Last week, many celebrated the advancement of Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 54, which had been introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), as a sign that the U.S. Congress was finally willing to act to reduce the U.S.’ culpability for the situation in Yemen, currently the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The bill, which will be voted on by the Senate this week, has been praised by many within the anti-war movement for its bid to “end” U.S. military involvement in Yemen. Passage of the bill would, however, do no such thing.
Amazing news: The Senate just voted 63-37 in support of a bill to end the US-Saudi war on Yemen.
This Sanders/Murphy/Lee resolution would force a withdrawal of US support for this unauthorized war, which created Earth's largest humanitarian crisis and pushed millions into famine pic.twitter.com/hCXYaZOmmy
— Ben Norton (@BenjaminNorton) November 28, 2018
For the first time in its history, the Senate voted to advance legislation to withdraw U.S. military forces from an unauthorized war using the War Powers Resolution. In today’s vote,… https://t.co/oMyOYZ3Bv2
— Kate Gould- #SJRes54 #YemenCantWait (@K8Gould) November 28, 2018
Bit by bit we will end this bloody war in #Yemen. Great vote today that allows Senate to vote on #SJR54 tomorrow. Yes, it must pass the House. Yes, Trump threatens a veto. But for the sake of #Yemeni children, we must keep pushing. #YemenCantWait
— Medea Benjamin (@medeabenjamin) November 28, 2018
Much of the media coverage of the bill has noted that the resolution invokes the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which prohibits the president from deploying U.S. troops into armed conflicts without congressional approval. Though that resolution has been ignored many times since its passage, particularly since the War on Terror began in 2001, SJR 54 has been promoted as a “progressive” effort to bring the U.S.’ military adventurism to heel at a time when Saudi Arabia — one of the two countries leading the war against Yemen – is under increased scrutiny.
Yet, the text of the bill itself reveals that SJR 54 invokes the War Powers Resolution in name only. Indeed, while the bill claims to be aimed at achieving “the removal of United State Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress,” it contains a major loophole that will allow the majority of U.S. troops in Yemen – if not all – to stay.
As the bill states, it will require the president to remove troops “except United States Armed Forces engaged in operations directed at al Qaeda or associated forces.” Notably though, the only U.S. troops “on the ground” in Yemen that are involved in “hostilities” (i.e., combat operations) are those that are allegedly involved in operations targeting Al Qaeda — operations that the U.S. frequently conducts jointly with the countries waging war against western Yemen, such as the United Arab Emirates.
U.S. troops deployed in Yemen to target Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) also collaborate with the UAE and Saudi Arabia in “intelligence sharing,” “midair refueling,” and “overhead reconnaissance” for forces involved in counterterrorism operations that the U.S. is leading. This cooperation is what the very text of SJR 54 claims to want to end, but only in regard to the coalition’s war in western Yemen. However, the current text of the bill would allow all of this cooperation to continue, just not in areas where there are no claims of AQAP presence.
Thanks to the loophole in SJR 54, all that would need to change for the U.S. military’s assistance to the Saudi/UAE coalition to remain as is would be for either the Saudis, Emiratis or the U.S. to claim that there is an AQAP presence – however small – in an area they wish to target. Given that AQAP regularly collaborates with coalition forces elsewhere in Yemen, the coalition would only need move AQAP forces near a site in western Yemen that they wish to bomb in order for U.S. military involvement in its war against Yemen’s resistance to continue unimpeded.
Alternatively, either of those countries could supply “intelligence” that would seek to link Yemen’s resistance movement Ansarullah or the Houthis to AQAP, thus allowing U.S. involvement in the coalition’s war in Yemen to continue unchanged. This is a very likely scenario if SJR 54 is passed given that some top Trump administration officials have a history of providing false intelligence in order to justify aggressive policies and push for military intervention abroad. Furthermore, the Trump administration also has experience linking countries it doesn’t like to Al Qaeda without evidence in order to justify such policies. Thus, linking Yemen’s resistance movement to AQAP despite a lack of evidence is something the Trump administration would likely pursue were this bill to pass in its current form.
In addition, the Sanders-introduced bill will do nothing to stop the U.S.’ use of drone strikes that regularly kill scores of civilians in Yemen. Indeed, a recent investigation conducted by the Associated Press found that at least one-third of all Yemenis killed by U.S. drone strikes in Yemen were civilians, many of them children. Even though U.S. intelligence has regularly shown that the U.S. drone war in Yemen actually strengthens AQAP, this bill would do nothing to stop the U.S. military’s deadliest practice in Yemen, with a documented history of murdering civilians.
The bill’s failure to touch on the U.S. drone war in Yemen is unsurprising given that Bernie Sanders — who introduced SJR 54 — supported drone strikes and the controversial “kill lists” during the Obama administration. Furthermore, when asked on Meet the Press in 2015 if his foreign policy if elected President would involve the use of drones and Special Forces in military operations overseas, Sanders stated that it would involve “all of that and more.”
SJR 54 as mostly kabuki
Given the fact that SJR 54 provides a huge loophole that would prevent it from having the advertised effect, it seems that the measure is meant to serve other purposes, namely political, instead of its stated purpose of ending U.S. military involvement in Yemen. The bill appears to be little more than a PR stunt by Democrats and Democratic-aligned senators to distance themselves from Republicans.
This is supported by the fact that not a single Democrat in the Senate voted against the bill last week, while several Senate Democrats had voted against it earlier this year, setting up the case that only Republicans are against halting the U.S.-backed war in Yemen. Another suggestion that this is the case is how the media widely reported the vote as a “rebuke” of President Trump, as is the fact that 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls, such as Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren, co-sponsored this bill even though they both hold pro-war positions regarding another Middle Eastern country, Iran.
The “anti-war” credentials of Warren — as well as Bernie Sanders, who wrote SJR 54 — have long been questionable, particularly after they both backed James Mattis as Secretary of Defense even though he had led the U.S. assault on the Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2004, an attack that killed thousands of civilians and used chemical weapons that still cause birth defects in those born in Fallujah over a decade later.
Though the death of Saudi journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi has been blamed for the change of heart of Senate Democrats and some Republicans, reporting from MintPress and others has shown that the “outrage” regarding Khashoggi’s death is not about “human rights” but about money and pushing Saudi Crown Prince to move forward with expensive weapons deals and the neoliberalization of Saudi state assets that he had tried to back away from. Viewing the situation from this lens, SJR 54 seems little more than a PR effort to cast Democrats as “anti-war” when they are just as beholden to the military-industrial complex as the Republicans.
Yet, most importantly, the toothless text of SJR 54 shows that relying on either of the corporate, war-loving political parties in the U.S. to end the country’s involvement in the war in Yemen is misguided, as such action if more likely to come about from sustained public pressure or grassroots activism than from politicians beholden to special interests such as the Saudi or weapons lobbies.