Those in the antiwar movement are accustomed to disappointment in this long-standing environment of militarism, but this one truly stings. Up until the middle of December, there had been a strong push across many grassroots organizations to urge the US Congress to invoke the War Powers Resolution and end military support for the War in Yemen. Hopes were high that America would finally pull the plug on this terrible conflict.
That momentum was dashed just a week prior to Congress going on break for the winter holidays when Senator Bernie Sanders withdrew his call on the matter at the final hour, shortly before it was going to come to a Senate vote, due to the Biden White House expressing its opposition. It goes to show that voices of reason can reach within a whisper of the halls of power, but the thunderous bellow of empire still dominates the room.
Grassroots Efforts on a Pressing Crisis
In the months leading up to the anticipated Senate vote, more than one hundred organizations including The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), Demand Progress, Just Foreign Policy, Concerned Vets for America, Defense Priorities Initiative, Bring Our Troops Home, and the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft came together to let lawmakers know that a significant number of Americans want the US to stop supporting the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East region which has been suffering under war and blockade for years. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates a quarter of a million people have died from violence, disease, and starvation.
Certainly, the War in Yemen is one of the most complex conflicts to understand as it involves a myriad of opposing groups and foreign intervention. This resolution would have ended US involvement in hostilities against the Houthi rebels who are in conflict with the Yemeni government.
Still, it would not affect operations against al-Qaeda and its affiliates in the country, a set of entirely different problems altogether as the US previously helped the Houthis target al-Qaeda in Yemen, but then switched sides and opposed the Houthis in support of Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy. This came in the wake of the US signing a nuclear deal with Iran even while Obama administration officials acknowledged that the conflict would be “long, bloody, and indecisive.”
Bipartisan Support to End the War
After many years of fighting between the multiple factions and the hardship of the humanitarian crisis, a ceasefire brokered by the UN was in effect for six months until it expired in October of 2022. With the backdrop of the ceasefire and shifting geopolitical realities, the US Congress put together bipartisan efforts to activate the War Powers Resolution on US involvement in the war. This would be their second attempt after the first bill sponsored by Senators Sanders, Democrat Chris Murphy, and Republican Mike Lee was vetoed by President Donald Trump in 2019.
For Democrats, opposition to the US role in Yemen falls directly in line with the party and key Biden officials’ views as they pushed back against President Trump’s veto in the first use of the War Powers Resolution on the Yemen War. For Republicans, this campaign against the Houthis was the fault of the Democratic president Obama who threw US support behind al-Qaeda’s side in the conflict. Although ending America’s role in the war is popular across the political aisle and among the people, that doesn’t seem to be enough to get in the way of the American imperial motives.
Interests of Empire
The Biden administration’s turn against ending support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen stems largely from geopolitical considerations. Relations between the US and Saudi Arabia have soured in the recent term over disagreements on oil production and Iran policy. The kingdom has turned toward China, a major US adversary, for future collaboration.
Although not completely doing away with the long-standing relationship with Washington, Saudi Arabia is quickly considering the benefits of diversifying into China in this new multipolar world order. Riyadh has recently hosted a summit with China and other Gulf states to deepen ties in their strategic partnerships. In this era of increasingly fierce competition with China, Washington is keeping all of its allies as close as it possibly can by catering to the leadership even though the fact of the matter is that Saudi Arabia is the client state here to the US world empire.
The lucrative trade implications for US arms manufacturers sit at the core of decision-making for the American empire on involvement in Yemen. Indeed, the lobbying efforts by Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Raytheon led to the Trump veto of the first attempt to end US involvement in the conflict. The defense industry’s mutual financial benefit with Washington exemplifies the notion that war is the health of the state.
All of this amounts to a sense of business-as-usual resignation with this chance to put a stop to just one of America’s foreign interventions snatched away by the hand of the empire at the last moment. Perhaps the vote will come up again in Washington at some point. Meanwhile, the people of Yemen head into another new year of dread as the light at the end of the tunnel fades.