Congress Should End US Military Backing for the Saudis’ War in Yemen

Each day since October 2, new evidence has emerged that the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a resident of Virginia, was a premeditated murder. At the same time, it is also increasingly clear that the murder was approved at the highest levels of the Saudi Arabian government, most likely including the current ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

The Saudis at first maintained that Khashoggi had left the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, alive; they then claimed, incredulously, that he was killed there in the course of a fist fight. But we also know that a team of 15 Saudis, including “an autopsy expert” and others with links to Saudi high officials and intelligence, was flown in at dawn on October 2.

In the past four years, the United States has supplied 60 percent of Saudi arms purchases. Should the US government cut off weapons sales to Saudi Arabia in response to this atrocity? Of course they should. But President Trump has opposed this measure, and the Washington Post reported that Congress might not even have a chance to vote on it.

However, there is something vastly more important and obvious that the US Congress can do ― regardless of what Trump wants ― about Saudi atrocities. Congress can stop US participation in the Saudis’ genocidal war in Yemen.

Since 2015, the US military has been providing midair refueling to Saudi and UAE planes conducting airstrikes that have killed thousands of civilians in Yemen ― including a school bus with 40 children that was hit with a US-made bomb in August. These bombing raids have hit water, sewage, and other vital infrastructure, causing thousands more deaths and a million people infected with cholera.

But most catastrophically, the air strikes and the Saudi blockade and siege of Yemen’s major port city have caused the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today, with 14 million people on the brink of starvation, according to the UN. The New York Times editorial board has noted that the Saudis were trying to “starve Yemen into submission,” and that this constituted “war crimes.”

Congress can stop these horrific crimes, because the Saudi and UAE bombers are dependent on midair refueling from US planes. The US also provides assistance with targeting and intelligence, and logistics.

There are currently bipartisan bills in both houses of Congress to cut off US participation in the war. House Concurrent Resolution 138, introduced by Ro Khanna (D-CA), has 60 co-sponsors. These include high-level leadership, such as the ranking Democratic members of the Foreign Affairs, Armed Services, Appropriations, and Judiciary Committees. The Senate bill, led by Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Mike Lee (R-UT), got 44 votes in February and is likely to get a majority in the wake of the Khashoggi murder.

These bills have been introduced under the 1973 War Powers Resolution, a law that reinforced the Constitution’s provision that Congress should decide whether or not the US military should be deployed in war. Under the two resolutions, if the Congress votes to end US military participation in the Saudi war, the president will have 30 days to withdraw.

In the coming months, tens of thousands of people across the country will be contacting their representatives and senators to persuade them to vote to end this war that has nothing to do with US national security. They will be up against some of the most powerful interests in the world: the military-industrial complex ― including the weapons manufacturers that Trump has expressed concerns about ― as well as the national security state. But if enough people participate in this effort, the war will end.

This column originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune.

Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. and president of Just Foreign Policy. He is also the author of  Failed: What the “Experts” Got Wrong About the Global Economy (Oxford University Press, 2015).