WASHINGTON — The Senate vote to move forward a resolution that could end the U.S. involvement in Yemen could be the first step in a tougher congressional oversight of foreign, undeclared wars.
Or it could be a reflection of growing congressional pique at Saudi Arabia. It could also be pushback at confused messages sent to Congress on Yemen by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
It also could be none of the above — one reason why analysts are unsure what to make of the rare, overwhelmingly bipartisan statement.
“A willingness to assert the War Powers Act, I would be very happy if it is how it turns out,” Benjamin Friedman, a senior fellow at Defense Priorities, told Talk Media News in an interview.
That may not happen soon, even as undeclared conflicts in Afghanistan and Syria drag on and widen.
Some senators were clear as to why they supported the resolution, which would order the end of U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. The 63-37 vote moved the resolution out of the Foreign Relations Committee and has it positioned for action before the full Senate.
“I changed my mind because I’m pissed,” Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) told reporters as to why he voted in favor of the resolution. He opposed a similar resolution last spring that narrowly failed.
“The way the administration had handled the Saudi Arabia event is just not acceptable, the briefing did not help me at all better understand the role that (Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman) played in the killing of Mr. Khashoggi,” Graham told reporters.
If approved, the measure would let U.S. military involvement runoff 30 days maximum. It would not impact counter-terrorist operations against al Qaeda.
There may be enough time in the current lame duck session for the Senate to debate and approve a War Powers resolution on the Senate, analysts said. There may not be enough time for it to reach a vote in the House, where its fate is uncertain, they said.
One possible outcome is the issue finds an early spot on the 2019 agenda, with possible modifications of including the suspension of arms sales to Saudi Arabia and more sanctions, analysts said.
Sensing that possible direction, Defense Secretary James Mattis told senator in his opening remarks that, “Our military efforts (in Yemen) are in accordance with the War Powers Resolution’s provision that U.S. forces do not ‘command, coordinate, participate in the movement of, or accompany regular or irregular military forces of any foreign country or government when such military forces are engaged, or there exists an imminent threat that such forces will become engaged, in hostilities’.”
Mattis’ opening statement was provided to Pentagon reporters.
Whether senatorial ire at the White House will calm before the floor vote remains unknown.
“I found that in substance we’re not doing those things that we should be doing to appropriately balance our relationship with Saudi Arabia between our American interests and our American values,” Sen, Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on the floor of the Senate after the vote.
“I’m voting on our ability to have a debate as it relates to our relationship with Saudi Arabia,” he said.
Friedman said the vote may help Congress realize they do have a voice in foreign affairs and proxy wars that can be a loud voice.
“These long-term proxy conflicts are the way of courting danger,” Friedman said. “The patience for Saudi Arabia and the tolerance to them is gone.”