By Bonnie Kristian
President Trump promised real change in U.S. foreign policy, and in at least one clear regard he has already delivered: Where President Obama spent six years waging covert drone warfare in Yemen and nearly two years quietly supporting brutal Saudi intervention in the Gulf state’s civil war, Trump drew national outrage to this heretofore ignored conflict in nine days flat.
He did so by ordering a commando raid to take out a leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). When the dust cleared, one American soldier and more than a dozen civilians were dead. Among those killed was 8-year-old Nawar al-Awlaki, a little girl who had the misfortune to be born to al Qaeda propagandist and U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, whom the Obama administration killed by drone strikes along with one of his other children back in 2011.
Americans’ new attention to U.S. intervention in Yemen is rightly focused on these details, especially the tragic and preventable deaths. But if we only notice the particulars of this strike, we run the risk of missing an alarming bigger picture: This raid marked the first time the United States has put boots on the ground in combat in the Yemeni civil war, and those American soldiers were sent into the line of fire without constitutionally-required authorization from Congress.
If that seems like a pedantic consideration, I assure you it is not. This is a major new development in a military intervention launched by the Obama White House without public discussion or a declaration of war. Obama started U.S. involvement in Yemen secretly and illegally, and to escalate to ground war—to putting U.S. troops in harm’s way—without so much as a go-ahead from Congress would be a serious mistake.
While it is true that AQAP is clearly linked to the Al Qaeda organization responsible for 9/11, and thus targeting them under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) is more plausible than most of the uses the AUMF sees these days, remember that Obama’s intervention in Yemen extends well beyond Al Qaeda. Our primary focus is the Yemeni civil war, which has no real connection to the terms of 16-year-old AUMF. (Even targeting AQAP without fresh congressional authorization is arguably a stretch: It first became active in 2009, eight years after 9/11. How could Congress authorize war against an organization that did not yet exist?)
The American public deserves the opportunity to debate whether we want a new war waged in our name and funded by our money; and our military at the very least deserves a commander-in-chief who follows basic guidelines from our Constitution before risking their lives on another country’s behalf.
Congressional authorization is not too much to ask, and it is not a frivolous request. It can serve as a valuable check on executive power—the very sort of abuse Trump says he intends to fix—bridling rash decisions from the White House and better tailoring U.S. foreign policy to defending America’s vital national interests.
That note of caution is especially important in Yemen, where there are no direct U.S. interests at stake. On the contrary, what we find in Yemen is a convoluted mess, in which Washington is supporting a Saudi-led coalition that is credibly accused of war crimes, whose cause the United States aids more to mollify an increasingly inconvenient ally than to gain any clear advantage for ourselves Worse yet, as ordinary Yemenis starve to death thanks to Saudi blockade-induced famine, AQAP—the ruthless Al Qaeda affiliate Trump’s raid was meant to combat—is flourishing thanks to the power vacuum the civil war has produced.
The war, and thus that vacuum, is unquestionably prolonged by Saudi interference, which in turn is made possible by U.S. support. In short, not only is U.S. intervention in Yemen not defending any American interests, it is counterproductively fostering the very terrorists Washington seeks to suppress.
Now that Americans are paying attention to Yemen, this should be our demand: If the White House wants to maintain this odious Obama project with no apparent value to U.S. security, it must make its case to Congress and the nation. And if Congress will not declare war, then President Trump can and must extract American troops and end our military support for Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen before this recent raid becomes one in a litany of unnecessary risks offering much to lose and little to gain.
Bonnie Kristian is a fellow at Defense Priorities. She is a weekend editor at The Week and a columnist at Rare, and her writing has also appeared at Time Magazine, CNN, Politico, Relevant Magazine, The Hill, and The American Conservative, among other outlets.
This piece was originally published by Business Insider on February 6, 2017. Read more HERE.