House GOP Seeks to Curb Yemen War

As national Democrats claim the mantle as the more hawkish party — and President Trump panders to the Saudi-Israeli tandem — House Republicans moved to curb U.S. support for the Saudi-led war on Yemen, Dennis J Bernstein notes.

By Dennis J Bernstein

Republicans are taking the lead in blocking U.S. participation in the Saudi slaughter in Yemen, which has plunged that country to the brink of starvation and sparked a cholera epidemic. Surprising to many, there was a vote by the Republican-led House of Representatives to block U.S. participation in the Saudi-led war.

The key amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act — prohibiting U.S. military support for the Saudi-led coalition’s bombing of Yemen — was sponsored by Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio. Though the amendment gained bipartisan support — and another restrictive amendment was sponsored by Rep. Dick Nolan, D-Minnesota — the Republican leadership on this issue reflects the changing places in which Democrats have become the more hawkish party in Congress.

I spoke to Kate Gould, Legislative Representative for Middle East Policy for the Friends Committee on National Legislation about this pressing issue of life and death in Yemen. We spoke on July 17.

Dennis Bernstein: Well, this is a terrible situation and getting worse by the day. Could you please remind everyone what it looks like in Yemen on the ground?

Kate Gould: It is a catastrophic situation. According to the United Nations, it is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world right now. And despite the fact that this humanitarian crisis has been a direct result of the Saudi/United Arab Emirate-led war in Yemen, backed by the United States, most Americans have no idea that we are so deeply involved in this war.

A conservative estimate is that seven million people are on the verge of starvation, half a million being children. The people in Yemen are experiencing the world’s largest cholera outbreak. A child under the age of five is dying every ten minutes of preventable causes. Every 35 seconds a child is infected.

This is all preventable with access to clean water and basic sanitation. This war has destroyed the civilian infrastructure in Yemen. We’re talking about air strikes that have targeted warehouses of food, sanitation systems, water infiltration systems. The World Health Organization points out that cholera is not difficult to prevent. The problem is that so many Yemenis lack access to clean water as a result of the infrastructure being in ruins.

DB: What about the medical infrastructure, what about the ability to deal with this kind of epidemic, or is it just going to get worse?

KG: Well, unless we do something to change the situation, it is definitely going to get worse. In Yemen, 90% of food is imported and the Saudis have made this much more difficult. They imposed more restraints on one of the major ports and have refused to allow Yemen to repair the damage caused by air strikes. Often it is difficult for ships to get permission to berth. All these complications have driven up the price of food so that even when food manages to be imported it is too expensive, even for those earning decent incomes. So what we are seeing is a de facto blockade as well as a war.

Saudi King Salman meets with President Barack Obama at Erga Palace during a state visit to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 27, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

DB: Could you say a few words about the campaign of the Saudi military and what kind of weaponry they are using? Later I would like to discuss US support for all of this.

KG: The Saudi-led war began about two and a half years ago in March, 2015. At that time they asked for US support and got it from the Obama administration. The air campaign has resulted in the carpet bombing of Yemen. It is the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates who have been driving this massive bombardment. There has been an all-out assault on civilians and civilian infrastructure.

And, of course, as Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) has pointed out, the Saudis would not have been able to carry out this bombing without full US support. Their planes cannot fly without US refueling capacity. In fact, since October the US has actually doubled the amount of fuel it provides to Saudi and Emirati bombers. Last October is significant because at that time there was a major bombing of mourners coming out of a funeral hall which killed about 140 civilians and wounded another six hundred. Since that atrocity, the US has doubled its refueling support.

DB: How does the US justify its support for the Saudis, from a human rights perspective?

KG: We’ve heard very little discussion of the human rights angle from the Trump administration. The Obama administration claimed to be pressuring the Saudis to take precautions to prevent civilian casualties, that this is why the US has provided precision-guided smart bombs, to limit civilian casualties. There has never been an official US response to the fact that the Saudis and Emiratis are deliberately pushing millions to the verge of starvation. They are using hunger as a political tool to get better leverage on the battlefield and at the negotiating table. This is really what is driving the humanitarian nightmare.

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump are welcomed with bouquets of flowers, May 20, 2017, on their arrival to King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks)

DB: We know that Trump was just in Saudi Arabia and signed a massive weapons contract. Will this weaponry contribute to the coming famine and cholera epidemic?

KG: Certainly. It is providing the Saudis a blank check for this devastating war in which direct casualties from airstrikes are conservatively estimated at around 10,000 and millions of people have been displaced. It sends the message that the United States is willing to support the Saudis despite massive human rights violations.

DB: There is no way the US or the Saudis can deny the tragedy. This has been thoroughly documented by US and international rights groups.

KG: But what they will often say is that a lot of the fault lies with the Houthi rebel groups. And it is certainly true that the Houthi rebels have committed massive human rights violations. But as far as the mass devastation of public infrastructure is concerned, which is leading to the humanitarian crisis, the majority of the blame can be assigned to the Saudi-led war and the US backing.

Repeatedly, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, responding to the scene of unlawful airstrikes against civilian targets, have found either unexploded US-made bombs or identifiable fragments of US bombs. This was the case with the bombing of the funeral procession last October. Still, the US government claims that it is trying to limit civilian casualties.

DB: It is interesting that the Republican-led House has voted to block US participation in the war in Yemen. It seems somewhat counter-intuitive.

KG: It is definitely surprising. Although I’ve been working around the clock on this recently, even I was surprised. What happened is that last week [week of July 9] the House of Representatives voted on the major military policy bill for fiscal year 2018. This is a major piece of national security legislation which authorizes funding for the Pentagon. It has to get passed every year and it provides an opportunity for members to vote on amendments that have to do with national security.

Two of these amendments were particularly consequential for Yemen. One was introduced by a Republican, Warren Davidson of Ohio, and the other by Rick Nolan, a Democrat from Minnesota. They added language that would require the Trump administration to stop providing refueling for Saudi and Emirati bombers, as well as to stop intelligence sharing and other forms of military support. It wouldn’t stop the weapons sales, which is another process, but it would stop military support for this indiscriminate war.

The Davidson amendment would prohibit US military action in Yemen that is not authorized by the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force. Given that US participation in the Saudi-led war in Yemen is not targeting Al-Qaeda, it is not authorized by the 2001 AUMF and is prohibited by this amendment. The Nolan amendment prohibits the deployment of US troops for any participation in Yemen’s civil war.

This means that the House just voted to end US funding of our military for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. This is really unprecedented and it builds on the wave of congressional momentum that we saw last month when 47 senators voted against sending more of what we call “weapons of mass starvation” to Yemen. So we have clear signals from both the House and the Senate that there is no support for Trump’s blank check to Saudi Arabia for this devastating war.

DB: So now this goes to the Senate?

KG: Yes, and there we are going to face a more difficult fight. We’re preparing for that now. We definitely will see some important Yemen votes in the Senate. It could come up right after a health care vote in early August or it might not be voted on until the fall. But we will see votes on Yemen. It is unclear whether a Senate member will offer amendments similar to the Davidson or Nolan amendments.

A neighborhood in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa after an airstrike, October 9, 2015. (Wikipedia)

After the Senate votes on the various amendments, they will both have versions of this and they will have to come back and conference a final version to send to the president. This is definitely a time to push our senators to follow suit with the House and oppose US involvement in this devastating war in Yemen.

DB: Finally, who are some of these Republican Congressional members who stood up in this effort to restrain this oncoming famine? Who were some of the surprise votes?

KG: Actually, this was added in a whole block of legislation so we can’t point to exactly who supported and who opposed it. It was good to see Warren Davidson taking a leadership role on this issue. He is relatively new in the Senate, having taken [Former House Speaker John] Boehner’s seat. It is noteworthy also that the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Mac Thornberry from Texas, allowed this amendment to go forward. Just that the House Republican leadership allowed this to move forward is really interesting in itself.

DB: Yes, it is. It seems to me that the Democrats have really become out-of-control Cold Warriors, either lost in Russia-gate or dropping the ball on this very important foreign policy issue. We thank you, Kate Gould, Legislative Representative for Middle East Policy with the Friends Committee on National Legislation.

KG: And I just want to say that we can win on this one and we need everybody to get involved. You can go to our website, fcnl.org, to get more information. Again, 47 Senators voted last month to block these bomb sales and we only need 51 votes. And with Trump’s massive arms deal with Saudi Arabia, I’m sure we will have more votes on this. But it is really important to stay engaged and we need everybody to get involved and contact your members of Congress.

Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net.

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24 comments for “House GOP Seeks to Curb Yemen War

  1. Realist
    July 26, 2017 at 4:06 am

    What a bizarre place is the U.S. congress. The GOPers are totally on board with fighting Russia over the matters of Syria and Ukraine, but Yemen is somehow a bridge too far for them? They want U.S. boots in Syria and U.S. weapons in Ukraine, but some semblance of “peace” in Yemen, of all places (such low hanging fruit)? On the Syrian and Ukrainian conflicts they see eye-to-eye with the Dems, when, if they wanted, they could conveniently bail and blame the fiascoes all on Obama. So they, or their Deep State handlers, really really want the confrontation with Russia and all the risk that entails, but they get squeamish over a potential half million starving kids in Yemen? Even against the wishes of their Saudi patrons? If the Dems were still in charge, they’d trot out Madeleine Albright to tell us how it’s all worth it. She could also throw in, “What’s the point of having this superb military that you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?” Never thought I’d live to see the day when the GOPers turned peaceniks! Or, is there really something else going on here?

    • PurpleDreams
      July 26, 2017 at 6:46 am

      Excellent point!

    • LJ
      July 26, 2017 at 5:20 pm

      There is a strong anti interventionist sentiment in the libertarian branch of the Republican Party. And they don’t like the Saudis any more than you do. A guy like Tom McClintock for instance who represents the district I vote and basically faces no challenge from anyone even though it has been revealed that he doesn’t live in El Dorado County ,CA is a free market ideologue. Occasionally he lands on a side of an issue that might seem inconsistent if you didn’t understand that in the final analysis he loves this country and believes in it and in the Constitution. Unfortunately I can’t say that about Democratic loyalties at times . Both parties chant a :Show me the money” mantra . It is obvious what happened to the Democratic Party , what happened to Eric Cantor? The base has a say . Who could support the Saudis in Yemen? Bahrain? That’s even worse but hey the 5th Fleet has to port somewhere right?

      • Realist
        July 26, 2017 at 6:56 pm

        I can see that has been the case for the past few years and have said so, praising GOPers such as David Stockman, PCR, Pat Buchanan, Tucker Carlson, Ron Paul and Rand Paul among others. There is not much common sense or logic to be found in either party, but there is a tad more on the libertarian GOP side than on the liberal Democratic side which has completely lost its collective mind in defense of Hillary and Obama. I was a registered Dem because there was generally rather less bad craziness there, but that’s not true any more. No party has my knee-jerk allegiance. I did not vote for Hillary and will not vote for any Dem on the horizon unless it is Tulsi Gabbard. All the young blood is strict neocon/neoliberal in orientation leading to a bleak scenario for our future. Some analysts say the American economy and its world empire will collapse by 2030, guaranteed if the current policies persist and we don’t blow up the world.

        • occupy on
          July 30, 2017 at 10:44 am

          After the Senate voting 98 to 2 to add further sanctions on Russia for…..(what was that again?) …. with Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders voting ‘no’, I’d say two new parties have a chance of emerging to to take control of our country out of the hands of the Democratic and Republican Parties. Those two horrors have proven over and over their allegiance to Wall Street (with War its biggest return on the investment dollar) and the right-wing Israeli take-over of the Middle East. History is ready for a Bernie- type independent party and a Rand Paul-type independent party. They can call their parties whatever they want. It’s happening all over the world – why not here?

    • Pandas4Peace
      July 27, 2017 at 2:47 pm

      Newt Gingrich told Sean Hannity Trump’s number one goal is to prevent war. The economy is 2nd. I was really surprised to hear this.

  2. July 26, 2017 at 7:46 am

    It is bizarre, Realist, and we never know the real motives for these turns. The GOP has temporarily, and perhaps permanently, lost its chief warmonger, John McCain. The Russia harangue has lost effect. Saudi Arabia is having problems since their new leader, Mohammed bin Salman, has taken over, and the Yemen disaster is part of it. Nouri Al-Maliki met with Putin to ask for Russian military and political aid in Iraq after the disastrous siege of Mosul. Macron realizes the EU necessity of doing business with Russia. At least world acquiescence to USA and NATO warmaking is no longer acceptable. We must make sure Blackwater doesn’t take over Afghanistan. What a summer!

  3. July 26, 2017 at 8:03 am

    Well, I’m wrong on McCain. He is not going to “go gently into that good night”. He’s trying to make himself look like a savior of healthcare, says he’s returning to his seat. We’ll see.

    • Realist
      July 26, 2017 at 9:12 am

      McCain hasn’t started chemotherapy yet. When he does, he will not feel like doing anything, he will feel wretched most of the time. I went through six months of that two years ago and the “cure” is worse than the disease.

      • July 26, 2017 at 1:13 pm

        Realist…Your recovery has been to our benefit

        • Realist
          July 26, 2017 at 7:00 pm

          Thanks. So far, so good.

  4. July 26, 2017 at 12:02 pm

    U.S. Yemeni Policy: HEAR NO EVIL, SPEAK NO EVIL, SEE NO EVIL…SIMPLY FINANCE IT!

  5. roza shanina
    July 26, 2017 at 1:23 pm

    Not sure what to make of this. Perhaps some other CN head has an answer.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Myy7IQphmPM

    God help us all. And especially the poor souls in Yemen.

  6. Joe Tedesky
    July 26, 2017 at 1:59 pm

    O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst . . . .

    – From “The War Prayer” by Mark Twain

    https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/07/26/beauty-of-our-weapons-in-the-war-on-yemen/

    Author George Capaccio mixes prayer with sarcasm.

  7. PhilW
    July 26, 2017 at 2:23 pm

    Journalists have been banned from Yemen. Why? To hide American/British/Canadian/Israeli/Qatari/Saudi war crimes; all of these countries have supported the war. Reports of white phosphorous munitions and cluster bombs (both illegal) have been rampant. Cholera vaccines have been set aside (one million doses) for Yemen but will need to be diverted to Africa because all the ports and airports are shut down. 8 million Yemeni civilians are at risk of starvation and cholera. 8 million!! Precision bombs to lessen the toll on civilians… how do they keep a straight face? Bombs might be more humane.

    • Gregory Herr
      July 26, 2017 at 7:00 pm

      Indeed, how do they keep a straight face? How dare they put their large capital city and funeral ceremony in the way of our military strike!

  8. July 26, 2017 at 2:23 pm

    The question is this, regarding Yemen, Iraq, Libya, Syria and other countries:
    “When Are The Past and Present Leaders of a Number of Countries Going To Be Arrested For Financing, Training, Arming and Assisting Terrorists?”
    [more info at link below]
    http://graysinfo.blogspot.ca/2017/07/when-are-past-and-present-leaders-of.html

  9. July 26, 2017 at 2:36 pm

    “The Coalition of Carnage” needs to be arrested for war crimes.
    [more info at link below]
    http://graysinfo.blogspot.ca/2017/07/the-coalition-of-carnage.html

  10. LJ
    July 26, 2017 at 3:04 pm

    For Bernstein to lend himself to anyone saying the Republicans are better than the Dems on War and Peace these days and on Yemen must not leave a great taste in his mouth. Awful falafel? . US support of Saudi Actions in Yemen (Whatever happened in Bahrain? by the way) is a disgrace but let’s not forget Syria and Libya and all the other poor humans from all of the nations that were overwhelmed from the backlash of the “ARAB SPRING”.. Libya especially. The USA was and is on the wrong side every time. Destroying Libya and placing Nigerians and other henchmen in the forefront of the African Union has been a disaster that will cause pain in Africa for at least another generation. The Middle East , two generations. The guy who is in charge now, or becoming more powerful than others in Libya, Hafter, is the guy we tried to force or the rebels in the first place. How many years has this taken? The country has been destroyde but the oil still flows. Haftner is a US Citizen who lived in Langley for 20 years . He is a direct CIA asset. A 73 year old strongman ? What a joke. He’s not a General and doesn’t conduct any military actions . He is a front for the US and UAE and Saudis,.a sham .. Our government’s foreign policy is evil. WE make the Brits look like Mother Theresa.

  11. July 26, 2017 at 6:06 pm

    Why are the War Criminals Still Free? Mass arrests of these villains are needed right now!
    ———————————————————————–
    April 20, 2017
    “Who Will Arrest The War Criminals? Or Has Justice Been Subverted?”
    http://graysinfo.blogspot.ca/2017/04/who-will-arrest-war-criminals-or-has.html

  12. mike k
    July 26, 2017 at 6:13 pm

    Evil people in the US and Saudi Arabia conspiring to murder millions. Do the American people care? You wouldn’t know it from the deafening silence. This nation is spiritually dead, just as MLK deemed it. The silent majority will not lift a finger to help starving and murdered fellow beings being persecuted by their nation. And people wonder why we need a spiritual awakening? It doesn’t have to be something fancy – just stop abetting the murder of millions.

    • Eddie
      July 28, 2017 at 9:57 pm

      “It doesn’t have to be something fancy – just stop abetting the murder of millions.”

      Yes ‘mike k’, I have to agree with you there. After thinking about it a lot during my life, and taking a few classes in ethics & philosophy (which admittedly often seemed to complicate things more than resolve them), I eventually settled on a simple moral principle of ‘don’t harm innocent beings’ as a very basic dictum for myself at least, preferably with wider applicability. So even IF we can’t directly help all the world’s suffering people, we sure as hell can EASILY STOP MAKING IT WORSE FOR THEM as we currently do by pushing a military solution to virtually every world problem!

  13. Patrick McCann
    July 27, 2017 at 11:45 am

    Democrats, the new war party!

  14. Bart in Virginia
    July 27, 2017 at 4:09 pm

    “In Yemen, 90% of food is imported and the Saudis have made this much more difficult.”

    Sounds like an airlift is in order. Food, cholera vaccines and antibiotics, and pallets of Pedialyte.

Comments are closed.