Congress is on the verge of delivering another rebuke to President Trump, this time concerning the war in Yemen. Last week, the Senate passed a resolution that would mandate an end to U.S. support for the Saudi-led intervention in that troubled Arab state, which now suffers the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with nearly 10 million people on the brink of starvation. If the House, which already voted for a similar measure, approves the Senate version, it would be the first successful use of the 1973 War Powers Act, which was intended to prevent presidents from waging wars without congressional approval.
The problem is that the congressional action, like the rejection of Mr. Trump’s declaration of an emergency along the border, is likely to have little practical effect. The resolution is subject to a presidential veto that is unlikely to be overridden. The administration shows no sign of retreating from its fervent embrace of the Saudi regime, despite its reckless and destructive adventurism.
Congress at least is registering a dissent while standing up for its constitutional authority. The Senate action, which won the support of seven Republican senators, mandates an end to an operation that has made Americans complicit in likely war crimes. Since 2015, U.S. forces have been providing targeting and refueling support to Saudi and United Arab Emirates warplanes, even as they repeatedly bomb civilian targets. This is not “collateral damage”: Investigations by the United Nations and human rights groups have shown that the Saudis targeted food markets, mosques, hospitals, weddings and funerals, and, in one case last year, a bus full of schoolchildren.
The war has been an abject failure. While killing tens of thousands, threatening millions with famine and triggering the worst cholera epidemic in modern history, the Saudis and their allies have never come close to defeating Houthi rebels who control the capital, Sanaa, and the country’s most important port, Hodeida. The two sides are now participating in a U.N.-brokered peace process, though a fragile first step, a cease-fire in Hodeida, is in danger of breaking down.
Without U.S. support, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman would likely be forced to end the war. Unfortunately, the Trump administration is doubling down. Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that “if you truly care about Yemeni lives, you’d support the Saudi-led effort to prevent Yemen from turning into a puppet state” of Iran. He was parroting Riyadh’s propaganda: While the Houthis have been backed by Iran, they are a legitimate indigenous movement. It is Saudi Arabia, not Iran, that has long treated Yemen as a client state.
It’s now clear that a bipartisan congressional majority opposes Mr. Trump’s fealty to Mohammed bin Salman. If the war powers resolution fails or is vetoed, legislators should pursue more comprehensive legislation. A pending Senate bill would halt U.S. sales of offensive weapons and mandate sanctions for those involved in the murder of Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi, among other steps. It, too, likely would advance if the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho), allowed a vote. He should not stand in the way of a bipartisan majority.