The Senate’s Yemen Vote Is a Historic First

The Senate voted Wednesday to advance a resolution to end military support for the Saudi-led, US-backed war in Yemen. This marks the first time in US history that the Senate has voted to advance a bill to withdraw military forces from an unauthorized war using the War Powers Resolution Act. Wednesday’s vote sets the stage for a possible final vote on the measure within days, and has been seen as a rebuke of President Trump’s handling of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Just hours before the vote, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis held a closed-door briefing with US senators, urging them to vote against the resolution. Administration officials warned senators not to compromise ties with Saudi Arabia over the killing of Khashoggi and said US involvement in the war in Yemen is necessary to counter Iran’s influence in the Middle East. We speak with Shireen Al-Adeimi, Yemeni scholar, activist, and an assistant professor at Michigan State University.

Transcript

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, “Democracynow.org,” The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And I’m Nermeen Shaikh. Welcome to our listeners and viewers around the country and around the world. In a bipartisan effort, the Senate voted Wednesday to advance a resolution to end military support for the Saudi-led, US-backed war in Yemen.

SEN. CORY GARDNER: Are there any Senators in the chamber wishing to change their vote? If not, the yeas are 63, the nays are 37. The motion is agreed to.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: This marks the first time in US history the Senate has voted to advance a bill to withdraw military forces from an unauthorized war using the War Resolutions Act. Wednesday’s vote sets the stage for a possible final vote on the measure within days. It is seen as a rebuke of President Trump’s handling of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Just hours before the vote, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis held a closed-door briefing with senators, urging them to vote against the resolution. Administration officials warned senators not to compromise ties with Saudi Arabia over the killing of Khashoggi. They also said US involvement in the war in Yemen is necessary to counter Iran’s influence in the Middle East.

AMY GOODMAN: The Senate bill is cosponsored by Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders and Utah Republican Mike Lee. This is Senator Sanders speaking from the Senate floor.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: It is a vote to demand that the humanitarian crisis in Yemen be addressed. It is a vote that will tell the despotic dictatorship in Saudi Arabia that we will no longer be part of their destructive military adventurism. And it is a vote, as Senator Lee just mentioned, that says that the United States Senate respects the Constitution of the United States and understands that the issue of war-making, of going to war, of putting our young men and women’s lives at stake, is something determined by the US Congress, not the president of the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Wednesday’s vote came after more than 50 prominent figures and former officials, including two former US ambassadors to Yemen, signed a letter urging Senators Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer to end America’s involvement in the Saudi-led war on Yemen, saying it would “spell the likely end to the broader conflict.”

The Saudi-led war in Yemen has created what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with 14 million of Yemen’s 28 million people on the brink of famine. A recent report by Save the Children estimates 85,000 children under the age of five have died from acute malnutrition brought on by the war.

For more, we are joined by Shireen Al-Adeimi, a Yemeni scholar, activist and assistant professor at Michigan State University. She is also one of the signatories on the letter to Senators McConnell and Schumer. Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Shireen. Can you start off by talking about how this bill passed? It is historic. Again, it doesn’t mean it is moving forward—it simply means that the bill is moving forward, but it is highly significant.

SHIREEN AL-ADEIMI: Right. So this marks the first really big initial victory that we have seen in Congress’ related bills toward ending the war in Yemen. Senator Sanders first introduced this bill in February of this year, and unfortunately it was tabled in March, so they voted not to vote on the bill back in March. Now we are seeing, eight months later, that finally—finally—there is going to be a debate in the Senate on the US’s supported war in Yemen, and there is going to be a vote, which is substantial. We have never come this far, despite the involvement of the US in this war in Yemen over the past nearly four years now. We have never been so close to having a real debate and a vote in the Senate. So this is significant.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Why do you think, Shireen? What’s the difference between what was happening in March and now?

SHIREEN AL-ADEIMI: I think the murder of Khashoggi unfortunately has led to this uncovering of this relationship, this toxic relationship between the Saudis and the US
Unfortunately, these kids in Yemen were dying. They have been dying for almost four years now. Eighty-five thousand is a conservative estimate of the children who have starved to death. These are children under the age of five. The number is likely much higher. And when that was the case back in March, when Senator Sanders and Lee and Murphy were arguing these points that the US is involved in this frankly genocidal war of Yemen, there was very little interest in the Senate. We were building interest, but it still wasn’t enough to be able to pass this resolution forward, just to be able to debate it in Congress.

I think what has changed is that this murder has uncovered this relationship and really the lengths to which the Saudi crown prince would go to achieve his goals. And I think it is off-putting. And for the first time, mainstream media sources were finally covering the war in Yemen and questioning this relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States.
So I think that has brought on a lot of negative attention, and now people maybe don’t want to be associated with this crown prince and his war in Yemen.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s very interesting considering what is happening at the United Nations. You have CNN reporting the US slammed the brakes on a UN Security Council resolution on a cease-fire in Yemen, the move reportedly part of the Trump Administration’s fear of compromising his very close relationship with Saudi Arabia. Seems to counter recent statements by both the US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and senior White House officials including Mattis and Pompeo, who last month called for the cease-fire. And they reported that it was because of the crown prince threw a fit that the US slammed on the brakes. But that didn’t seem to affect at this point. Especially someone like Senator Lindsey Graham, longtime Saudi ally, very close to Trump, who just was infuriated by what happened to Khashoggi and that Gina Haspel wasn’t brought to brief them—the person, the head of the CIA, who said with high certainty they believed that Khashoggi [sic] was involved with ordering the killing. And now the whole questioning of what Saudi Arabia said about Yemen.

SHIREEN AL-ADEIMI: Well, yeah. The crown prince in Saudi Arabia have been throwing fits about Yemen for the last three and a half years. Anytime there’s a resolution in the UN, they have been throwing temper tantrums or threatening to withdraw support for UNESCO and other U.N. programs. For example, a couple of years ago, when the UN listed Saudi Arabia on the list of child killers, within 72 hours they were off that list because—and Ban Ki-moon at the time came forward and said, “Well, it’s because they threatened to withdraw support from other U.N. programs.”

So the US has been providing cover for the Saudis in the UN and other European countries as well. Mattis and Pompeo, on the one hand they say that they want a cease-fire. On the other hand, they are still helping the Saudis in this war. The US is not a bystander. They are an active member of that war in Yemen, hence the War Powers Resolution that was invoked in the Senate and is now hopefully moving forward toward a vote.

And so we have created this monster. Mohammed bin Salman has been emboldened by his Western allies. Right from the beginning, as soon as he got power, he began bombing his neighbor to the south and with full support from first the Obama administration and now the Trump Administration, and full support of regional partners as well as European countries who support him with arms and intelligence and refueling and logistical support and training and so on. So I think he is upset now that people are questioning his actions because, frankly, he has been operating with impunity for the last nearly last four years.

AMY GOODMAN: Shireen Al-Adeimi, we’re going to ask you to stay with us, Yemeni scholar, activist, assistant professor at Michigan State University. We’ll go to break, and when we come back, is it possible that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman could be arrested in Argentina because this country recognizes universal jurisdiction? Arrested for crimes against humanity and torture? Stay with us.