The recent breaching of the United States’ embassy in Yemen’s capital city of Sanaa by rebel forces, and the detaining of Yemeni employees of the embassy, is the latest escalation in a war that has gone on for far too long. It is a war that the United States has supported and remains deeply involved in. It’s time for that complicity to end.
For more than six years, Saudi-led military intervention into Yemen’s civil war on behalf of Yemen’s exiled government against Yemeni rebels has been a key driver of the largest humanitarian disaster in the world. “The country’s economy has reached new depths of collapse, and a third wave of the pandemic is threatening to crash the country’s already fragile healthcare system,” United Nations humanitarian relief coordinator, Martin Griffiths, said in September, with millions “a step away from starvation”.
Under first the Obama and then the Trump administration, the United States was Saudi Arabia’s partner in this horrific war. In 2019, Congress made history by passing its first War Powers Resolution through both chambers of Congress, pressing Donald Trump to end this support. It marked the first time that Congress invoked the War Powers Resolution of 1973 to direct the president to withdraw troops from an undeclared war.
We were proud to lead this effort. The passage of that resolution has implications far beyond Yemen and opened a much broader and extremely important debate about how and when the United States uses our military to wage war, and the sole constitutional authority of Congress to authorize that use.
We welcomed the Biden administration’s announcement earlier this year that it would end support for “offensive” military operations led by Saudi Arabia in Yemen and name a special envoy to help bring this conflict to an end. But the crisis has only continued. American defense contractors continue to service Saudi planes that are waging this war and the United States just announced new arms sales to the Saudis. We are aware that ending US military support for Saudi Arabia’s brutal assault will not alone end the multi-sided conflict in Yemen. The Houthis are launching bloody attacks on the central Yemeni city of Marib and launching cross-border attacks on Saudi territory. Violence has also erupted between rival factions in the south of Yemen. A UN expert panel found that all parties to the conflict may have committed war crimes.
The US may not be able to stop all the violence it helped create, but it can stop enabling Saudi warplanes to bomb Yemeni civilians. Doing so will save lives – not only the Yemenis spared in Saudi bombing runs, but also by utilizing its leverage to pressure Saudi Arabia to lift the blockade on Yemen, which continues to block fuel and other essential imports into the country, pushing millions of Yemenis toward the brink of starvation. Lifting the blockade must happen immediately and be delinked from final peace negotiation talks.
We have proposed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to finally end all US support for the Saudi war effort. The House already passed this amendment for the third consecutive year. Given that this amendment simply codifies a prohibition on providing support for the Saudi war that already passed both houses of Congress in 2019 – legislation supported at the time by multiple officials now in the Biden-Harris administration – it is long overdue for this provision to be included in the final defense policy bill that is sent to the president’s desk.
It is essential we pass this amendment to restore US credibility as an arbiter of peace in Yemen. But that alone is not enough. The US must support an international observer mission alongside the Saudi-Yemeni border and spearhead generous development efforts to rebuild Yemen. This aid should be focused on bolstering localized humanitarian and development initiatives like Yemen’s Social Fund for Development. We also must dramatically increase our diplomatic engagement to press Saudi Arabia, the Riyadh-based Republic of Yemen government, and the Houthis to accept the UN’s roadmap as the basis for a compromise that ends foreign military intervention and allow Yemenis to come to an agreement. The war has gone on too long, and it’s time we begin to take bold steps on the path to peace.
This column first appeared in The Guardian.