The Main Course for the Week of 4/3/2017: Intervention in Yemen, The War Powers Act, and the U.S. Constitution.

What’s going on in D.C.

The Trump Administration has been asked to commit the U.S. to an United Arab Emirates (UAE)-led military operation in Yemen. A bipartisan group of Representatives have drafted a letter to President Trump urging him to seek authorization from Congress before committing the U.S. to a military operation on foreign soil, in a foreign war.

The letter from Mark Pocan (D-WI, 2nd), Justin Amash (R-MI, 3rd), Ted Leiu (D-CA, 33rd), and Walter Jones (R-NC, 3rd) reads:

“Engaging our military against Yemen’s Houthis when no direct threat to the United States exists and without prior congressional authorization would violate the separation of powers clearly delineated in the Constitution. For this reason, we write to request that the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) provide, without delay, any legal justification that it would cite if the administration intends to engage in direct hostilities against Yemen’s Houthis without seeking congressional authorization.” (See Friends Committee on National Legislation: https://www.fcnl.org/updates/ask-your-rep-put-the-brakes-on-yemen-war-715, 4/3/2017).

How did we get here?

Defense Secretary, Jim Mattis, has requested that the White House approve the provision of “limited support” to a UAE-backed operation in Yemen. The plan is to re-take the port of Hodeida on the Red Sea. This is a departure from the Obama Administration’s policies regarding intervention in the 2-year civil war that has decimated Yemen. U.S. involvement under President Obama was mostly restricted to actions against Al-Qaeda in Yemen’s Southern Provinces (See the Washington Post on 3/26/2017: Trump Administration Weighs Deeper Involvement in Yemen War).

There is significant disagreement throughout the U.S government on what the U.S. role in Yemen should be and many are worried that the Trump administration means to take a more aggressive position toward Iran (who is supposed to be backing the Houthi Rebels in Yemen). This has the potential to create further instability in an already devastated region of the world. Thousands have died and tens of thousands have been injured by fighting and millions are starving, but U.S. intervention may put even more civilians in the line of fire.  (See the Washington Post on 3/26/2017: Trump Administration Weighs Deeper Involvement in Yemen War).

There is also concern that President Trump will follow in the footsteps of President Harry Truman (Korea), President Lyndon Johnson (Vietnam), and President Richard Nixon (Vietnam), all of whom engaged in the prosecution of wars without prior authorization from Congress (See Slate Magazine: What War Powers Does the President Have).

Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution is clear that Congress is the only branch of U.S. government that has the power to declare war.  However, Article II, Section 2 names the President “Commander-in-Chief” of the military, which has allowed past U.S. Presidents to commit troops to armed conflicts around the world without Congressional authorization. The Vietnam war prompted Congress to pass The War Powers Resolution, also known as The War Powers Act. (See The Week 3/15/2011: The Power to Declare War). 

The War Powers Resolution sets forth specific guidelines that the President and Congress must follow “where the introduction of U.S. forces abroad could lead to their involvement in armed conflict.” (See The Library of Congress: War Powers).

What’s going on in Yemen?

According to the BBC, Yemen  is one of the poorest countries in the Arab world and has been embroiled in a bloody, devastating civil war since 2015 (See the BBC Report on 3/27/2017: Yemen Crisis: Who is Fighting Whom?). The war is between the internationally-recognized government of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, and the Houthi Rebel Movement (officially known as Ansar Allah or “Partisans of God”). The Houthi Movement supports the Zaidi Shia Muslim minority in Yemen.  The crisis is said to have begun during a failed transfer of power in November 2011. The former President, Ali Abdullah Saleh was supposed to transfer power to Mr. Hadi. Mr. Hadi assumed the presidency but was trapped between Al-Qaeda and military forces still loyal to Selah in the south and Houthi Movement forces in the north.

The Houthis took control of Yemen’s capital, Saana, in September 2014 and in March 2015, along with Selah’s forces made a bid for control of the country, forcing Mr. Hadi to flee to Saudi Arabia. The pro-government movement in Yemen is supported by Saudi Arabia and its allies and the Houthi Rebel Movement is believed to be supported by Iran. The Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and “rival affiliates of Islamic State (IS)” continue to hold Yemen’s southern provinces.

Millions of people are trapped in the middle, creating a humanitarian disaster of epic proportions. According to the UN, it is supposed that approximately 7 million people are starving (“severely food insecure”) and 17 million are on the brink of starvation (“food insecure”). Thousands have been killed during the fighting. Tens of thousands have been injured, 60% of which are supposed to have been injured by Saudi-led air strikes. (See the BBC Report on 3/27/2017: Yemen Crisis: Who is Fighting Whom?).

It is imperative that the consequences of U.S. involvement be thoroughly explored prior to commitment to the UAE-led operation. This is why the U.S. Constitution and the War Powers Resolution mandate that the President receive prior authorization from Congress before committing U.S. troops to military operations.

What can you do?

Call your Representative and tell them to sign on to the Pocan-Amash-Lieu-Jones letter. Here’s a script if you need one:

(if you are a registered voter, it’s important your Congressperson KNOWS you live in their State and are watching their actions)Hello. My name is (NAME), I am a US citizen living in (STATE), my zip code is (ZIP). I am calling to ask the Representative to sign the Pocan-Amash-Lieu-Jones bi-partisan letter urging President Trump to seek authorization from Congress before escalating the war in Yemen. The deadline to do so is April 4th.

It’s crucial that President Trump adhere to the rules set forth in the US Constitution. There are millions of lives and escalating aggressions with Iran at stake and broad disagreement within our own government regarding how to respond.

Thank you.


 

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