Editorial & Opinion

David Oppenheimer: Pressure Senator Reed on 2022 National Defense Authorization Act

Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed can put an end to United States complicity in the Saudi war on Yemen by supporting Senator Bernie Sanders’ amendment to the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act. He also has the choice to support a toothless amendment like the one proposed in the House by Congressman Gregory Meeks of New York. To prevent the latter, please call 202-899-8938 to tell Senator Reed to support the Sanders amendment and give it a floor vote in the Senate.
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Published on November 22, 2021
By David Oppenheimer

The Situation

With critical support from the United States, the Saudi-led coalition’s bombardment and blockade of Yemen has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The coalition’s devastating air and sea blockade has deprived Yemen of food, fuel and medical supplies, pushing 16 million people to the brink of famine. As of last year, over 230,000 Yemeni people had been killed in the conflict. Half of the children in Yemen are at risk of starvation with the United Nations estimating that 400,000 Yemeni children could die this year due to starvation or one every 75 seconds.

Additionally, Sanaa’s airport closure has led to an almost complete halt to the importation of medicine and medical supplies, making them unaffordable to the average citizen while stranding 32,000 critically ill Yemeni patients in need of life-saving medical attention abroad. Coalition bombing has destroyed over half of the nation’s hospitals. A cholera outbreak that began in 2017 is now the largest in epidemiological history, affecting more than 1.2 million people.

Fuel imports have been reduced to less than 10% of Yemen’s needs, driving up food prices even further and shutting down public facilities including hospitals. As a result, Yemen has suffered an incredibly high death rate from Covid. Fuel imports have been reduced to less than 10% of Yemen’s needs, driving up food prices even further and shutting down public facilities including hospitals. As a result, Yemen has suffered an incredibly high death rate from Covid. Nearly one out of five Yemenis who contract the disease perish.

The Problem

Last February, President Joseph Biden announced that the United States was ending support for the coalition’s offensive operations in Yemen, but important aspects of United States complicity remain. The United States continues assistance in maintenance of Saudi jets and intelligence sharing for warplanes that conduct airstrikes on civilian targets. Earlier this month the Biden Administration inked a new $500 million military contract with Saudi Arabia that included attack helicopters, which are not “defensive” weapons. The coalition is on pace to drop more bombs on Yemen this year than last year while children continue to die of starvation.

Congress must now end all forms of US support for the war and blockade. House and Senate negotiations will soon determine whether the Fiscal Year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) will include provisions to terminate United States military participation in the war.

The Solution

As chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Reed has the power to include amendments to the NDAA and bring them to a floor vote. Reed’s counterpart in the House, House Armed Services Committee Chair Adam Smith co-sponsored Representative Ro Khanna’s amendment that passed the House and now is in the House version of the NDAA Last week Senator Sanders introduced an amendment to the Senate NDAA that is identical to Khanna’s House amendment. Passage of the amendment would put an end to United States logistical and intelligence support for the Saudi Air Force and would stop the United States from supplying spare parts that keep their bombers in the air. It would also end support for the naval blockade and end the United States’ role in supplying political cover for the Saudi government’s brutal attacks on Yemen. Most importantly, it would mean relief for the Yemeni people.

Now we must urge Senator Reed to give the Sanders amendment a floor vote. Like Representative Smith, Senator Reed needs to use his influential position to weigh in on the issue and co-sponsor the amendment.

The Danger of a Phony Solution

What Senator Reed does is crucial here because there is another amendment in the House bill, sponsored by Biden ally Representative Meeks of New York, that continues the administration’s duplicitous efforts to aid the Saudi war effort while pretending to be withdrawing from it. Structured to delay any action for three months, it sets up piecemeal penalties for the Saudi military and loopholes that will allow the bombing and the blockade to continue. Essentially, the United States would continue support to any division of the Saudi military that has not been found directly guilty of killing civilians. Loopholes deeming bombings as “defensive” make it very unlikely that the Saudis will be hampered at all in their assault on Yemen.

The current language on Yemen in the Senate NDAA is very sparse, dealing mostly with wavers and exceptions to any enforcement of sanctions on the Saudi military. It is pretty much an empty shell which will be filled either by the Meeks amendment or the Khanna/Sanders amendment.

And this is why what Senator Reed does with the Sanders amendment is crucial. If it gets a floor vote with Reed’s support, it is likely to pass. (A bi-partisan majority of the Senate passed a War Powers Act for Yemen in 2019. Then-President Donald Trump vetoed it and the veto held up. Senator Reed voted for the bill and to override the veto.) This would greatly increase the chances that a real war powers act emerges from the House/Senate conference that will shape the final NDAA. Otherwise, the language of Meeks’ phony war powers act will win the day and the bombs will continue to fall and Yemeni children will continue to starve to death.

Can you help pressure Senator Reed? Please make one short phone call to tell him that he must end US support for the war in Yemen. Just call 202-899-8938 and you will be directed to Senator Reed’s office and you can tell him that Rhode Island supports peace and not endless war.

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