Trump's Yemen war policy survives Senate's veto override bid

Trump's Yemen war policy survives Senate's veto override bid
3 min read
Donald Trump's veto of measures that would have ended US military backing for the Saudi-led war in Yemen will stand despite Senate attempts to overturn it.
Trump's veto, and his administration's support for Saudi Arabia, survived a Senate challenge [Getty]
The United States Senate on Thursday failed to override President Donald Trump's veto of legislation that would have ended military assistance for the Saudi-led war in Yemen against Iran-aligned rebels.

Lawmakers opposed to the veto have pledged to re-examine other aspects of America's ties with the kingdom.

While the 53-45 vote to override fell well short of the required two-thirds, passage of the resolution in April was an unprecedented rebuke of Trump's foreign policy and a milestone for Congress, which invoked never-before-used powers in an effort to halt foreign military activity. 

The US is providing logistical support and intelligence-sharing to its Saudi ally for the war in Yemen which has killed thousands of civilians and left millions more on the brink of famine.

In explaining his veto last month, Trump said the Yemen resolution was a "dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities, endangering the lives of American citizens".

To one of the resolution's sponsors, Senator Bernie Sanders, the action on Capitol Hill showed that "after years of abdicating that responsibility, Congress stood up in the Senate and in the House and said: You know what, Mr. President, you do not have the power to get US troops involved in a war that we did not vote upon. And that is a big deal."

The push to end American involvement in the war gained strength in Congress last year after Saudi agents killed Jamal Khashoggi, a US-based Washington Post journalist who had written critically about the kingdom. Lawmakers criticised Trump for not condemning Saudi Arabia's role strongly enough and urged new penalties against the American ally. Trump and his administration has forged close ties with the Saudis as it seeks to further isolate Iran.

With the veto remaining intact, lawmakers said they are already looking for other ways to adjust relations with the Saudis.

'Serious concern'

Senator James Risch, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was considering legislation to "put the relationship on the right trajectory".

"Like many of us here today, I'm dissatisfied with the state of the US-Saudi relationship. Indeed, while Saudi Arabia has long been a bulwark of our Middle East policy, there is a growing gap in US-Saudi relations," said Risch.

"Frankly, aspects of Saudi Arabia's behavior are cause for serious, serious concern."

Risch said his committee is taking a "comprehensive look" at the alliance and trying to develop legislation that can "address concerns on both sides of the aisle and actually become law".

Senator Chris Murphy, one of the sponsors of the resolution, said opposition to the war in Yemen is "about sending a message to Saudi Arabia" and about "getting the blood off of our hands."

Comment: Trump's mantra of business before humanity is wrecking Yemeni lives

"The United States should never willingly be a part of a bombing campaign that results in this kind of starvation," he said, gesturing to a photo of an emaciated Yemeni boy.

The Pentagon said continued support of the Saudi-led coalition is in the US interest because it helps American allies push back against Iranian aggression in the region.

Yemen is mired in a grinding conflict between the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels and a government backed up by a Saudi-led coalition.

The coalition launched its first raids on rebel strongholds in March 2015 in a bid to bolster President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, who now lives in Riyadh.

Since then the conflict has killed some 10,000 people, according to the World Health Organisation, although human rights groups say the toll could be five times higher.