Editor’s Note: Chris Murphy, a Democrat, is a US senator from Connecticut. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own; view more opinion at CNN.
Washington is agonizingly slow at learning from its mistakes. Especially in the Middle East. Over the last decade and a half in that critical but chaotic part of the world, the United States has repeatedly witnessed the limitations of using the blunt instrument of American military force to solve complicated political, social, economic and religious conflicts. There is, of course, no better example of this failure to understand the limits of American military power than our decade-long disastrous invasion and occupation of Iraq. And yet we are now back to making the same mistakes, this time in a less well-known country called Yemen.
For three years, the United States has supported a coalition led by Saudi Arabia that is waging war inside Yemen, trying to oust a rebel government made up of members of the Houthi tribe. Our role in the coalition is significant – we sell bombs and weapons to the Saudis, we help them pick targets inside Yemen, and until recently, we refueled their planes in the sky.
To anyone paying attention, it’s clear that the United States is engaged in a war in Yemen. And yet this war has not been authorized or debated by Congress. Our involvement started quietly under President Barack Obama, and now President Donald Trump has increased our participation. And it’s not as if our participation in the Yemen conflict hasn’t come with serious consequences.
Yemen has become a hell on earth for the civilians caught within its borders. More than 10,000 innocents have been killed in the Saudi-led bombing campaign since the beginning of the civil war. Targets have included schools, hospitals, weddings, a funeral party and recently a school bus carrying 38 children to a field trip.
More than 22 million people – three quarters of the population – require humanitarian assistance and protection. The country is on the brink of famine and is in the midst of the worst cholera outbreak in the world.
To date, an estimated 85,000 children under the age of 5 in Yemen may have died from starvation and disease. In many ways, this suffering is an intentional byproduct of the Saudi coalition, which has targeted water treatment plants, health clinics and even a Doctors Without Borders hospital, all with US assistance.
There is a US imprint on each of these civilian deaths. As the humanitarian nightmare worsens, it also provides the fuel to recruit young men into terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda and ISIS, which have been able to thrive in the power vacuum created by the war. For as many bad guys that we kill with this strategy, we create two more. Ultimately, our involvement is making the United States less safe as we create conditions that radicalize a generation of young Middle Easterners against us.
That’s why I am working with Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Utah Republican Mike Lee to force the Senate to vote on a resolution that says this President and this administration cannot continue to engage in the conflict in Yemen without a declaration of war from Congress. Our legislation, which cleared a major procedural hurdle Wednesday and is working its way through the Senate under the 1974 War Powers Act, would require the administration to pull its support from the Saudi coalition until it gets that declaration of war.
It’s time for Congress to reclaim one of its most fundamental duties – deciding when and where the United States goes to war. For too long, we have been content to sit on the sidelines and cede this power to the executive branch. But in doing so, we are repeating the same mistakes we have made over the last 15 years of US foreign policy in the Middle East.
It’s time for us to end our disastrous engagement in Yemen, and it’s time for Congress to reclaim its role as the body with the sole authority to declare war. We can start by deciding to end our involvement in the war in Yemen.