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02 March, 2018

Bernie Sanders wants Congress to end US support for Yemen war - Saudi lobbyists fought similar measures last year

A bipartisan group of senators unveiled legislation on Wednesday designed to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

The resolution — introduced by Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.; Chris Murphy, D-Conn.; and Mike Lee, R-Utah — attempts to use the War Powers Act of 1973, a Vietnam War-era law that limits the president’s power to wage war without congressional authorization, to disentangle the U.S. from a campaign that has claimed thousands of civilian lives and led to mass starvation.

The U.S. military currently provides vital support to the Saudi-led incursion into Yemen. Saudi Arabia began its bombing campaign in March 2015, aiming to restore Yemen’s former Saudi-backed president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, to power. Hadi was deposed in 2014 by a Zaidi Shiite rebel group commonly known as the Houthis.

The U.S. has supported the campaign for almost three years, providing targeting intelligence, weapons, and mid-air refueling support for Saudi warplanes. But neither the Obama administration nor the Trump administration has publicly outlined the legal basis for the U.S. role in the conflict.

The Sanders-Lee resolution makes clear that U.S. forces are still authorized to attack Al Qaeda members in Yemen, but requires the U.S. to withdraw its support for the Saudi-led intervention.

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Several lawmakers last year tried to use the National Defense Authorization Act, which sets the annual Defense Department budget, to bring a halt to the war. In the House, Reps. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., and Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, offered amendments to the NDAA to influence the war on Yemen. The Nolan amendment would have prohibited the deployment of U.S. troops in the conflict, and the Davidson amendment would have blocked U.S. involvement not authorized by the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force. The amendments passed but were later stripped out in conference committee.

Alfred Mottur, a prominent Democratic lobbyist with Brownstein Hyatt and a former fundraiser for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, disclosed that he helped Saudi Arabia influence the NDAA amendments.

Other Saudi lobbyists stepped in as well. Howard “Buck” McKeon, a former senior GOP representative who retired from Congress to open his own lobbying shop, the McKeon Group, is also paid by the Saudi government to help maintain political support for the war in Yemen. McKeon and his lobbying firm helped his Saudi clients influence the NDAA amendments to Yemen, as well as the Khanna resolution. McKeon, notably, also lobbied lawmakers to support the Trump administration decision to sell so-called precision-guided munitions, or PGMs, to Saudi Arabia, according to disclosures.

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