Op-Ed

Burr, Tillis should vote to protect Yemeni civilians

Protesters in Whitehall, London, demonstrate against the official visit by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Wednesday March 7, 2018. Mohammed bin Salman received a royal welcome and high level political meetings, while being criticized by protesters against the war in Yemen, as he began a three-day visit to Britain on Wednesday.
Protesters in Whitehall, London, demonstrate against the official visit by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Wednesday March 7, 2018. Mohammed bin Salman received a royal welcome and high level political meetings, while being criticized by protesters against the war in Yemen, as he began a three-day visit to Britain on Wednesday. AP

Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Chris Murphy (D-CT), an unlikely alliance of senators, have introduced legislation invoking the War Powers Resolution in order to end military involvement of the U.S. in Yemen. This moment is monumental: this week, the Senate will hold the first ever vote to withdraw U.S. forces from a war that was never authorized by Congress.

Due in part to unconditional U.S. support for a destructive Saudi Arabia-led coalition, Yemen is facing the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, and yet North Carolina’s Sens. Thom Tillis and Richard Burr have not taken a stance against U.S. involvement. We urge them to vote in favor of the resolution.

For four years, Yemen has been embroiled in a brutal civil war pitting the Sunni government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi against a Shia insurgency group called the Houthis. President Hadi’s government, backed by a Saudi Arabia-led coalition including several Arab states and supported by the U.S., U.K., Canada, France and others, has attempted to take back the government of Yemen. The toll of this conflict has been incredibly high – over 10,000 people have been killed, and 40,000 injured.

In addition to indiscriminately targeting civilians by bombing schools, hospitals, and even funerals and weddings, the Saudi-led coalition has also blockaded ports of entry, limiting humanitarian aid deliveries for the approximately 22 million Yemenis who are completely dependent on such aid for survival. To put that in perspective, that’s roughly 75 percent of Yemen’s entire population.

The blockades have also affected oil delivery, meaning hospitals cannot keep their generators on to refrigerate medicine and run machinery for those injured and those who have contracted communicable – but entirely preventable – diseases. Thus, the more than 1 million people who have contracted cholera in the worst outbreak ever recorded in the world, and the more than 2,000 who have died from it, can thank the Saudi coalition.

Since 2015, the U.S. has provided military support to Saudi Arabia for this war, including targeting assistance, intelligence sharing, mid-air refueling of warplanes and selling dangerous weaponry to the coalition that includes cluster munitions, which are specifically designed to maximize casualties.

Following the Vietnam War, Congress passed the 1973 War Powers Resolution to check the president’s power to take military action overseas without congressional oversight. The legislation requires congressional authorization for the use of military forces or a declaration of war by the United States in order for the U.S. to engage in any military action lasting longer than 60 days. This legislation intended to restore authority to Congress as the only branch of government able to declare war.

North Carolina has the third-highest number of active duty service members in the country. With this in mind, we owe it to our state to be cautious about military entanglements overseas. It should alarm us all that the United States is providing unauthorized military support to Saudi Arabia to fight this war in Yemen, especially because so many civilians are currently at risk.

U.S. involvement in Vietnam began in largely the same way – through sending military advisers and weaponry to the country. This open-ended engagement then escalated to full-fledged conflict. While ending U.S. support for the Saudi coalition would not bring an immediate end to the war, it would limit Saudi Arabia’s ability to cause such rampant and unchecked destruction in Yemen, help restore U.S. legitimacy in Yemen, and help even the playing field enough that the parties could credibly meet at the negotiating table.

It’s time for Senators Thom Tillis and Richard Burr to say enough is enough by co-sponsoring and voting in support of S.J. Res. 54. The lives of Yemeni civilians – and perhaps our own service members – depend on it.

Savannah Wooten, a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is the National Student Director of The Student-led Movement to End Mass Atrocities; Mac Hamilton is the group’s executive manager.

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