Senators introduced legislation that would undermine the Sanders-Lee resolution to stop US support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. “They’re trying to provide cover for just a handful of senators so they can vote for this instead of the Sanders Lee bill,” says CEPR’s Mark Weisbrot
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. A bipartisan resolution to stop US support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, introduced by Bernie Sanders, Democrat Senator Chris Murphy and Republican Senator Mike Lee a few weeks ago, was taking effect on the Hill. It was also supported by anti-war advocates all over the country, and even supported by actor, Mark Ruffalo in a recorded video.
MARK RUFFALO: Nowhere else on earth today is there catastrophe so profound, harming so many lives that is so easy to resolve. Please call 1-833-STOP-WAR to urge your senator to vote for the Sanders-Lee resolution to end the unauthorized US war in Yemen. We can stop the bombing and let food and medicine into Yemen, so that millions may live.
SHARMINI PERIES: But now, the Sanders-Lee resolution is in jeopardy. Opponents are actively mobilizing against it. First, an alternative resolution has been submitted, which would require the State Department to certify whether Saudi Arabia is making efforts to end the war, and to alleviate the humanitarian crisis as a condition for continued US support. The second initiative is to derail the Sanders resolution, and that comes from the Pentagon, where the Defense Secretary James Mattis claims that the loss of life would be greater in Yemen if the US withdraws its support for Saudi Arabia.
Joining me now to discuss all of this is Mark Weisbrot. Mark is co-director of the Center for Economic Policy and Research and is the author of Failed: What the “Experts” Got Wrong About the Global Economy. Mark, thank you so much for joining us.
MARK WEISBROT: Thanks for inviting me, Sharmini.
SHARMINI PERIES: Mark, let’s start with the new resolution that has been introduced by Senators Young and Shaheen, and what it is proposing to do, and the problems you are having with it.
MARK WEISBROT: Yes, well, this is kind of a trick that they’re using. They’re going to basically get the Secretary of State to make a certification, with regard to the bombing and the human right situation there, and this is something that has been done for decades. This was done in the 1980s, for example, when the US government was funding the Salvadoran military and death squads there, and they were killing thousands of people. And so, there was a massive movement against it, and they passed a law saying that the president, who was President Reagan at the time, had to make these kinds of certifications every six months. And of course, he just did it.
And this is the thing that you would get here. So, it’s really important, because even though it seems like a detail that most people won’t notice, this is the way that they get away with murder. This is the way that they will, what they’re trying to do is provide cover for just a handful of senators, so they can vote for this instead of the Sanders-Lee bill, which would actually stop the war, and that’s very important to understand. That could actually stop the war. It would stop US involvement in the war, which could stop the war altogether…
SHARMINI PERIES: Mark, the Yemen resolution, as Senator Young and Shaheen have introduced, wouldn’t it force Saudi Arabia into negotiations and alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Yemen?
MARK WEISBROT: No, because again, you just get this certification from the State Department, and then they would just go on, and the war would go on, and the blockade would go on. This is why people are dying in Yemen. This is why more than eight million people are out in the brink of starvation. It’s because of the war itself. It’s because of the blockade. They’re not letting in food and fuel and medicine. And so, and of course, they’re destroying infrastructure as well. And the fuel is needed to pump water, so people don’t have clean water, and you have a cholera epidemic, which have sickened a million people and killed thousands of people.
This is why the UN agencies have all called for an end to the hostilities and they’ve all said that this is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. The only way you’re going to stop it is to stop the war, and that’s why Sanders, and Lee, and Murphy, and a number of other Democratic senators who co-sponsored this are calling for, they’re using the War Powers Resolution of 1973 to actually force a debate and vote on the war itself, on US military participation in that war.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Now, according to the article that you wrote in The Nation magazine, Mattis’ argument is that to support Saudi Arabia is to enable it, to defend itself from missile attacks, and protect freedom of navigation in the Red Sea, and to regain territory captured by the Iranian backed Houthis after they seized territory from the Republic of Yemen. What’s wrong with this?
MARK WEISBROT: Well, first of all, it’s not really about Iran. I mean, sure, Iran has provided some support to the Houthis, but this is a civil war in Yemen, and this is just about power. Why did the United States under Bush invade Iraq? Okay, they gave us various reasons that turned out to be false. It’s because they wanted more power in that region. And so, this is a power struggle between the Saudis and Iran, and really, it’s really more Saudi power. They want a government that is allied with them in Yemen, and so, they’re basically starving the population. They are starving the population in order to force the one side in the war to give up. And it isn’t going to work.
In fact, obviously, people are dying there, and they can’t get food and medicine. And even the White House, in December, first Trump himself, called for an end to the blockade of food and fuel and medicine. And of course, the Saudis didn’t do, they did some temporarily, but they haven’t ended the blockade. And then, the White House made another statement a couple of days later, calling for an immediate ceasefire. And so, now, again, they don’t follow up on this, and you never know what a Trump is going to do, but nobody can justify this war. It’s completely indefensible. And that’s why they’re using this alternative resolution in the Senate to provide cover because nobody can really justify continuing this war.
SHARMINI PERIES: Mark, as I said off the top, James Mattis in charge of the Pentagon, says that, “New restrictions on this limited US military support could increase civilian casualties and jeopardize cooperation with our partners, counterterrorism and reduce our influence with the Saudis, all of which would further exasperate,” he says, “the situation of the humanitarian crises.” What is your assessment of that statement?
MARK WEISBROT: Well, again, all the UN agencies, all the aid agencies, everybody who is paying attention to this, who cares about human life in Yemen says that it’s the war, that you have to stop the war, and it’s quite obvious. It couldn’t be more direct. If you’re blocking food, and fuel, and medicine from coming into the country, that’s what’s killing people. That’s what’s killing civilians the most. Of course, the Saudis have also killed a lot with their bombs, as well, a lot of people. I mean, there’s more than 10,000 civilian casualties from the three years of this war also.
So, that’s the other part of it. And here’s where the US plays a crucial role in the whole thing. They’re actually refueling, US military is refueling these planes in mid air, and they’re providing targeting and intelligence assistance. Without this assistance, both the refueling and the targeting assistance, the Saudis would have a very hard time even carrying out this war. So, it’s essential and it’s included. This assistance is military involvement under the War Powers Resolution, which was passed in 1973 to reinforce the constitutional authority of Congress. That is article I, Section 8 of the Constitution that says, “Only the Congress can declare war,and only the Congress can authorize a war,” and this war is unauthorized.
In fact, the Congress already, the House of Representatives already voted last year by 330 to 60 votes that this war is unauthorized and that the US military is refueling these planes, and providing this assistance So, it’s completely illegal. And now, the Senate can really take it to the next stage of putting an end to the war by passing this vote.
SHARMINI PERIES: Mark, earlier this week, on Tuesday, Senator Elizabeth Warren questioned the Head of US Central Command, which oversees US forces in the East and Central Asia about exactly what effect US’ support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen is having on the civilians there. And General Votel said that the military, the US military does not know. What did you think of that answer?
MARK WEISBROT: Well, the amazing thing is she asked him, “What happens? Do you know what happens? Where are these planes going that you’re refueling in mid air? Where are they going? Where are they bombing?” And he said, “We don’t know.” And so, I mean, first of all, it’s kind of outrageous that they don’t even care, if it’s true they don’t know what’s being done, because they are bomb… that’s well documented that they’re killing civilians. They’re bombing civilians. They bombed hospitals. And it also debunks the argument that these people are making that the US military is having some influence there, which is, of course, another bogus argument.
So, that shows that they really, even the military which really wants to continue, and they want they don’t want the precedent either. They don’t want the Congress saying that they have to get out of this war, even though that’s the Congress’ job. They can’t even defend their own actions at the most basic and superficial level.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. And how could it be that the general in charge doesn’t know the effects their actions are having in Yemen?
MARK WEISBROT: Well, it could be he’s not telling the truth or it could be they’re just refueling the planes, and the Saudis go and bomb, and they don’t really even pay attention to where they’re bombing. Either way, it’s disgraceful. And again, it’s illegal, and it’s unauthorized. I think what Mark Ruffalo said at the beginning is very true about this. You know, not only what a horrible humanitarian disaster it is, but it’s one that’s probably the easiest to stop in the world because it’s a human made disaster that’s caused by a war that really needs the US government’s participation.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. So, where is the status of the Sanders resolution and do you think it still has life on the Hill?
MARK WEISBROT: Well, it not only has life, there’s going to be a vote. I think the media has not covered this. This is a real problem. They’ve covered it very little. I think part of that is because maybe some of them don’t realize that the vote is going to happen. It actually has to happen under the War Powers Resolution. That’s why that was passed in the ’70s, in the wake of the Vietnam War because it says they can’t, the majority leader, the majority party, and the Senate, McConnell cannot prevent a vote on this. They actually have to have a debate and vote. So, it’s going to happen. It’s probably going to happen early next week.
There’s a very good chance that it will pass because the last vote on arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which is not very defensible, but less defensible than the US military participation and certainly less, or I said, more defensible than this military participation and certainly not as illegal. That only passed by 53-47, and that’s why this Young/Shaheen bill is so dangerous, is because they can just get these people enough cover and pull off a few votes, they could continue the war. But otherwise, there’s a very good chance that it will be defeated, especially if people continue to mobilize and there’s an awful lot of people that are mobilizing around it.
SHARMINI PERIES: Mark, let’s keep an eye on this bill and if there’s anything to report back, please join us again.
MARK WEISBROT: Thanks, Sharmini.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.