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Senators spar over vote to block US role in Yemen war : Publishing Date: 3/20/2018
by Joel Gehrke : A debate over the U.S. position in Yemen’s civil war scrambled party lines in the Senate on Tuesday, hours before a vote over a resolution to bar President Trump from providing aid to ally Saudi Arabia.

Trump, like former President Barack Obama, has allowed the U.S. military to cooperate with the Saudi Arabia-led coalition determined to defeat an insurgency in Yemen that is backed by Iran. An unusual alliance of lawmakers — libertarian-leaning Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. — hope to end that support and argue it is an unconstitutional conflict and a humanitarian disaster.

“This is an issue of great importance,” Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said Tuesday on the Senate floor. “It not only affects the tremendous humanitarian crisis that is occurring in Yemen, the radicalization of the Houthis supported by Iran, a proxy of Iran, but also Saudi Arabia’s own security.”

Lee and his allies agree that the issue is important, but they argue that the U.S. military — by providing refueling and other support for Saudi Arabian attacks on the Houthis, the rebel group backed by Iran — is involved in a war that Congress never approved.

“Our military’s involvement in Yemen has not been authorized by Congress, as required by the Constitution,” as Lee put it Tuesday in his prepared remarks on the floor. “Yet in 2015, President Obama initiated our military involvement in Yemen without permission from Congress. The current administration has continued Obama’s War. [We] are giving Congress a chance to fix this error by debating and voting on our nation’s continued involvement in the illegal war in Yemen.”

Lawmakers in both parties have long struggled to develop a bill that would set parameters over the president’s ability to take military action related to terrorist threats. Instead of new congressional votes, every president since George W. Bush has relied on the bills that authorized the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq to justify conflict in hotspots as wide-ranging as Syria and multiple African nations.

Murphy has argued since 2016 that support for the Saudi Arabians in Yemen is counterproductive. “[T]his bombing campaign is not perceived as a Saudi bombing campaign,” he said Tuesday. “It is perceived as a United States-Saudi bombing campaign. What we are doing is radicalizing the Yemeni people against the United States.”

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations panel, opposed the proposal despite his misgivings about Saudi Arabian tactics in the conflict.

“And let us be clear-eyed about who will most benefit from an absence of American power: As it has done in political vacuums throughout the region, Iran will continue to expand its proxy power, and through its Revolutionary Guard, Iran will continue shipping weapons to the Houthis in violation of the arms embargo,” Menendez said.

The debate took place just as Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrived in Washington, D.C., for meetings with Trump and other foreign policy leaders. Corker and Menendez said they took the opportunity to push for an end to the conflict. Lee emphasized that he wasn’t trying to create a diplomatic snub.

“There may be some short-term impact on the U.S.-Saudi relationship, but overall the Crown Prince should understand that this protracted and clearly non-conclusive war only hurts his government’s stability and legitimacy,” he said in the prepared speech. “The resolution before you is the product of years of effort. It was not timed to coincide with the Crown Prince’s visit.”

Corker and Menendez agreed that Lee is short-circuiting the Foreign Relations Committee’s ability to develop legislation that would address the Yemen conflict as well as broader issues of congressional authorization for U.S. military deployments.

“Legislation is going to be introduced to try to deal with this, and that's the way we deal with complicated issues,” Corker said. “No one is shying away from the debate. We just hope to table this and move it back and deal with it in the orderly, appropriate way.”

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