by Kate Kizer
Last week, Congress did something unprecedented on foreign policy. For the first time since it overrode President Nixon’s veto to pass the 1973 War Powers Resolution in the wake of the Vietnam War, both the Senate and the House voted to direct the president to withdraw from an unauthorized military conflict. By passing Senate Joint Resolution 7, Congress has set up a showdown with the president that will either force the second veto of his presidency or be the first time a president has acquiesced to Congress’ assertion of its war-making authority.
After this historic victory for peace advocates and constitutionalists alike and with the war in Yemen not over, the question remains: what’s next?
The first step will be pressuring the president to sign, rather than veto, the bill. A bicameral, bipartisan group of members, including some Trump allies, is actively trying to get the president to sign the bill in light of his stated desire to end endless wars. Although unlikely, he reportedly might do just that and take the opportunity to show that he is not as beholden to the Saudi and Emirati monarchies as his previous actions imply.
Should Trump veto the legislation, as he is most likely to do, it will reinforce the perception that Trump has made the United States a client state of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Trump’s previous loyalty to these countries—as already exposed by his attempts to help cover up the murder of Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi—has provided a blank check of support for the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen in the face of continuing war crimes. His seeming obsession to conclude arms deals with the kingdom no matter the costs—to say nothing of Trump business interests in Saudi Arabia—has only inflamed tensions with Congress.
Trump’s fealty to these monarchies is not the only thing that should concern Congress in the face of a veto. In fact, a Trump veto sets up a choice for members of Congress that goes well beyond Yemen. It will force Congress to decide whether it believes itself to be a co-equal branch of government and if it will rebuke what would be a blatant attack on its sole authority to decide when, where, and how the United States goes to war. Overriding his veto is as much about protecting the separation of powers in the U.S. government as it is about ending the U.S. role in the war in Yemen. This should not be a partisan issue. Failing to override the president’s veto would permanently undermine Congress’ ability to determine matters of war and peace as the Constitution prescribes.
Even if Congress fails to override a potential veto, however, it can significantly scale back or even end U.S. support for the Saudi coalition’s war through other means. For example, Congress can cut off and defund all forms of U.S. military assistance to the coalition countries in Yemen through must-pass legislation like the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) or the Department of Defense appropriations bill. By cutting off funds for refueling, intelligence sharing, targeting, and other forms of logistical assistance, Congress can end a major component of U.S. military involvement in this war, which is essential to the United States playing a credible mediation role in the struggling peace process.
Regardless of whether Trump vetoes the Yemen war powers resolution, Congress should move to proactively ban weapons sales to the coalition countries. For years, U.S. weaponry has been used in repeated and continuing attacks on civilians and vital civilian infrastructure that likely amount to war crimes. Congress should make Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Robert Menendez’s (D-NJ) informal hold on the sale of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia and the UAE more permanent by banning the export, sale, or transfer of air-to-ground munitions to these countries for a period of at least two years. It should also invoke Section 201 of the Arms Exports Control Act to receive a pre-delivery notification of any already approved sales of these weapons to allow Congress to block their delivery.
Whether or not the president decides to heed the will of Congress, the fight over the recent Yemen legislation not only has a positive impact on the ongoing peace process but can also be a first step toward ending the endless U.S. wars around the world. By invoking its war powers to end a clearly unauthorized conflict—that not even the executive branch claims is covered by a current authorization for the use of military force (AUMF)—it has exercised its constitutionally mandated responsibility over war and peace.
It must not stop at Yemen. It must move onto ending U.S. military misadventures in Syria, the Horn of Africa, Afghanistan, and beyond, by repealing the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs that have kept the United States in a state of global, perpetual war.