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Biden Must Address Yemen on Day One and Move Immediately to Prevent Future Wars

A war powers resolution would set a powerful precedent, while also reversing course in Yemen.

Yemeni relatives visit graves of their relatives who were killed in the ongoing Yemeni civil war at a cemetery on November 6, 2020 in Sana'a, Yemen.

Going on six years of war and four years of President Trump’s complete disregard for the lives of millions of Yemenis caught in the crossfire, President-elect Joe Biden has promised a policy reset. He has repeatedly called for an end to U.S. participation and weapons in the brutal Yemen conflict.

Biden underscored this in October when he said, “Under a Biden-Harris administration, we will reassess our relationship with the Kingdom [of Saudi Arabia], end US support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, and make sure America does not check its values at the door to sell arms or buy oil.”

These long-overdue course corrections will help save lives and accelerate an end to this terrible war, but the Biden administration must do more. It should work to restore and expand humanitarian assistance across Yemen, pressure the Saudi coalition to end its blockade and lead with determined diplomacy to pressure all parties back to the negotiating table to finally find a lasting peace.

This policy reset will come at a critical time, as the UN is warning of famine in the next few months if conditions don’t improve. “We are on a countdown right now to a catastrophe,” World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley told the UN Security Council. “If we choose to look away, there’s no doubt in my mind Yemen will be plunged into a devastating famine within a few short months.”

The Saudi- and United Arab Emirates (UAE)-led war has pushed 10 million Yemenis to the brink of famine and caused over 24 million people to rely on food assistance for survival. Aid agencies have described Yemen as the worst place on Earth to be a child, with the conflict claiming the lives of at least 85,000 under the age of 5. Recent reports indicate that over 100,000 children in Yemen’s southern provinces face acute malnutrition and death if urgent humanitarian action is not taken.

To end U.S. complicity in this war, President-elect Biden must start his policy reset on day one by stopping weapons deliveries to the Saudi-UAE coalition, including Trump’s recently proposed $23 billion sale to the UAE. Biden must work with Congress to pass a Yemen War Powers Resolution prohibiting intelligence sharing, logistical support and spare parts transfers for coalition airstrikes. Such a demonstration of support from Congress will help Biden exert meaningful pressure on the warring parties to end the violence.

Additionally, becoming the first president to sign a war powers resolution into law will help Biden prevent similar future catastrophes by recognizing the constitutional role of Congress in decisions to go to war. It will set a powerful precedent, deterring presidents from using military force without congressional debate and an affirmative vote to approve such action.

Rep. Ro Khanna of California recently expressed support for this idea, saying, “I believe that’s something we should do right in January and have President Biden sign that War Powers Resolution. He has indicated a willingness to do that. That would be an incredible signal.”

Secondly, Biden should immediately reverse the Trump administration’s decision to suspend tens of millions in humanitarian aid funds to northern Yemen, and work to expand funding to address malnutrition and disease there. He must pressure Saudi Arabia and the UAE to meet and expand their humanitarian funding pledges for Yemen.

Lastly, to end this war as soon as possible, the Biden administration must work with the United Nations to bring about a political settlement to the conflict. His administration must double down on the diplomacy needed to bring the warring parties to a ceasefire, end the blockade and create a lasting peace that includes all parts of Yemeni society. Biden must also oppose any designation of the Houthis as a “foreign terrorist organization,” as the Trump administration has threatened, as it would not only impede the delivery of humanitarian aid, but also make peace negotiations nearly impossible.

Six years of unimaginable human suffering is more than enough. Yemen can’t wait any longer. With urgency, President Biden must fulfill his promise to cut support for the war and prevent Yemen from plunging further into famine. By working with Congress, the United Nations, U.S. allies, regional and local actors, and representatives of Yemeni civil society — especially women — Biden can help all sides find the road to peace in Yemen.  

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