The steps taken by the US Senate in passing the Yemen War Powers Resolution last Thursday confirmed the ongoing disgust at the premeditated killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul two months ago. It attests to the simple fact that American legislators will not always ignore criminal acts in the pursuit of state interests, following the dictum of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. that, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
The bipartisan step was a direct rebuke to President Donald Trump and his administration, and marks the first time that the Senate has invoked Congress's power in defiance of overseas US military involvement. The vote on the resolution — 56 in favour, and 41 against — shows how the Senate went against Trump's policy towards Saudi Arabia and its de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman. It seems that US Senators have had enough of their country being complicit in a war that has created what is now the world's worst humanitarian crisis, and decided to put America's national interest first.
The fact that seven Republicans voted in favour of ending US military support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen — despite warnings from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary James Mattis — highlights the significant distance between them and the Trump administration. Trump appears to have isolated himself politically due to his stubborn backing for Saudi Arabia and Bin Salman.
"Today, we tell the despotic regime in Saudi Arabia that we will not be part of their military adventurism," declared Senator Bernie Sanders, one of the co-sponsors of the resolution. This demonstrated the willingness to take a robust approach that sends a clear message to Riyadh that its war crimes in Yemen are unacceptable.
Reports confirm that around twenty million people in Yemen are facing starvation, a staggering 70 per cent of the population and a 15 per cent increase on last year. For the first time, a UN official said on Monday, at least 250,000 Yemenis are facing "catastrophe". The history books will record who has been responsible for this, and it is a shame that America's name will be there alongside Saudi Arabia and its coalition members.
On the same day last week, the Senate also passed a joint resolution holding Bin Salman accountable for Khashoggi's murder. "Pleased the Senate spoke with one voice this afternoon and overwhelmingly passed the joint resolution I authored to hold Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman responsible for the murder of Jamal #Khashoggi," tweeted the Republican Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker. This double whammy against a close ally in the Middle East is probably unique.
"This was a very good opportunity for senators to go on record against [Bin Salman] and Saudi Arabia and the war in Yemen without having to deal with the possibility that their resolution will be implemented," explained Gregory Gause, the head of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A & M University. Gause told me that the Republicans in the House of Representatives made it clear on Wednesday that "they will not bring up the Yemen war powers issue before the end of this Congress."
However, added the political scientist, this will be back on the agenda in January, when the Democrats take over the House, but it will have to start all over, with another Senate vote. "The Senate will be slightly more Republican, with new Republican Senators for whom Trump campaigned very hard. They might owe him something." Gause pointed out, though, that the Senate vote is a good reminder that, despite the billions they spend on lobbying, the Saudis are not popular in Washington; that it is only in the White House that they have steady friends.
"But the interesting thing is that this is true of every White House, Democrat and Republican. Even the Obama White House, as leery as it was of the Saudis, supported the intervention in Yemen and vetoed the JASTA bill [which would have opened up Saudi officials to prosecution for the 9/11 terrorist attacks]."
Nevertheless, the current administration has taken its relationship with Saudi Arabia to an unprecedented level in the way that the President has been defending the country vigorously. It is apparent that the development in the Senate was intended to stop this by weakening Trump's hand, forcing him to minimise US support to the Saudi-led coalition and its war in Yemen.
If this resolution succeeds, it could lead to the undermining of US support for senior officials in the Middle East at the very moment that they are more dependent than ever on Trump in order to pursue their regional agendas, especially in the Gulf.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.