—77 to 23—to authorize President George W. Bush to use force in Iraq. Many of those who voted in favor of the invasion later said they regretted the decision. The following Democrats voted “yea” to the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq:

  • Max Baucus (MT) 
  • Evan Bayh (IN)
  • Joseph Biden (DE)
  • John Breaux (LA)
  • Maria Cantwell (WA)
  • Jean Carnahan (MO)
  • Thomas Carper (DE)
  • Max Cleland (GA)
  • Hillary Clinton (NY)
  • Thomas Daschle (SD)
  • Christopher Dodd (CT)
  • Byron Dorgan (ND) 
  • John Edwards (NC)
  • Dianne Feinstein (CA)
  • Thomas “Tom” Harkin (IA)
  • Ernest “Fritz” Hollings (SC)
  • Tim Johnson (SD)
  • John Kerry (MA)
  • Herb Kohl (WI)
  • Mary Landrieu (LA)
  • Joseph Lieberman (CT)
  • Blanche Lincoln (AR)
  • Zell Miller (GA)
  • Bill Nelson (FL)
  • Benjamin “Ben” Nelson (NE)
  • Harry Reid (NV)
  • John Rockefeller (WV)
  • Charles “Chuck” Schumer (NY)
  • Robert Torricelli (NJ)

“It seems that many have not learned from prior decisions to wage unjustified war,” says Al-Adeimi, “and have, once again, condemned millions of people to unspeakable suffering.”

Sarah Lazare is web editor at In These Times. She comes from a background in independent journalism for publications including The Intercept, The Nation, and Tom Dispatch. A former staff writer for AlterNet and Common Dreams, Sarah co-edited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War.

This article was originally published by "In These Times" -

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Information Clearing House.

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