Trump Owns the War in Yemen Now

His veto of a congressional effort to end U.S. involvement violates the public will and the national interest.

Donald Trump
Carlos Barria / Reuters

President Donald Trump issued the second veto of his presidency Tuesday to extend U.S. participation in Yemen’s civil war. In so doing, he acted against the will of the American public, the U.S. Senate, and the House of Representatives, allying instead with Saudi Arabia and the autocrats who rule it.

The Saudis are leading a brutal military campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen. U.S. support for that campaign is a stark departure from the “America first” foreign policy that Trump has pledged. As Benjamin H. Friedman noted at Defense Priorities, “None of the limited U.S. interests in the Middle East—preventing the emergence of a regional hegemon, preventing large-scale disruptions to the global oil supply, and eliminating transnational terrorists who directly threaten the United States—justify supporting the Saudi-led war in Yemen.”

So how did Trump explain his veto?

“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,” he declared in a statement.

The explanation is preposterous. The president has no constitutional authority to enmesh America in a foreign war that Congress rejects. Indeed, as David French observes, “If a president can fight when he wants, where he wants, and for as long as he wants, then Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 is meaningless.” And if the danger posed to Americans by Houthi rebels were sufficient to justify war, the U.S. would be at war in dozens of other countries, too.

As if all that weren’t enough, the war is also a moral abomination, resulting in heavy civilian deaths due to indiscriminate air strikes. Millions are on the brink of famine. Daniel Larison explained:

All of the aid organizations involved in providing humanitarian relief in Yemen have been clear and consistent in urging an end to U.S. support for the Saudi coalition. They understand what the consequences for the civilian population will be if the war is not brought to an end, and they can see that the war won’t be stopped as long as the foreign patrons of the warring parties continue providing unconditional support. When Trump vetoed S.J.Res. 7, he was proving yet again that he valued good relations with despotic war criminals more than the lives of the many millions of Yemenis being starved and subjected to the most horrific conditions imaginable.

In 2016, when Democrats chose an interventionist hawk as their nominee, Trump was able to obscure his militarist instincts enough to run as a candidate who would keep America out of dumb wars. Now he has flagrantly kept the country entangled in a dumb, brutal, immorally waged war, even as the public wants out.

In 2020, the opposition party needs a candidate who can call Trump out for a foreign-policy record that aligns with Saudi values more closely than American values, American law, the will of U.S. citizens, or the promises he made to voters.