Sanders Caves to White House on Yemen War Powers Resolution

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Tuesday evening, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) withdrew the Yemen War Powers Resolution (WPR) which he had introduced in July and which the Senate was about to consider.  Sanders tweeted that he and the Biden Administration had agreed to work on a compromise War Powers Resolution with “mutually acceptable” language.

Did Bernie conclude that he didn’t have the votes for the WPR to pass? Bernie’s WPR did not attract a single Republican co-sponsor, not even antiwar libertarian Rand Paul (R-KY).  The  Intercept said that “advocates believed they had five to eight Republicans lined up to vote yes, but that sounds wildly overoptimistic.

Or doesn’t Sanders want to buck the president?  The White House lobbied hard against the WPR.  I thought of the politician who Theodore Roosevelt had described as having “the spine of a chocolate éclair.”

Biden’s Yemen Policy: Dishonest and Ineffective

The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft said that withdrawing the WPR “may embolden the many members of Washington’s foreign policy elite who would like to ensure that the president’s capability to unilaterally wage war remains unchallenged by Congress’s constitutional prerogative over matters of war and peace.”

Another negative consequence of withdrawing the resolution is that it allows the Administration to stall.  Attempting to craft a fresh WPR with “mutually acceptable” language is a recipe for endless negotiations.

While I was writing this, I ran across an article about Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA) on the California news site SFGate.  Senator Padilla’s flimsy objections to a War Powers Resolution demonstrate why drafting a new WPR is a terrible idea.

SFGate begins: “One of Padilla’s main concerns, according to a spokesperson, was that the bill did not have President Joe Biden’s support.”

Duh.  Of course, the WPR doesn’t have President Biden’s support.  The whole point of a War Powers Resolution is to force the executive to do something he or she refuses to do.  Biden could have issued an executive order on his first day in office ending US support for the Saudi coalition.  Biden chose instead to pursue a ceasefire and a negotiated peace.  That policy has failed.  It’s time to force the president’s hand.

Padilla believes that the Yemen WPR is unnecessary because, according to Padilla’s spokesperson: “The President has followed through on his promise to end support for Saudi-led offensive operations.”

He has?

In his first major foreign policy speech as president on February 4, 2021, Biden announced that he was “ending all support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arms sales.”  That hasn’t happened.  As Dr. Aisha Jumaan, founder and president of the Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation, and I demonstrated in Common Dreams, Biden has merely reduced US support for the bloodbath that Yemenis call the “Saudi-American war.”  The US still sells the Saudis vast quantities of weapons.  The US also continues to service and provide essential spare parts for Saudi warplanes.  Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst now at the Brookings Institution, is just one of the experts who declares that without US spare parts the Royal Saudi Air Force which has been bombing Yemen for the past seven years would be “grounded.”

Padilla isn’t the first to erroneously believe that Biden has honored his promise to end US support for “offensive operations” in Yemen.  A writer in the May 27, 2021 New York Review of Books made the same mistake.  So does a December 7 Politico article.  Politico thinks the US is only providing defensive assistance to the Saudis.  However, reframing offensive measures as defensive is easy, and this is what the Biden Administration has done.

SFGate continues: “In recent months, the Administration has engaged in robust diplomatic efforts which have proven effective in suspending the violence in Yemen….”  Not so.  Biden’s Yemen diplomacy has been a bust.  Yemen’s three-month truce, which expired on October 2, was brokered by the UN, not the US.

The Intercept notes that

“Jamal Benomar, formerly U.N. under-secretary-general who served as special envoy for Yemen until 2015, was critical of the White House’s claim that it was engaged in diplomacy, much less that the war powers resolution would imperil that. ‘There’s been no diplomatic progress whatsoever,’ he told The Intercept. ‘There’s been no political process, no negotiations, or even a prospect of them. So an all-out war can resume at any time.’”

A second Sanders tweet declared: “Let me be clear. If we do not reach agreement, I will, along with my colleagues, bring this resolution back for a vote in the near future and do everything possible to end this horrific conflict.”

For Yemen’s sake, let’s hope that Bernie does not wait long.

Charles Pierson is a lawyer and a member of the Pittsburgh Anti-Drone Warfare Coalition. E-mail him at