Marines training near Yemen
Marines train in an MV-22 Osprey in Grand Bara, Djibouti, across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen. Defense Department photo

By Joel Day

The current crisis in Yemen replicates the moral failures in the Middle East that have come to define U.S. foreign policy.

Despite 17 years in Afghanistan and 16 in Iraq, both the president and Congress have failed to learn that political crises cannot be solved by military force. Not only are our service members still dying in Afghanistan and Iraq, but the United States has now contributed aerial surveillance, resupply missions, search and rescue operations, arms sales, and training programs to a multi-sided geopolitical proxy war in Yemen.

In Yemen, Operation Decisive Storm—later renamed Operation Restoring Hope—has used U.S. military assets and billions of dollars of U.S. arms to block humanitarian support in the gulf of Aden with the aim of choking out the Iranian-backed Houthi government. U.S. officials have also reportedly been in the command and control center for Saudi airstrikes—which are the main cause of thousands of civilian deaths—and had access to lists of targets.

The resulting devastation has produced the largest man-made humanitarian crisis on earth, with 16 million people lacking clean water and food and 11.3 million people in acute need who urgently require immediate assistance in order to survive.

We are once again complicit in an illegal and morally repugnant war. It is time for our Congress to articulate a strategy for pulling out of the civil war in Yemen and then plan, in the long term, for how to stay out of wars like this for good.

In the short term, there are pragmatic and tangible steps forward for withdrawing U.S. complicity and forcing pressure to end the war. A new Democratic majority in Congress should immediately force a vote on California Rep. Ro Khanna’s HR 138 egislation that would direct the president to remove U.S. armed forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress.

Congress, after all, has the sole power to declare war under article I, section 8 of the Constitution. Therefore, it’s time for our congressional representatives to reclaim this power, beginning with Rep. Susan Davis, San Diego’s representative on the Armed Services Committee, which is the very committee that would first vote on advancing this important legislation to the full Congress.

HR 138 comes at a critical time in the war. Pulling out our military could force the Saudi coalition to the negotiating table. At the very least, cutting off U.S. resources would ground Saudi planes that bomb civilians, break the blockade and allow in humanitarian relief, as well as set the stage for conflict de-escalation.

Without HR 138, President Trump can continue inserting U.S. resources, which will only prevent the resolution of conflict by emboldening the Saudi-backed side and forcing their opposition into the arms of Iran or terrorist groups in order to survive. Supporting this ongoing military action and its resultant human misery is not only wrong, but ineffective counter-terrorism policy. As in Iraq, the conditions we are fomenting in this war will contribute to more extremism, not less.

Khanna’s bill also creates a framework for drawing down U.S. forces across the world engaged in operations that have not been authorized by Congress. Our long term national security strategy should refocus on being a force for good in the world, not smashing our way through war after war.

Based on the HR 138 framework, a new Congress could withdraw U.S. presence from countries like Niger, where we lost several service members last year chasing terrorists across the desert. We could also limit and ultimately withdraw from Libya, Sudan, Uganda, and other places where Congress has not authorized war. Furthermore, passing HR 138 can be part of a broader strategy to demand an exit from Afghanistan and Iraq once and for all.

We currently have a whole generation going to the polls in November who have known nothing but our country at war in the Middle East. They are exhausted at our continued moral and strategic failures abroad and exasperated that our Congress has allowed us, once again, to enter another country’s politically-driven civil war at the cost of millions of innocent lives, with no end game, no transition plan, and no exit strategy.

Joel Day is a visiting professor of peace studies at the University of San Diego and a security fellow at the Truman National Security Project.