Though Biden finally pulled the U.S. out of one country's civil war, our support for Saudi Arabia's attacks on Yemen keeps us fully enmeshed in another.
As I wrote last month, U.S. contractors and even Department of Defense personnel still fix the planes that bomb Yemenis and enforce a blockade that starves millions. As in Afghanistan, Yemeni activists say our military interference gives bad actors on the ground the cover they need to blame suffering on foreign influence, which perpetuates "the world's worst humanitarian crisis," to borrow a phrase from the United Nations.
Trump and his defense-contractor beneficiaries in the Senate blocked attempts in 2019-20 to end U.S. complicity in all that slaughter, but with Democrats at least nominally in control of Congress and the White House, this year looks like the year it could actually happen.
However, though Biden started off the year with a promise to end U.S. support for Saudi war in Yemen, he's finishing it by selling Blackhawks to the Kingdom, which is why Congress needs to act on this.
“Saudi Arabia’s tactic of collective punishment has created untold suffering for tens of millions of people and contributed to hundreds of thousands of deaths. Congress must take urgent action and legislate an immediate end to U.S. complicity in Saudi war crimes for the sake of millions of Yemenis in desperate need," said Hassan El-Tayyab, the legislative director for Middle East policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation.
As chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Seattle Rep. Adam Smith plays a major role in making it so. Last week he took a meaningful step in that direction by co-sponsoring both a strong and a weak amendment in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)—the multibillion-dollar "must-pass" defense spending bill.
According to the mark-up on the NDAA, Smith co-sponsored Yemen-related amendments from Rep. Ro Khanna and House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Rep. Gregory Meeks. Khanna's amendment "terminates" all logistical support, intelligence sharing, and maintenance of Saudi warplanes. The Meeks amendment only "suspends" maintenance for the planes "with certain exemptions for territorial self-defense, counterterrorism operations, and defense of U.S. government facilities or personnel."
Advocates like Khanna's amendment and say it has the best chance of passing.
El-Tayyab said Chairman Smith's support portends success. Republican support for the amendment would go further to help the policy survive a conference with the Senate, where El-Tayyab expressed some confidence in its passage given similar but weaker language in that chamber's version of the package. In 2019, he added, Smith and over a dozen Republicans supported similar legislation to end the U.S. involvement with offensive strikes. With Trump gone, the GOP might be more willing to lend its support, but who knows.
That said, supporting Khanna's amendment would be politically advantageous. Last anyone checked, as far as I can google, a vast majority of Americans support the policy: "75% of Americans opposed to US military support to the Saudi and Emirati-led Coalition in Yemen; 82% of respondents agree Congress must vote to end or decrease arms sales, with 98% of liberals and 63% of conservatives in agreement," according to a 2018 YouGov poll.
The amendment will see a floor vote either Wednesday or Thursday of this week.