There was a time when Congress would debate and vote on whether or not the United States goes to war. Now, however — thanks to the barely-restrained war authorizations passed in 2001 and 2002, and a lack of political will in Congress to repeal those authorizations — the United States is experiencing endless war. Even the meek limitations on war making put forward in the 2001 and 2002 authorizations are being trampled on by the executive branch under both Democratic and Republican presidents.
Last week, Sens. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, and Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, introduced the bipartisan Senate Joint Resolution 54 invoking the War Powers Act, aiming to force a vote on the Senate floor on whether or not to end unauthorized U.S. military involvement in Yemen’s civil war.
For nearly three years, the U.S. has been providing military support — including targeting assistance, intelligence sharing and mid-air refueling of coalition warplanes — to a Saudi-led coalition of nations working to reclaim territory captured by Yemen’s Houthi rebels in 2015.
The coalition has been indiscriminately bombing Yemen, destroying schools, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure with such frequency as to be either intentional or criminally negligent. Coalition bombings paired with ongoing blockades of Yemen’s ports have made the coalition largely responsible for what the United Nations is calling the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet. Roughly three quarters of Yemen’s population — 22 million people — are in need of humanitarian aid, and more than 8 million are on the brink of starvation.
Polls indicate that a majority of American voters are opposed to U.S. involvement in the war. A J. Wallin Opinion Research poll from November 2017 found that 63.9 percent think the U.S. should not provide military aid to countries like Saudi Arabia. Further, 70.8 percent want Congress to pass legislation to rein in overseas military action.
There is no legal basis for U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen. The War Powers Act clearly states that the president cannot send American soldiers into hostilities, or situations where hostilities are imminent, absent congressional authorization or a national emergency created by an attack upon the United States. It also says that if U.S. forces are coordinating with or participating in the movement of foreign military forces, that amounts to them being sent into such a situation.
Given that U.S. support for the coalition has included literal coordination with foreign military forces — the sharing of coordinates for targeting purposes — and participation in the movement of foreign military forces — mid-air refueling of coalition planes between bombing runs — there is no question that U.S. involvement in Yemen meets the criteria of the War Powers Act.
Will Sens. Roy Blunt, Claire McCaskill, Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts vote to uphold their oaths to the Constitution by reclaiming their constitutional authority on war? Or will they vote to continue unchecked presidential war powers usually reserved for monarchs and dictators?
The vote on Senate Joint Resolution 54 is expected this Friday. Please encourage your U.S. senators to vote to uphold their oaths to the Constitution by supporting this resolution.
David J. Pack is a member of the boards of Peace Action and PeaceWorks Kansas City.