Senate Votes in Favor of Resolution to End US Support for Saudi-Led War in Yemen, by Middle East Eye

Well what do you know? For once the Senate did the right thing. From Middle East Eye at theantimedia.org:

Despite pressure from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to maintain Washington’s steadfast support for the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen, the US Senate has voted in favour of advancing a resolution that would end US involvement in the devastating conflict.

US Senators voted 63-37 on Wednesday afternoon to move forward with a resolution to end Washington’s support for the Saudi-led coalition.

While procedural, the successful vote discharges the resolution from the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and clears the way for a Senate-wide debate on its contents, which is expected to take place next week.

US Senator Bernie Sanders, one of the resolution’s co-sponsors, said US lawmakers should send a message to the Saudi government “that [they] will not continue to support a catastrophic war led by a despotic regime that has a dangerous, destructive and irresponsible military policy”.

“No more. Enough death, enough killing, enough destruction,” Sanders said in the Senate ahead of the vote.

The result of the vote signals a deepening rift between US lawmakers and US President Donald Trump, who has pledged his administration’s unwavering support for Riyadh despite the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Fourteen Senators from the president’s political party voted in favour of the resolution. Among those includes Lindsey Graham, who has repeatedly voiced his outrage over Khashoggi’s murder.

Every member in the Democratic Party voted to adanced the resolution.

In prepared comments before the vote, the US secretary of state said the war in Yemen would only worsen without the US’s support for Saudi Arabia, however.

“The suffering in Yemen grieves me, but if the United States of America was not involved in Yemen, it would be a hell of a lot worse,” said Pompeo, as reported by AFP news agency.

“Abandoning Yemen would do immense damage to US national security interests and those of our Middle Eastern allies and partners,” he said, describing the Senate vote as “poorly timed”.

Pressure over Khashoggi case

The Saudi-led coalition, which includes the United Arab Emirates, launched its military offensive in Yemen in 2015 to root out Houthi rebels, who had taken over the country’s capital, Sanaa, and ousted Yemen’s Saudi-backed president, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.

The ongoing war has led to a dire humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where millions of residents are at risk of famine.

US military support for the Saudi-led coalition includes intelligence sharing and training pilots to avoid strikes that risk civilian casualties. The Pentagon had also been conducting air-to-air refueling for coalition aircraft, but this month said it was stopping doing so.

While previous attempts to end Washington’s support for Saudi Arabia’s role in the war have failed, supporters of the resolution have high hopes that heightened pressure on Saudi Arabia in recent weeks over the murder of Khashoggi will get it passed this time.

If eventually passed, the Senate resolution demands an end to all US involvement in the Yemen war that has not been authorised by Congress within 30 days.

Wednesday’s vote came amid ongoing pressure on the Trump administration to reevaluate Washington’s relationship with Riyadh over the murder of Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who was killed inside his country’s consulate in Istanbul in early October.

While Trump has vowed to stand by Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the murder of Khashoggi, a Saudi government critic and columnist for the Washington Post and Middle East Eye, US politicians have called on the president to hold Saudi leaders responsible.

The Khashoggi case has also highlighted a growing rift between the president and the US intelligence community, after the CIA concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the journalist’s murder.

The president has sought to cast doubt on the CIA’s findings, however, saying the evidence isn’t conclusive. Saudi officials have repeatedly said the crown prince, known as MBS, and Saudi King Salman had no knowledge of the plan to kill Khashoggi and the crime’s subsequent cover-up.

On Wednesday morning, Pompeo and US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis briefed US senators on the war in Yemen, as well as the Khashoggi case.

“There is no direct reporting connecting the crown prince to the order to murder Jamal Khashoggi,” Pompeo told reporters, echoing the US president.

Democratic Senator Dick Durbin told reporters that CIA Director Gina Haspel did not attend the Senate briefing “at the direction of the White House”, citing Pompeo and Mattis.

The Guardian newspaper first reported on Tuesday that the White House had blocked Haspelfrom speaking to US lawmakers on the Khashoggi case.

However, a CIA spokesman dismissed claims that Haspel was prevented from attending. “The notion that anyone told Director Haspel not to attend today’s briefing is false,” agency spokesman Timothy Barrett said in a statement.

Still, Haspel was not present at the briefing despite being sent to Istanbul last month to be briefed on the Turkish investigation into Khashoggi’s murder and amid reports that she has listened to an audio recording of his killing.

After the meeting with Pompeo and Mattis, US Senator Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he “heard nothing convincing as to why we should not proceed” with the Senate resolution.

“It’s time to send Saudi Arabia a message,” he said, as reported by CNN.

Menendez also told reporters that it was “outrageous” and a “cover-up” that Haspel wasn’t included in the briefing. “[It] tells me volumes about what’s really going on here,” he said, as reported by CBS News.

‘Congressional action is imperative’

The same Senate resolution on Yemen failed to pass in a 55-44 vote in March.

The motion seeks for the first time to take advantage of a provision in the 1973 War Powers Act, which allows any senator to introduce a resolution on whether to withdraw US armed forces from a conflict not authorised by Congress.

Chris Murphy, a Democratic senator who co-sponsored the resolution, urged his colleagues before the vote on Wednesday “to end our role in this humanitarian catastrophe”.

On Tuesday, Vox reported that more than 50 experts, including former US ambassadors to Yemen Barbara Bodine and Stephen Seche, had also urged Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic minority leader Chuck Schumer to support the resolution.

A decision to end US midair refuelling for Saudi coalition warplanes, announced earlier this month, “has not proved sufficient in compelling the coalition to end hostilities”, they said in a letter.

“The President’s November 20th declaration absolving Saudi leadership of its conduct in Yemen and the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi indicates that the Trump Administration will not use its leverage to rapidly bring the conflict to an end…. Immediate Congressional action is therefore imperative.”

The Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker advocacy group in the US, praised Wednesday’s vote.

“This Senate vote should mark the beginning of the end of American complicity in the world’s largest humanitarian crisis,” said Kate Gould, FCNL’s legislative director for Middle East policy.

“The Senate sent a strong bipartisan message that there must be consequences for the slaughter of civilians — whether it’s the killing of a Saudi journalist or the indiscriminate bombing of men, women and children in Yemen.”

 

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