Senate to Trump: Get out of Yemen
In this Thursday, Sept. 27 photo, a malnourished child receives treatment at a feeding center in a hospital in Hodeida, Yemen. | Hani Mohammed / AP

WASHINGTON—Elections have consequences. The GOP-run U.S. Senate proved that on Nov. 28 when it told GOP President Donald Trump to get the U.S. out of Yemen.

The 63-37 anti-war vote included 14 Republican anti-war votes. Only five of those solons, including co-sponsor Mike Lee of Utah, voted in March to get out of Yemen. Ten Democrats who voted then for the war all switched. The anti-war resolution lost in March, 44-55.

The anti-war vote “will tell the despotic dictatorship in Saudi Arabia that we will no longer be part of their destructive military adventurism,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., the measure’s lead sponsor.

“It says the Senate respects the Constitution of the United States and understands the issue of war-making — of going to war, putting our young men and women’s lives at stake — is something determined by the Congress, not the president of the United States. It is a congressional decision, not a presidential decision, whether that president is a Democrat or a Republican.”

The measure, SJRes 54, invoking the 1973 War Powers Act, was a huge rebuke to Trump less than a month after Congress’ ruling Republicans were trounced at the polls.

More than 13 million more people voted for Democratic U.S. Senate candidates than for Republicans, even though the GOP added two seats to its current bare 51-seat majority. And Democrats entered the 2018 balloting trailing 235-193, plus seven vacancies (5 GOP). Now Democrats hold at least 235 seats. The 40-seat pickup was the largest pro-Democratic switch since the 1974 post-Watergate landslide.

Despite all that, Trump is a stubborn and extreme supporter of the Saudi-led war in Yemen, and he’s provided millions of dollars in weapons, extensive air support and intelligence information to the ruling Saudi monarchy, headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS.

Activists, protesting the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, hold a candlelight vigil outside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, Oct. 25. | Lefteris Pitarakis / AP

Meanwhile, popular opinion, even among rank-and-file Republicans, has been increasing against the Saudi-led war. Citizens groups mobilized members to call and e-mail their senators before the Nov. 28 vote. Opinion polls show more than 70 percent of those questioned, including a majority of Republicans, oppose U.S. involvement in Yemen.

Now, the war foes will turn to the House, where Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., Walter Jones, R-N.C., and Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., led 47 other lawmakers from both parties to challenge the war – again – a month before the election. Democrats will take control of the House next year.

Since March, the war, and the accompanying horrors of Saudi bombing intensified. In the last seven months, they include massacres – from U.S.-supplied bombs — of more than 40 Yemeni school children out for a picnic and of 22 people attending a wedding.

Overall, the toll includes 14 million people on the brink of famine, three million refugees and at least 75,000 Yemeni children who have starved to death, all as a result of the war conducted by the Saudi leader, Salman, against the Iranian-backed Houthi forces.

And MBS’s order to murder and dismember outspoken dissident journalist and Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi, including sending a team of picked hit men to do so at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, was the last straw for many senators of both parties.

Trump tried to head that off by sending Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to a closed-door briefing of

senators before the anti-war vote, to try to talk them out of it. One senator reported Pompeo complained of “Capitol Hill caterwauling and media pile-on” after Khashoggi’s assassination.

“We have a videotape that shows the Saudi citizen and American resident (Khashoggi) entering that building,” Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., responded. “We came to learn that Mr. Khashoggi, a frequent critic of the Saudi royal family, was murdered.”

“He walked into that consulate and never walked out alive. Some group flew in from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, ambushed him, killed him, and, as hard it may be to believe, brought with them a bone saw so they could dismember him and take parts of his body out to be destroyed and buried somewhere in Turkey.”

“President Trump was confronted repeatedly: What are we going to do about this?… For the longest time, the president was dismissive, saying ‘I have spoken to the royal family, and they have denied they had anything to do with it.’”

“Well, that excuse worked for a while but not very long” after the videotape became public. “Serious questions were raised about this outrageous abuse of human rights at the hands of the Saudi regime.”

“It is not in our national security interests to look the other way when it comes to the brutal murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi,” added Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a strong Trump supporter since the 2016 election who switched sides on the anti-war vote.

“This barbaric act defied all civilized norms. While Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally, the behavior of the Crown Prince – in multiple ways – has shown disrespect for the relationship and made him, in my view, beyond toxic. I fully realize we have to deal with bad actors and imperfect situations on the international stage. However, when we lose our moral voice, we lose our strongest asset.”

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., one of the 10 Democrats who voted for the war in March and then switched in November, also said it is “appropriate to reassess our relationship with Saudi Arabia in response to the brazen murder of Jamal Khashoggi and other violations of human rights.”

“We must ensure all individuals who played a role in directing, planning, and carrying out the murder are held accountable. Despite denials by the president, it is inconceivable to me such an operation would be conducted without at least the awareness of Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman — if not in its planning, then certainty in its immediate aftermath,” said Reed, a pro-military Democrat.

Utah GOP Sen. Lee, in March and now, opposed the war on constitutional grounds. He reminded colleagues that Congress – not the president – has the power to declare war. He also faulted not just Trump, but the Democratic Obama administration for getting the U.S. into the war on the Saudis’ side.

Even staunch Trump supporter Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., switched sides on yesterday’s war vote. | Evan Vucci / AP

“The bloodshed continues, still abetted by the United States, even amidst further revelations of Saudi depravity. It is long past overdue that Congress remove U.S. forces from Yemen, as recent circumstances only confirm. Today, we have a chance to remedy our course of action and to do what the Constitution and justice demand,” Lee urged his colleagues.

Lee blamed the Saudis for starting the war in March 2015, and Obama – without consulting Congress – for providing “logistical and intelligence support to the Saudi-led coalition.”

“U.S. military support has continued since then, including mid-air refueling, surveillance, reconnaissance information, and target selection assistance. In other words, we have been supporting and actively participating in the activities of war in Yemen.”

Durbin also pointed out the real reason the U.S. maintains such close ties with the autocratic Saudi regime: Oil.

“For the longest time, we counted on the Middle East for oil. We looked the other way. We helped them, and they made a fortune in the process. The opulence of the royalty in Saudi Arabia rivals any royalty in the modern world, and the lavish lifestyles of the Saudi princes as they travel around the world has been well documented.”

“The United States has looked the other way many times because we needed the oil or we needed them as a strategic ally or a strategic partner. Those times have changed in some respects. We are becoming more energy independent. We are not as dependent on Saudi Arabia as we once were for energy supplies to fuel our economy,” he said.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.