February 15, 2019 – Reclaiming Congress’ War Power
U.S. military forces are currently engaged in two armed conflicts in Yemen at the same time—and one of those conflicts is unconstitutional.
What is the history of U.S. engagement in Yemen?
In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Congress authorized war against al Qaeda and related groups wherever they might be found. The poor Middle Eastern nation of Yemen is one of the countries from which al Qaeda operates, and the U.S. has been engaged in periodic counterterrorism operations there since the early 2000s.
Meanwhile, a civil war broke out in Yemen in 2015, and a faction known as the Houthis subsequently took control over much of the country. This alarmed Saudi Arabia, Yemen’s powerful neighbor, which opposes the Houthis primarily because they are aligned with Iran, the Saudis’ principle rival. In March 2015, Saudi Arabia invaded Yemen to wage war on the Houthis and subsequently asked for U.S. assistance in that struggle. Our nation agreed to participate, in part to appease the Saudis—an important strategic partner on many Middle East issues—and in part to counter Iran’s ambitions. That effort continues today.
Why is U.S. cooperation with the Saudis against the Houthis a problem?
In short, because U.S. military hostilities against the Houthis—unlike our efforts in Yemen against al Qaeda—have never been authorized by Congress. The Constitution makes explicitly clear that while the President has the responsibility to wage war, it is Congress that must authorize armed conflicts in the first place.
There may be reasonable geostrategic reasons to help the Saudis in their struggle against the Houthis—although I am very doubtful, and the humanitarian cost in Yemeni civilian lives thus far has been nothing short of heartbreaking. But before we can even debate the merits of U.S. participation in the conflict, we first need to respect the wisdom of the Founders, who wanted the legislative branch—not the chief executive—to have the sole power to declare war.
What am I doing about it?
On Wednesday, I voted on a resolution to end U.S. participation in the Saudi struggle against the Houthis in Yemen. That resolution, which passed the House of Representatives by a bipartisan vote of 248-177, is awaiting action from the Senate.