In The Imperial Presidency, the historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. warned that the habit of “indiscriminate global intervention, far from strengthening American security, seemed rather to weaken it by involving the United States in remote, costly and mysterious wars, fought in ways that shamed the nation before the world and, even when thus fought, demonstrating only the inability of the most powerful nation on earth to subdue bands of guerrillas in black pajamas. When the grandiose policy did not promote national security and could not succeed in its own terms, would it not be better to pursue policies that did not deform and disable the Constitution?”
These many years later, America is complicit in a mysterious war in Yemen that is waged by Saudi Arabia in ways that shame both of our allied nations. These famine-ravaged youngsters are what that war looks like. As Nicholas Kristof aptly put it, “Your tax dollars help starve children.”
Though the Constitution assigns the war power to Congress, our ongoing role in the conflict is due less to the endorsement of the people or their representatives than to the prerogative of our imperial president. As if to underscore the folly of leaving such decisions to one man, he happens to be a crass buffoon with a broken moral compass, no foreign-policy experience, and a family business that benefits from Saudi-government money even as he sits in the White House.
“I get along great with all of them; they buy apartments from me,” Donald Trump once said of the Saudis during a campaign rally. “They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much!”
On Thursday, Congress took a step toward remedying this discreditable status quo. “The Senate voted … to end American military assistance for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen in the strongest show of bipartisan defiance against President Trump’s defense of the kingdom over the killing of a dissident journalist,” The New York Times reported. “The 56-to-41 vote was a rare move by the Senate to limit presidential war powers and sent a potent message of disapproval for a nearly four-year conflict that has killed thousands of civilians and brought famine to Yemen.”
Few causes “unite Tea Party conservatives, democratic socialist independents, and progressive Democrats in common cause,” Daniel Larison noted in The American Conservative, “but the war on Yemen and our role in enabling it have done exactly that.” Nevertheless, Republican leaders prevented the House from holding a full vote on the same proposition. Indeed, one of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s final acts in Congress will be helping to ensure that the United States remains complicit in mass starvation. The Senate is moving in the right direction.
And still, the House isn’t moving at all.
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