General William Tecumseh Sherman famously wrote that “It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.” But as Michael Walzer points out in his classic, Just and Unjust Wars, there are better and worse ways to prosecute a military conflict. Russian and Syrian operations against Syrian rebels have involved acts of profound immorality and cruelty. During the Guatemalan civil war, the military government engaged in genocidal attacks against Mayan villages as part of a “drain the sea” counterinsurgency campaign. The Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen is another, albeit different, affront against basic human rights and principles of jus in bello; the country is on the brink of a full-scale famine.
In Wednesday’s New York Times, Senator Sanders once again called for congress to exercise its Constitutional prerogatives and end American support for the war.
Above and beyond the catastrophe that this war has created, there is the fact that American engagement there has not been authorized by Congress, and is therefore unconstitutional. Article I of the Constitution clearly states that it is Congress, not the president, that has the power to declare war. Over many years, Congress has allowed that power to ebb. That must change.
In February, along with two of my colleagues, Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, and Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, I introduced Senate Joint Resolution 54, calling on the president to withdraw from the Saudi-led war in Yemen. We did this for two reasons. The first is that the war is a strategic and moral disaster for the United States. The second is that the time is long overdue for Congress to reassert authority over matters of war.
The Senate voted 55 to 44 to delay consideration of the resolution. Since then, this crisis has only worsened and our complicity become even greater.
Next month, I intend to bring that resolution back to the floor. We will be adding more co-sponsors, and colleagues in the House have offered a similar measure. The brutal murder of Mr. Khashoggi demands that we make clear that United States support for Saudi Arabia is not unconditional.
I very much hope that Congress will act, that we will finally take seriously our congressional duty, end our support for the carnage in Yemen, and send the message that human lives are worth more than profits for arms manufacturers.
A reckoning not only on Yemen, but on the American relationship with Saudi Arabia, is long overdue. It may be that realpolitik considerations require the continuation of a strategic partnership, but we need to reassess the degree that the United States allows Riyadh to dictate the terms of that partnership.