1. Letter
  2. Middle East & Iran, Peacebuilding, U.S. Wars & Militarism

End American Participation in the War in Yemen with the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020

October 12, 2019


Over forty prominent Americans agree: Now is the time to end U.S. involvement in the Yemeni Civil War. The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) provides a crucial chance to end our complicity in Yemen, and FCNL joined activists and former government officials in calling on Congress to seize that opportunity.


Dear Speaker Pelosi, Leader Schumer, Chairman Smith and Ranking Member Reed:

We write to ask for your leadership on a constitutional matter facing Congress that may be unparalleled in its potential impact on millions of human lives. We urge you to use the opportunity presented by the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020 (NDAA) to reassert the power over war that the Constitution vests in Congress in order to terminate unauthorized U.S. participation in the Saudi-led military campaign against Yemen’s Houthis.

As you know, the ongoing conflict between Saudi Arabia and Yemen's Houthis threatens fresh U.S. military action in the region. President Trump recently signaled that the United States is “locked and loaded” for possible intervention at the behest of Saudi Arabia, deployed U.S. troops to the Saudi kingdom, and escalated military tensions with Iran. In addition to making a war with Iran more likely, the conflict in Yemen is also imperiling tens of millions of the most vulnerable people on earth through disease, starvation, and violence. Eighty percent of Yemen’s population, or 24 million, are in need of humanitarian assistance, and roughly 10 million Yemenis are on the brink of famine.

In July, the House of Representatives voted by a bipartisan, 240-vote margin to incorporate the Smith-Khanna-Schiff-Jayapal amendment into the NDAA. This measure would codify Congress’s directive to end unconstitutional U.S. military involvement in the Saudi-led war with the passage of the landmark bill, Senate Joint Resolution 7—the Yemen War Powers Resolution. The amendment is carefully tailored to terminate funds for the flow of U.S. logistics, spare parts for warplanes, intelligence sharing, and other support activities that are essential to waging Saudi Arabia’s deadly aerial bombing campaign against Yemen's Houthis. Experts believe that, if enforced, a prohibition on funds for this broad spectrum of U.S. military assistance could quickly halt these Saudi bombings.

Contact: Tim McHugh, Friends Committee on National Legislation, media@fcnl.org; 202-903-2515

Even before questions regarding the implementation of the amendment are considered, the political signal of its incorporation into the NDAA could alone spur an end to the war. Just as the imminent Senate adoption of the Yemen War Powers Resolution in November of 2018 led to the preemptive suspension of U.S. midair refueling for Saudi coalition warplanes, the adoption of the Smith-Khanna-Schiff-Jayapal amendment in the NDAA could hasten the Saudi government’s recognition that there is no military solution to the war. By motivating Saudi Arabia to move quickly to political negotiations in the face of an impending cessation of crucial U.S. operational involvement in airstrikes, an NDAA that includes the Smith-Khanna-Schiff-Jayapal amendment could play a key role in resolving the conflict and humanitarian crisis.

In April, when President Trump vetoed Senate Joint Resolution 7, he rejected Congress’s directive to terminate unauthorized hostilities and he insisted on prosecuting a war affirmatively declared unconstitutional by majorities of both the House and Senate. This defiance has no precedent in the history of America’s constitutional governance.

It is therefore critical that Congress now utilize its ultimate leverage—the power of the purse—to effectively override Trump’s veto, enshrine its will into federal law, and prohibit all funds from going to this war. Through the NDAA, Congress can reclaim its exclusive power to declare and authorize war.

If this course of action is not pursued during this once-a-year authorization for Defense Department appropriations, we fear the erosion of Congress’s authorities under the Constitution and the War Powers Act of 1973. The Executive Branch would be emboldened to launch and sustain unconstitutional wars in the face of majority opposition from Congress, so long as a two-thirds majority does not exist to override a veto.

Congressional reliance on veto-proof majorities to carry out its Article I duties under the Constitution is simply untenable.

We therefore ask you, as Democratic leaders with a new governing majority in the House and a bipartisan majority in the Senate, to hold firm and work together to ensure that the final NDAA, widely considered “must-pass” legislation, retain the House amendment to bring the Saudi-led war to an end.

To those across the country who voted in the 2018 midterm elections for a powerful counterweight to an executive who defies the rule of law, your commitment to prohibit the authorization of funds available for U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen through the NDAA is vital. By advancing life-saving policy over Trump’s opposition, you will demonstrate the legislative assertiveness that is necessary for Congress to serve as an effective check on this administration.

We thank you for your concerted and coordinated effort to defend the Constitution, exercise the Article I authorities of Congress, and advance the rule of law.

Sincerely,

[Affiliations for identification purposes only]

Bruce Ackerman Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science Yale University

Hon. Barbara K. Bodine U.S. Ambassador to Yemen, 1997-2001 Director, Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, Georgetown University

Laurence H. Tribe Carl M. Loeb University Professor and Professor of Constitutional Law Harvard University

Bruce Riedel Former Central Intelligence Agency analyst, White House senior advisor Author, Kings and Presidents: Saudi Arabia and the United States since FDR

Susan Rice National Security Advisor (2013-2017) United States Ambassador to the United Nations (2009-2013)

Samantha J. Power Anna Lindh Professor of the Practice of Global Leadership and Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School William D. Zabel ’61 Professor of Practice in Human Rights, Harvard Law School United States Ambassador to the United Nations (2013-2017)

Ben Rhodes Co-Chair, National Security Action White House Deputy National Security Advisor (2009-2017)

Jake Sullivan Co-Chair, National Security Action National Security Advisor to the Vice President of the United States (2013-2014)

Wendy R. Sherman Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs (2011-2015)

Dafna Rand Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Democracy, Labor and Human Rights

Robert Malley Former White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and Gulf Region

Colin Kahl Co-Director of Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East (2009-2011) National Security Advisor to the Vice President of the United States (2014-2017)

Kelly Magsamen Vice President, National Security and International Policy, Center for American Progress Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs (2014-2017)

Jon Finer Chief of Staff and Director of Policy Planning for Secretary of State John Kerry

Nazanin Ash Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Near East Affairs (2011-2013)

Jeremy Konyndyk Former Director, USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance

Thomas Perriello Executive Director, Open Society Foundations, U.S. Programs Former U.S. Special Envoy to the African Great Lakes Region

Gene B. Sperling White House National Economic Advisor (1997-2001, 2011-2014)

Jon Favreau White House Director of Speechwriting (2009-2013)

Shireen Al-Adeimi Assistant Professor of Education, Michigan State University

Jehan Hakim Chair, Yemeni Alliance Committee

Somia Elrowmeim Board President, Action Corps NYC

Aisha Jumaan President, Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation

Diane Randall Executive Secretary, Friends Committee on National Legislation

Joe Cirincione President, Ploughshares Fund

Rahna Epting Executive Director, MoveOn

Leah Greenberg Co-Founder, Co-Executive Director, Indivisible Project

Jon Soltz Chairman, Co-Founder, VoteVets

Robert Weissman President, Public Citizen

David Segal Executive Director, Demand Progress

Stephen Miles Executive Director, Win Without War

Andrew Bacevich President, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

Kevin Martin President, Peace Action

Alex McCoy Political Director, Common Defense

Leah Hunt-Hendrix Co-Founder, Way to Win

Jody Williams Nobel Peace Laureate (1997)

Mark Ruffalo Actor, Director, Producer, Humanitarian

Alyssa Milano Actor, Producer, Humanitarian

Ava DuVernay Filmmaker

Jodie Evans Activist, Author, Film Producer

Guy Saperstein Civil Rights Attorney