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Marcus Montgomery

Only in Washington does the Yemen vote look good

A man in California protests the US involvement in Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen [Getty]

Date of publication: 30 November, 2018

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Comment: Even if the resolution gets the necessary votes just to be debated, it will undoubtedly receive a slew of amendments, writes Marcus Montgomery.
It is a sad state of affairs when Americans and other observers around the globe are cheering a Senate vote that was simply procedural.

I, myself, was part of the chorus of cheers for the 
Senate's 63-37 vote in favour of S.J. Res. 54, but it is important to step back and take a realistic look at what November 28th's vote was, what is was not, and where Washington stands moving forward.

The aforementioned joint resolution calls for US military forces to be removed from "hostilities in the Republic of Yemen" because, as the authors of the legislation note, Congress never authorised the military to be there.

Joint resolutions, if adopted by the Senate and the House of Representatives and signed by the president, are laws just like any other bill and ostensibly this would be legally binding.

It has been a long road for Senator Bernie Sanders' (I-Vermont) efforts to even force a discussion on whether US troops should be in Yemen aiding the Saudis in one of the world's worst catastrophes in decades.

Many senators were pushed over the edge after Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in October

Senators Sanders, Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) first introduced S.J. Res. 54 way back in February of this year and it was eventually referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) for consideration.

The term "consideration" is pretty ambiguous and too often bills languish in committee under consideration and never again see the light of day. Due to the special nature of the joint resolution, Sanders and his cosponsors then tried to force a vote in March similar to the one we saw Wednesday but they were thwarted by 55 of their colleagues and the joint resolution looked set to remain in the purgatory of the committee.

Since that vote in March, enough senators have been enraged by continuing Saudi recklessness in Yemen, but many were pushed over the edge after Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in October.

Many in Congress became aware of how dangerous the White House's uncompromising support for such a reckless partner was becoming. Riding the wave of anger, Sanders again motioned to discharge the bill from the SFRC so it could be considered before the Senate and the result was Wednesday's 63-37 "rebuke" of the Trump Administration's Saudi policy.

Read more: House Democrats must end US support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen

But only in Washington, where Saudi Arabian lobbying looms large, would this vote - a procedural move that simply moves a joint resolution from committee to the floor in order to simply discuss withdrawing the US military from a clearly unauthorised war - receive such fanfare.

This vote was essentially symbolic and optimism surrounding it will be short lived. The next vote on this joint resolution will be on a motion to proceed to debate and it's not entirely certain that motion would have the votes to pass.

Senator Chris Murphy thinks so. If it gets the necessary votes just to be debated, it will undoubtedly receive a slew of amendments by those that are disillusioned with Riyadh's role in Yemen but don't want to punish the other states in the anti-Houthi coalition (e.g., Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina).

The resolution likely would not pass the Senate as is

A number of senators - even those who voted to discharge the resolution on Wednesday - are actually hostile to S.J. Res. 54 itself, assuring that it likely would not pass the Senate as is.

There is a long road ahead and, in all likelihood, if anything comes out of the Senate and is able to pass the House and either gain the support of the White House or overcome a Trump veto, it will be so watered down it would likely be a symbolic rebuke of Riyadh.

This process is long and the Saudi lobbying arm will be out in full force. So, while this was an important and symbolic vote that illustrated the Senate's frustration with the Saudis, it was just that: symbolic.

Marcus Montgomery is a Junior Analyst for Congressional Affairs at Arab Center Washington DC.

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

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