Yesterday, the Senate passed a resolution that seeks to end US involvement in a particularly nasty little war between Saudi Arabia and its allies and Iran’s proxy army in Yemen. By a vote of 54-46, the Senate invoked the War Powers Act and gave President Trump 30 days to pull US support from that war unless we are engaging al Qaeda. GOP senators Collins (ME), Daines (MT), Lee (UT), Murkowski (AK), Moran (KS), Paul (KY), and Young (IN) crossed over to vote with the Chuck Schumer on this. What makes this different from other attempts to use this alleged Congressional power is that US forces aren’t involved in fighting the Iranian proxies, we are basically selling munitions to the Saudis, providing intelligence and flying aerial refueling missions for them.
The House has twice passed a similar resolution and will inevitably pass a third. This, under the War Powers Act, is all that is necessary to compel obedience by the president.
The actual resolution has enough loop holes that the US military can probably continue to do what it is doing by simply packaging the actions differently. But there is no reason for the administration to create further confrontation by evading this Congressional act. President Trump should ignore this unconstitutional meddling in Article II powers by Congress under the War Powers Act and say, “I’ll see you in court.”
The War Powers resolution was passed in 1973 over a veto by President Nixon. The cover story for it was the alleged secret bombing of Cambodia. How you “secretly” bomb someone has never been explained but the larger reason was, much as today, an overt hostility by Congressional Democrats towards a Republican president. What was different was that by 1973, the nation had soured on the Vietnam War. In this case, we’re seeing the fruit of an aggressive propaganda campaign paid for by Qatar to the benefit of Iran being translated into a Congressional resolution that will probably result in a showdown between the President and Congress.
Congress clearly has the power to end US involvement by the US military in Yemen. It can do it the same way it did in Vietnam. Even after the passage of the War Powers Act, the US continued to directly support the Vietnamese armed forces. It was only in 1975, when Congress forbade the use of appropriated funds to support military operations in Southeast Asia, that the war came to an end. What Congress can’t do by simple majority vote is direct the Commander in Chief how he many use the US Armed Forces. In 1994, the House sued President Clinton for violation of the War Powers Act in Kosovo. The DC Circuit ruled that the issue was a political, not a legal one. The facts in this case are even more unfavorable to Congress because, unlike in Kosovo, there is no direct US military support of the Saudi coalition in combat operations.
There is actually no downside for President Trump in ignoring this usurpation of power by a bare majority vote. Strategically, we need to press the Iranians and we can’t let humanitarian disaster precipitated by the Iranian proxies in Yemen be used as a way of forcing us to stop helping our allies. Politically, standing up to Congress will not hurt him with very many people. It will also force Congress to go to court to try to enforce this law and they will inevitably lose. And that is a very good thing.
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