Grassley, Ernst should rethink US links to Saudi Arabia

It is difficult to grasp how terrible the ongoing Yemen Civil War is.

Thousands have died from the conflict since 2015, in addition to tens of thousands more from a famine that the United Nations says could become the worst in a century. A pro-government coalition led by Saudi Arabia has inflicted significant civilian casualties through airstrikes. Americans are now questioning our role in that coalition, and our tenuous alliance with Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. Senate last week voted to advance a resolution directing the removal of U.S. forces from the Yemen conflict unless authorized by Congress. Fourteen Republicans joined every Senate Democrat in support, but Iowa’s Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst were not among them. The delegation also voted against the same resolution earlier this year.

Ernst, who sits on the Armed Forces Committee, issued a statement to say the War Powers Resolution – which states the president shall remove troops at Congress’s request – doesn’t apply here because “U.S. forces are not directly engaged in hostilities in Yemen.”

The distinction Ernst draws is beside the point. The United States is providing intelligence, aerial targeting assistance and refueling to the Saudi-led coalition. The United States also leads drone strikes against suspected terrorists in Yemen. And as we know from President Donald Trump’s defense of our foreign arms deals, we sell Saudi Arabia plenty of weapons.

Our Constitution gives Congress alone the power to declare war. For too long, Congress has abdicated its duty to the executive branch. The results have been expensive and often deadly. If there is an appropriate role for the United States in this or any other conflict, it should be vetted and voted on by our elected representatives.

Another resolution, introduced this week, calls for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to be “held accountable” for contributing to the crisis in Yemen, torturing dissidents and the “abhorrent and unjustified murder” of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The document has a long list of the crown prince’s documented human rights violations, including details surrounding Khashoggi’s death.

Three Republicans and Three Democrats are sponsoring the bin Salman resolution, including a few of the chamber’s most hawkish members. The movement to reclaim Congress’s role in foreign policy and thoroughly evaluate our entangling alliances is moving from the fringes of each party to the mainstream. We hope Ernst and Grassley will join.

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