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Why Do Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Todd Young Want to Continue Starving Yemeni Children?

Saudi oil money has strong allies in Congress.

A Yemeni child carried by his mother waits to receive vaccine against diphtheria disease at a health center on March 13, 2018, in Sana'a, Yemen. (Photo: Mohammed Hamoud / Getty Images)

A Senate vote is expected within days on the Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont)-Mike Lee (R-Utah)-Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) bill (S.J.Res.54) ending the US’s unauthorized participation in the catastrophic Saudi war in Yemen. Ending US participation will end the war and save millions of Yemenis now living on the brink of famine as a direct and deliberate result of the US-backed Saudi war and the US-backed Saudi blockade of food, medicine and fuel from entering Yemen through its Red Sea ports like Hodeida that supply the capital, Sana. The Saudi war and blockade have produced the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, including the worst cholera crisis since records have been kept.

Current co-sponsors of the Sanders-Lee-Murphy bill include Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts), Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Ron Wyden (D-Oregon).

The United States has crucially supported the catastrophic Saudi-UAE war in Yemen in multiple ways. The US has armed the Saudis and Emiratis for their war. Together with Theresa May’s government in the UK, the US has given the catastrophic Saudi-UAE war diplomatic cover at the United Nations, helping prevent the UN Security Council from even discussing a Security Council resolution that would order an unconditional ceasefire and an end to the Saudi blockade. But the US is also refueling the Saudi and UAE planes during their bombing runs and providing them targeting information. These last two things — the refueling and targeting — directly implicate Congressional war powers.

Under Article I of the Constitution, reaffirmed by the War Powers Resolution in 1973, Congress, not the President, decides when to authorize the use of force if the United States has not been attacked and is not in imminent danger of being attacked. The War Powers Resolution explicitly states that coordinating foreign forces and participating in the movement of foreign forces engaged in combat implicate Congress’ Constitutional war powers. Congress has never authorized US participation in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. Since Congress has not authorized US participation, under legislation passed 10 years after the War Powers Resolution whose constitutionality has never been disputed, Senators can force a vote on a joint resolution ending US participation in these unauthorized hostilities.

The invocation of congressional war powers will force a floor vote. But the impending floor vote has provoked Senators who support Saudi Arabia to employ Washington dirty tricks to try to protect Saudi dictator Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and allow his war crimes in Yemen to continue. Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Republican Senator Todd Young of Indiana are conspiring to try to sabotage the vote on the Sanders-Lee-Murphy bill, reports Mark Weisbrot at The Nation. In an attempt to drain support from the Sanders-Lee-Murphy bill, they have introduced a competing bill that would allow US participation in the war to continue, while falsely claiming that theirs is a “reform” bill that would “get something done.”

The Young-Shaheen bill would endorse continued unauthorized US participation in Saudi Arabia’s war provided that Donald Trump’s Secretary of State “certifies” to Congress that the Government of Saudi Arabia is undertaking “(1) an urgent and good faith effort to conduct diplomatic negotiations to end the civil war in Yemen; and (2) appropriate measures to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Yemen by increasing access for all Yemenis to food, fuel, and medicine.”

As long as Trump is President, the Secretary of State is Trump’s employee. Trump and Saudi dictator Mohammed bin Salman are bosom buddies. Mohammed bin Salman is the chief architect of the Saudi war in Yemen. Trump’s Secretary of State — now Rex Tillerson, soon to be current CIA director Mike Pompeo, an uber-hawk, if Trump gets his way — will make the Young-Shaheen certification faster than you can say “Saudi oil money” — even if the Saudi government doesn’t do a single thing differently in the future than they have done in the past.

As Weisbrot notes:

Of course, the secretary of state could simply make this certification. We have seen this trick many times. In the 1980s in El Salvador, where the US-funded government sponsored death squads that were murdering civilians by the thousands, Congress passed a law saying that the president had to certify every six months that the Salvadoran government was improving its human-rights record. President Reagan did this, and the murders and other horrific atrocities, aided by US tax dollars, continued.

We can expect the same result going forward if the Young-Shaheen bill is passed. Most recently, the Trump administration has followed that same pattern in Central America: Just two days after the Honduran government was widely seen as stealing the presidential election, and despite worsening human-rights abuses, the administration certified that the government was combating corruption and supporting human rights.

A vote for the Young-Shaheen bill would be a vote to continue US participation in the Saudi war in Yemen for another year, exactly as it is today. A vote for the Young-Shaheen bill would be a vote to continue starving Yemeni children to death for another year exactly as they are being starved to death today.

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