Congress’ attempt to wrest some of its constitutional powers back from the tentacles of the executive isn’t bad, but could definitely be better. Senate Joint Resolution 7 will probably be vetoed by President Donald Trump but the move to limit U.S. military involvement in Yemen deserves praise.
The message is simple: Congress is the only branch of government which can declare war. The House and Senate are at least trying to gain part of this power back by pointing out they have not authorized any sort of military involvement in the Yemeni Civil War. It also seeks to move U.S. forces away from any conflict involving Houthis in Yemen – the group fighting the Saudi-led coalition. These include mid-air refueling missions – something the Pentagon and the Saudi government claimed to have ended last year – and aerial targeting. The resolution includes a section declaring, “nothing in this joint resolution may be construed as authorizing the use of military force.”
There are still several large and disappointing carve-outs which limit the resolution’s effectiveness.
The first is intelligence sharing. Congress made sure the U.S. could still share information with the Saudis if they discover any threats in Yemen.
Nothing in this joint resolution may be construed to influence or disrupt any intelligence, counterintelligence, or investigative activities relating to threats in or emanating from Yemen conducted by, or in conjunction with, the United States Government involving—
(1) the collection of intelligence;
(2) the analysis of intelligence; or
(3) the sharing of intelligence between the United States and any coalition partner if the President determines such sharing is appropriate and in the national security interests of the United States.
It’s understandable why the carve-out exists because the U.S. does have intelligence assets in the region. The problem is American forces could still come under fire if they end up caught between the asset and Houthi forces regardless of the location. It might be quibbling over the details but there’s no reason to put Special Forces in any danger when it could easily be avoided by letting the Saudi-led coalition handle intel gathering and counterintelligence.
The other issue is the fact it puts too much power in the hands of the executive over intelligence sharing. Saudi forces have already been criticized for bombing a bus full of children. Two hospitals in Houthi held areas have also been bombed – one just last month – leaving almost two dozen, including children, dead. It isn’t known who perpetrated the bombings and the Saudis are staying quiet. It would certainly be a black eye if it turns out they provided the information regarding the hospitals, especially since it’s already known U.S.-provided arms were used to destroy the bus. The risk may outweigh any sort of actual benefit to trusting the Saudis with this information.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of the resolution is its decision to allow the military to keep hitting al Qaeda or al Qaeda-affiliated groups in Yemen. The AP reported last year Saudis are fine with using al Qaeda operatives to attack Houthi forces, and the U.S. may have turned a blind eye to some of their operations.
A military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and backed by the United States has cut secret deals with al Qaeda fighters, paying some to leave key cities and towns the militants had seized across Yemen and letting others retreat with weapons, equipment and wads of looted cash, an investigation by the Associated Press has found. Hundreds more were recruited to join the coalition itself.
Again and again over the past two years, the coalition has claimed to win decisive victories that drove al Qaeda militants from their strongholds and shattered their ability to attack the West. What the victors didn’t disclose: many of those conquests came without firing a shot.
The compromises and alliances have allowed al Qaida militants to survive to fight another day — and risk strengthening the most dangerous branch of the terror network that carried out the Sept. 11 attacks.
Key participants in the pacts said the U.S. was aware of the arrangements and held off on any drone strikes as the al Qaeda fighters retreated in plain sight.
It’s not unlike the Syrian Civil War where the U.S. found itself fighting on two fronts: one against al-Assad, the other against ISIS. It makes no sense to risk American lives when fighting two bad guys. There’s also nothing to stop Saudi Arabia from claiming al Qaeda is now supporting the Houthis – despite a vast amount of evidence to the contrary – and getting the U.S. to do its bidding by bombing Houthi held positions. Congress does get intel briefings on Pentagon involvement in Yemen, so it’s possible they’d demand more proof of an al Qaeda-Houthi alliance instead of just blindly trusting the Saudis. Past history suggests otherwise and it’s doubtful Congress will seek to modify the Authorization of Use of Military Force it passed in 2001 after the September 11th attacks.
Congress’ decision to show a little bit of spine over Yemen is laudable. What will be more interesting is whether Congress will show more spine by attempting to overturn any sort of presidential veto. There’s no reason for the U.S. to be involved in Yemen. It’s a civil war. We needn’t be involved.