Trump's Saudi veto is a disgrace — and a danger — to America
This week, President Donald Trump vetoed the War Powers Resolution, a historic bipartisan attempt by Congress to force the administration to halt US support to Saudi Arabia in Yemen. The Saudis are currently spearheading a war effort that has created a humanitarian crisis in Yemen — one that has killed more than 50,000 people and left millions in dire need of aid. Now, when Congress wants to withdraw US support, Trump decides to make use of only his second veto in office thus far.
In his message to the Senate, Trump wrote: “This resolution is an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities, endangering the lives of American citizens and brave service members, both today and in the future.” Not a single word of this is true, and this veto is a disgrace.
Trump claims Congress’ resolution is unnecessary. Yet the constitutional power to declare war lies with Congress — not the president — making the resolution entirely necessary. For the last 70 years, Congress has shamefully abdicated its constitutional authority over war. This is partly a means of avoiding the political buck on potentially unpopular conflicts, but it has allowed the executive branch wide latitude in using the military overseas.
Successive administrations have ended up dragging the US into peripheral and lengthy conflicts that likely won’t end anytime soon because of this complacency. In 2001, Congress used the broadest language possible to provide the Bush administration “authority” to pursue those responsible for 9/11, and did so again in 2002 for the invasion of Iraq. Almost two decades later, we’re still in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Bush administration, too, built a national security state infrastructure that has allowed the US to pursue a truly global war on terror that will never end. Indeed, terrorism is a fact of life and can never be fully eliminated.
So, yes, any Congressional effort to reclaim its war-making power is both welcome and absolutely necessary. Yet President Trump also describes the resolution as an attempt to “weaken my constitutional authorities.” Indeed, it is — and that’s the point. The balance of power has shifted much too far in the direction of the executive and needs a recalibration.
These were not Trump’s authorities to begin with. They’re the authorities of the office to which he was elected. This may seem like semantics, but given the president’s well-established authoritarian tendencies and desires, and his ability to make everything about himself, it is necessary to remember that he was elected president, not crowned king.
Trump’s belief that withdrawing US support endangers American lives, both “today and in the future,” is merely the same, tired interventionist argument. Supposedly, because it’s possible that some day a bad guy on Yemeni soil might try to harm Americans, Trump thinks we have to contribute to a bombing campaign that’s setting an already poor country back 1,000 years. This is threat inflation, pure and simple — a risk threshold so low that any attempt to scale back is seen as dangerous and destabilising. And it’s a sorry way to conduct foreign policy.
If anything, the bigger threat to American lives is from the Trump administration’s warmongering. The Saudi-led war in Yemen is part of a proxy war with Iran, the Saudi kingdom’s regional adversary. And Iran is Trump’s foreign policy bogeyman, as he withdrew the US from the nuclear deal that investigators still conclude has been successful in curbing their nuclear capability.
Trump also labelled the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organisation, and has publicly stated that wariness of Iran is driving the US’s continued presence in Syria and Iraq. Someone with a keen memory can see the parallels to the Bush administration’s 2002-3 case for the invasion of Iraq, which had deadly consequences.
A war with Iran risks the lives of thousands of US military personnel in the Middle East, since the country possesses an incredibly large and diverse ballistic missile arsenal. Yet somehow we’re supposed to buy the argument that the Houthis, the group the Saudis are fighting in Yemen, are the real threat to American lives.
Trump’s veto is shameful. Millions of innocent civilians are suffering needlessly in Yemen, and the US continues to rubber-stamp Saudi war crimes in the name of inflated and false threats. Ultimately, innocent Yemeni blood is on our hands, and with this veto, it looks like America First really means cruelty first.
Jerrod A Laber is a Washington-based foreign policy writer, and a Senior Contributor for Young Voices. Follow him on Twitter @JerrodALaber