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  November 7, 2017

Most of Congress 'Likes War' and Opposes Ending US Support for Saudi War in Yemen

Several members of Congress have introduced legislation to invoke the War Powers Act with an aim to shut down US support for Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen, but the resolution will not pass because the vast majority in Congress doesn't oppose war explains Col. Larry Wilkerson
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Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government and Public Policy Lawrence Wilkerson's last positions in government were as Secretary of State Colin Powell's Chief of Staff (2002-05), Associate Director of the State Department's Policy Planning staff under the directorship of Ambassador Richard N. Haass, and member of that staff responsible for East Asia and the Pacific, political-military and legislative affairs (2001-02). Before serving at the State Department, Wilkerson served 31 years in the U.S. Army. During that time, he was a member of the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College (1987 to 1989), Special Assistant to General Powell when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989-93), and Director and Deputy Director of the U.S. Marine Corps War College at Quantico, Virginia (1993-97). Wilkerson retired from active service in 1997 as a colonel, and began work as an advisor to General Powell. He has also taught national security affairs in the Honors Program at the George Washington University. He is currently working on a book about the first George W. Bush administration.


SHARMINI PERIES: It's the Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. In October, Representative Ro Khanna, Democrat from California, Thomas Massie, Republican from Kentucky, Mark Pocan, Democrat from Wisconsin and Walter Jones, Republican from North Carolina introduced a bipartisan resolution to stop the U.S. military assistance to Saudi Arabia in its war against the Houthis in Yemen. This bill has the support of 34 other lawmakers who are willing to invoke the War Powers Act, where Congress can swiftly terminate the U.S. military assistance for Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen. But some congressional representatives on both sides of the House are reluctant to do so and to end the war that the UN says is the worst humanitarian disaster of the 21st century. The UN is expressing concern at the Saudi led coalition's closing of two airports, seaports, and land crossings in Yemen, warning that this may hamper the delivery of vitally needed humanitarian aid to the Yemeni people where 14.5 million are cut off from access to clean water and sanitation.

There are some 200,000 people suffering from cholera outbreak and over 1,300 of them have already died where a quarter of them were children. Who in Congress might be objecting to stopping this war and why? Let's find out from Colonel Larry Wilkerson. Larry is a retired U.S. colonel and former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, now a distinguished professor at the College of William and Mary. Larry, good to have you with us.

LARRY WILKERSON Good to be with you, Sharmini.

SHARMINI PERIES: Larry, you've been on the Hill working on this effort. Why don't you tell us about the debates that's going on and the debate that's not going on. From what I understand, the bill will pass on but no debate will be taking place in the House, but mostly who is reluctant to pass this bill?

LARRY WILKERSON: I think probably Democrats and Republicans alike, so caught up in the war machine that this country has become, are guilty, guilty as charged. What you have with Walt Jones from North Carolina is a pariah Republican from the very start. What you have with Ro Khanna, and with Mark Pocan and with Tom Massie from Kentucky, Republicans and Democrats, and the co-sponsors are those within the Congress who have the moral courage and the understanding of U.S. history and the U.S. Constitution sufficient to apply it to what is U.S. Code Title 50, Chapter 33, sections 1541 to 48, as I recall, which codifies the War Powers Resolution. Now,a little history there, that's the resolution Congress passed to reassert its constitutional powers over the war power when it grew very, very tired of the Vietnam conflict, and Richard Nixon, in particular, conduct of that conflict towards the end of it.

They essentially told the president, "You've got to do this in order to wage war," abbreviating the Constitution, Article one, Section eight, a bit but nonetheless reaffirming it mostly. Nixon vetoed it, and then the Congress, very unusually, passed the legislation over Nixon's veto. Now they are up to the point where you can only find these iconoclastic members, these pariah members, these members who understand the Constitution, who understand our history and more than anything understand how dangerous is the war power to the very liberties of this republic. That's all you have left in the Congress who would, as you pointed out in your introduction, bring the United States' action to support Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in waging this brutal, bloody war, which incidentally the Saudis and the UAE are losing. They're losing it.

They don't, they're the only ones who want to do this and so this legislation is being fought by hook and crook by everyone from Mark Thornberry, the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee who loves to have Raytheon and Lockheed Martin making lots of money off the weapons we're selling to Saudi Arabia, to Ed Royce, the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who ultimately has committee jurisdiction over the bill. They all want to stop it, because very frankly, Sharmini, they like war.

SHARMINI PERIES: They like war. When the United Nations is putting out such warnings about the conditions of so many, 14.5 million people who are suffering from this war, the devastation is staring them in the face, there's so many children affected by this, what are their main motivations for not wanting to support this bill?

LARRY WILKERSON They say, in the legislation that we could cite that Steny Hoyer and others have written as an alternative to our legislation, which is called House Continuing Resolution 81, invoking the War Powers and which should enjoy privileged status under the law and therefore have to go to the House for a vote and not be stoppable by a committee chairman. What they're doing is offering 599, which if you read all the whereases, and boy does it go ad nauseam into the whereases, "Whereas this, whereas this, whereas this," if you read it closely, what you see is, they're trying to excuse the Saudis for what they're doing. They know darn well that all those whereases in that other legislation, which recognize the nature of the humanitarian disaster, recognize the nature of the UN recognition of the government supposedly the Saudis are trying to defend, recognize the fact that Iran is participating and so forth.

Of course, they don't point out that Iran wasn't even in Yemen until the Saudis attacked, that Iran wasn't doing anything until the Saudis attacked. All of this legislation that Hoyer and others have put together, and Hoyer by the way, is a Democrat, of course, from Maryland, is just a subterfuge, an obfuscation of the true issue, which is, the Saudis are fighting a brutal, bloody war. They're killing lots of people. By the indirection of their actions, they're killing potentially half a billion people over time. The greatest humanitarian tragedy since World War II. They're bombing sewage and water plants. They're bombing food sources and so forth, and all this to support a government that I think the UN would probably like to retract its vote on in terms of being the legitimate government of Yemen. It is, a piece of this 599 is a piece of legislation that shows just how many ends these folks will go to in order to justify what is truly a brutal war in which the United States is participating.

On top of that, the U.S. participation is causing Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, one of the most dangerous terrorist groups with a global capability, to grow, to actually harden and grow in its membership and in its actions. At the same time, we're trying to stop that group under a legitimate AUMF, the one passed after 9/11, in Yemen with Special Operating Forces. We want to separate those two actions. The Special Operating Forces going after Al-Qaeda in Yemen are operating under the original Authorization for the Use of Military Force and therefore are legitimate. This support to the Saudi-UAE effort to wage this war in Yemen, though, is not legitimate. It's illegal. It was started by the Obama administration and continued and emphasized by the Trump administration. It's illegal. It's brutal. It's being lost by Saudi Arabia.

You saw the architect of the war, Mohammad Bin Salman effecting something we haven't seen since the formation of the House of Saud, recently, the last few days. He actually got rid of 11 princes. He's getting rid of a lot of business leaders and so forth. I think this is a sign of the instability of the Saud regime under MBS's leadership, and it's going to be interesting to see how this develops, because this is his war. He started it. There's no defense. It's a brutal, bloody war, as I pointed out. It's a major humanitarian disaster, and the United States has no business participating in it. It's that clear. It's that simple.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Larry, give us a sense of what they're telling you when you're on the Hill about this unconditional support for Saudi Arabia's war.

LARRY WILKERSON: You'd be amazed, Sharmini. I have gotten answers from staffers and members that range the gamut from, "Well, this is just a niche issue." That's a direct quote. "This is just a niche issue." My response, of course, was, "500,000 people dying is a niche issue?" Well, not a lot, and get them a little off guard with that kind of response, to a response such as this, "Well, I always go with my committee chairman." That is, the committee of jurisdiction. "So, if Ed Royce is going to go against this, I've got to go against it, too." This is the war power. This is your nation using bombs, bullets and bayonets to kill the citizens of other nations and, oh, by the way, put its own men and women in harm's way too.

This is the war power. This is the ultimate power, and you bow to your committee of jurisdiction? Come on, Mr. Congressman. You can do better than that. To an answer like this one that I got, "Well, Iran's there." My response, "Iran wasn't there until the Saudi-UAE coalition attacked and we supported them." "Well, Iran is there now, so we've got to fight them. The Saudis are doing our dirty business for us." Why do we have to fight Iran in Yemen? What is it that Iran is doing in Yemen that's destabilizing, and destabilizing in a way that threatens U.S. national security interest? "Well, Iran always does that." Are you kidding me, Congressman? Can't you think more critically than that? Can't you think more analytically than that? Iran is not always going against U.S. interest. Iran, in this case, is going against U.S. interest, if they are, because we are supporting the Saudi coalition that's waging this brutal war.

You just wouldn't believe it, Sharmini. The first reaction I have is that they don't know what they're talking about. The second reaction I have is that they're venal, they're cruel, they're brutal. The third reaction I have is, they're ignorant, they're just not willing to look at the issues. And the fourth reaction I have is that they're in obeisance to the military-industrial complex, which, if you'll look at the contribution charts, does, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing and so forth does contribute a heck of a lot of money to these people's campaigns. And so with a little war like this, what's a little war as long as it maintains me in power?

SHARMINI PERIES: Only the lives of hundreds of thousands of children.

LARRY WILKERSON: Yes. Yes, and just, I mean, when you've got a situation where, for example, you bomb cranes at the only port where you really can offload the food and clean water to save people's lives and you, the United States, recognizing these cranes have been bombed and that the water and the food can't be off-lifted until the cranes are replaced then provide the cranes out of the goodness of your heart, I hope to replace them, only to have the cranes not able to be off-loaded and reinstalled because of Saudi-UAE bombing. Bombing which you're supporting with refueling tankers, with targeting intelligence and so forth. This is not just nonsense, though. It's brutal. Brutal nonsense.

SHARMINI PERIES: Larry, thank you for your relentless work on the Hill and I wish you more success. Thank you.

LARRY WILKERSON: Thank you, Sharmini.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.


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