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Ex-Obama administration officials push Democrats in Congress to defund war in Yemen

A collection of former high-ranking Obama administration national security officials who pushed a policy that led the United States to support Saudi Arabia in the war in Yemen are now pleading with leaders in Congress to defund that effort.

Former national security adviser Susan Rice, former US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power and former deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes are among a group of signatories on a letter to Democratic leaders, obtained by CNN, that argues that the policy they were instrumental in implementing could lead to much bigger problems in future.

“The ongoing conflict between Saudi Arabia and Yemen’s Houthis threatens fresh U.S. military action in the region,” they write. “President Trump recently signaled that the United States is ‘locked and loaded’ for possible intervention at the behest of Saudi Arabia, deployed U.S. troops to the Saudi kingdom, and escalated military tensions with Iran. In addition to making a war with Iran more likely, the conflict in Yemen is also imperiling tens of millions of the most vulnerable people on earth through disease, starvation and violence.”

In a rare moment of bipartisanship, both the House and Senate passed a resolution (SR7) that called on the Trump administration to end all hostilities in Yemen that weren’t expressly authorized by the Congress. President Donald Trump vetoed the resolution in April and the support of the Saudi-led effort in Yemen continues. Now these former Obama administration officials are arguing that the only way to end the US involvement in Yemen is by defunding the effort with an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act.

Brutal civil war

Yemen has been mired in political unrest and armed conflict, which intensified in early 2015. Houthi rebels — a minority Shia group from the north of the country — drove out the US-backed government and took over the capital, Sanaa. The crisis quickly escalated into a multi-sided war, with neighboring Saudi Arabia leading a coalition of Gulf states against the Houthis. The coalition is advised and supported by the US and the United Kingdom, among other nations.

A report from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project in June found that more than 91,000 people have been killed in the conflict since 2015. It also found that the Saudi-led coalition and its allies had been responsible for more than 8,000 of the approximately 11,700 deaths connected to the direct targeting of civilians in the conflict.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who led the effort in the Senate to pass SR7, believes cutting funding may be the only way to force the administration to comply with the will of the Congress.

“We must push past Trump’s veto. Activists, legal scholars, diplomats, and national security experts are all in agreement: Congress must stand up to this President and block every nickel of taxpayer money from going to this unconstitutional war,” the candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination said in a statement.

The House has already passed a National Defense Authorization Act with bipartisan support that includes an amendment that would defund all hostilities in Yemen. The Senate has passed its own version of the act, without the amendment included — after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked it from getting a vote. The two sides are ironing out a final version of the law in a conference committee and the inclusion of the amendment is a big part of that debate.

The authors of the letter argue that Democratic leaders in the House and Senate need to take advantage of the political will surrounding this issue — a move they believe is central to the balance of power in Washington.

“To those across the country who voted in the 2018 midterm elections for a powerful counterweight to an executive who defies the rule of law, your commitment to prohibit the authorization of funds available for U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen through the NDAA is vital.”

The Trump administration has been insistent that is the President’s job to enact US foreign policy and that any attempt to limit his authority is inappropriate. In his veto message in response to SR7, Trump argued that Congress was the one overstepping its bounds.

“This resolution is an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities, endangering the lives of American citizens and brave service members, both today and in the future,” Trump wrote.

But Rep. Ro Khanna, who sponsored the amendment to defund hostilities in Yemen in the House, believes that if Congress doesn’t take this stand now, it could have long-term ramifications.

“No President should ever be allowed to declare war without first seeking congressional authorization,” the California Democrat said. “This amendment must be kept in the final defense bill to bring about an end to the war. President Trump was elected on the promise of putting a stop to our endless wars: It’s time he follow through on that pledge.”

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