Activists and thinkers gathered on April 14 at the Palestinian American Community Center in Clifton, NJ, at a conference entitled: “The War in Yemen: Is there Light at the End of the Tunnel?” Sponsored by Arab Cogito and Action Corps NYC, the aim of those present was clear: to motivate the American public to pressure their representatives, particularly in the Senate, to stop U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
“The war is the result of the Saudi-Emirati military alliance [waging] a war of attrition that has left tens of thousands dead, hundreds of thousands wounded . . . and millions of displaced persons.”
Panel moderator Sihem Mellah-Sliker spelled out the harrowing reality of the conflict, now in its fourth year: “The war is the result of the Saudi-Emirati military alliance [waging] a war of attrition that has left tens of thousands dead, hundreds of thousands wounded . . . and millions of displaced persons,” she said. In addition, the war has caused the spread of disease and poverty now affecting 83 percent of Yemeni people.
“The whole world is watching, but no action is being taken,” she continued. “The Yemeni people are caught between the pressure of the Saudi-Emirati alliance on one hand; and famine, disease, Western silence, and Arab collusion on the other hand. The war in Yemen is a war of attrition in every sense, against the human being and all components of the country.”
These words are no understatement: the UN has called the Yemen conflict “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis” and several European states, including Germany, Denmark, and Finland, have ceased arms sales to Saudi Arabia as a result of the horror that coalition forces have unleashed in Yemen as a result of indiscriminate airstrikes.
On April 16, both houses of the U.S. Congress approved a joint resolution to end U.S. participation in the war. The Yemen War Powers Resolution was a bipartisan effort to bring an end to the war by ending unauthorized military U.S. support to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The House voted 247-175 in favor of the bill, with the Senate approving it by the narrower margin of 54-46. It was the first time that Congress had ever invoked its constitutional authority to scupper U.S. military action since the passing of the War Powers Act during the Vietnam War in 1973.
The Yemen War Powers Resolution would have sharply decreased hostilities and made an immense difference on the ground.
The U.S. is by far the largest military donor to Saudi Arabia. The Yemen War Powers Resolution would have sharply decreased hostilities and made an immense difference on the ground. However, President Trump made the catastrophic and almost immediate decision to veto the bill. “This resolution is an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities, endangering the lives of American citizens and brave service members, both today and in the future,” he said in a statement. The connection between this bill and the safety of American citizens is unclear and, as is so often the case with this president, the matter has remained distinctly opaque.
“From a president elected on the promise of putting a stop to our endless wars, this veto is a painful missed opportunity,” said Democrat Ro Khanna, who was the lead sponsor of the bill in the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted: “The conflict in Yemen is a horrific humanitarian crisis that challenges the conscience of the entire world. Yet the President has cynically chosen to contravene a bipartisan, bicameral vote on the Congress and perpetuate America’s shameful involvement in this heartbreaking crisis.” David Miliband, former UK Foreign Secretary and president of the International Rescue Committee, called Trump’s veto “morally wrong.”
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s main coalition partner, the UAE, welcomed Trump’s decision. Abu Dhabi called the veto “timely and strategic.”
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was the lead sponsor of the Yemen War Powers Resolution in the U.S. Senate. “The people of Yemen desperately need humanitarian help, not more bombs,” tweeted Sanders. “I am disappointed but not surprised that Trump has rejected the bipartisan resolution to end U.S. involvement in the horrific war in Yemen.”
Trump’s motivations are obvious. He is far from the first president to be heavily influenced by Saudi Arabia. Successive U.S. administrations have supported the increasingly extreme Saudi leadership due to a close alliance that essentially boils down to the Gulf state’s enormous oil reserves and lucrative contracts for U.S.-manufactured arms.
The enormity of Trump’s action is evident from the human cost of this war. Every 10 minutes a child dies in Yemen as a result of the conflict, either from starvation or from preventable, often waterborne, diseases such as dengue and cholera. 24 million Yemenis are currently in need of humanitarian relief.
Perhaps most strikingly, 7,000 civilians have been killed so far in the war, 65 percent of those deaths attributed to the coalition airstrikes, including targets on no-strike lists such as school buses, hospitals, and essential infrastructure.
While the Trump administration’s complicity is clear, Western media must also accept a share of the blame. “In these critical days since Trump’s veto, our media should keep Yemen front and center,” said Isaac Evans-Frantz, a spokesperson for Action Corps NYC, who spoke at the conference. This has been far from the case, with the war in Yemen typically ignored in favor of stories of far less urgent human consequence. “President Trump is prioritizing his own sense of authority over the lives of millions of people in Yemen,” said Franz. He also accused the president of elevating “the interests of Saudi Arabia above the U.S. Constitution and American values.”
While many Americans called for Congress to override Trump’s veto, the Senate vote on May 2 failed to do so. The 53-45 vote to overturn Trump’s decision fell well short of the required two-thirds majority.
Trump’s actions are a threat not only to the people of Yemen but also to U.S. democracy.
For many, Trump’s actions are a threat not only to the people of Yemen but also to U.S. democracy. The present administration seems to be more interested in acquiescing to the wishes of the Saudi regime than in upholding the U.S. Constitution, which expressly provides that the right to declare war lies with Congress, not with the executive.
Following Congress’ failure to override the veto, U.S. citizens are far from powerless to effect change. Continued pressure on members of Congress to limit military aid to Saudi, such as logistical support and intel sharing may yet be effective. Citizens can also demand that the UN place sanctions on the Saudi-led coalition for its repeated war crimes committed in Yemen, often carried out with U.S.- and British-made weaponry.
Inside Arabia’s public awareness campaign during the UN General Assembly Session in September 2018 and events such as the one hosted by the Palestinian American Community Center on April 14, are also important ways to demonstrate concern and raise public awareness.
Academics and politicians play a critical role, but this issue need not be overtly political, nor require complex intellectual justification. It is simply incumbent upon all citizens of democracies whose governments are complicit in atrocities to do what they can to bring an end to the appalling and unnecessary suffering of the people of Yemen.