By Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis, USA, ret
In March, the U.S. Senate voted down—by a slim majority—a resolution co-sponsored by Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) which would have ended U.S. involvement in the protracted and irresolute Yemen civil war, based mainly on information provided by the Pentagon. Last week, however, The New York Times revealed for the first time that U.S. Army Green Berets were actively helping Saudi Arabian military personnel on the border with Yemen.
Had the Senate known this information at the time of the vote, it is conceivable that a handful of senators might have changed their vote and the measure would have passed, paving the way for the withdrawal of U.S. military personnel. Based on this new information—and on the preponderance of evidence that the mission has no bearing on America’s vital national interests—the Senate may revisit the matter.
The Times reported that Green Berets were helping Saudi forces on the border to identify and destroy ballistic missiles in Yemen, not merely train Saudi troops as the Pentagon claimed. Yet as the report notes, “there is no evidence that the Houthis directly threaten the United States,” and that they are “an unsophisticated militant group with no operations outside Yemen.” The U.S. military should not be engaged in missions not related to the defense of the United States and our core interests.
It is a troubling fact the government is currently spending significant amounts of money and sending U.S. military personnel into harm’s way in order to—at best—make Riyad’s participation in the Yemen civil war more convenient. The viability of the Saudi state is not in question and their own armed forces are not at risk of being defeated by rebels in Yemen. Saudi Arabia’s interests are not America’s interests.
Our Armed Forces should not be used, our taxpayer dollars should not be spent, and our military soldiers’ lives should not be put at risk for the mere convenience of any other nation. Sen. Lee said the revelations of greater U.S. involvement in Yemen is “particularly concerning,” because “Congress has not authorized the types of activities that have been reported. The Department of Defense and State Department owe [Congress and the American people] a full and honest briefing about this new information.” The senator is right.
Continuing a long and concerning tradition in Washington, President Obama began U.S. support to Saudi Arabia in 2015 in the form of aerial refueling and intelligence support, along with substantial arms sales. In addition to the strategic policy mistake, another big problem with that decision is that it was never authorized by Congress. The result has been a humanitarian nightmare.
In September 2015, Saudi jets mistook a Yemeni wedding party for a jihadist training camp and killed more than 130 innocent civilians. That proved to be merely the opening salvo. While America continues to support Saudi air operations and train Saudi ground troops, Riyad’s ability to distinguish between civilian and military targets has not improved—it has actually gotten worse. Just since Christmas, Saudi air operations have:
- Killed 68 civilians in two strikes on a farm and a market in December
- Killed 5 children and wounded 14 near Saada in February
- A U.S. drone strike mistakenly killed a 13-year-old boy and wounded others in March
- Saudi aircraft accidentally killed 14 and wounded 9 civilians seeking relief from heat near al-Mukaala in early April
- A Saudi air attack mistakenly attacked a wedding party near Sana'a and killed 20, wounding dozens more in April
It is painfully clear that the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen’s civil war is being poorly conducted, causing the deaths of hundreds of innocent civilians, and is no closer to a resolution than when it started. Moreover, no threats to U.S. national security are at play in this war. Given this new information about U.S. ground troops operating near the border with Yemen, it is Congress who is tasked with the job of oversight of U.S. foreign policy—they are the body entrusted to examine America’s role in this disastrous war.
President Trump’s foreign policy stance in the 2016 election that he was against nation building and opposed to “stupid wars” was in tune with the wishes of the American public—that is an important reason he won the election. His views were right then and are still valid today.
In order to eliminate the avoidable deterioration of Washington’s ability to keep America safe from our national debt and military overstretch, policymakers must set defense priorities based on a realistic assessment of our security and prosperity—not by cleaning up Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy blunders in Yemen.
Daniel L. Davis is a Senior Fellow for Defense Priorities and a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who retired in 2015 after 21 years, including four combat deployments. Follow him @DanielLDavis1.
This piece was originally published by The Washington Times on May 30, 2018. Read more HERE.