Trump vetoes rare bipartisan move to pull US out of Yemen

A Houthi rebel fighter protesting outside the United Nations office in the Yemeni capital Sanaa last December.
A Houthi rebel fighter protesting outside the United Nations office in the Yemeni capital Sanaa last December.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

US President calls legislation a dangerous attempt to weaken his executive powers

WASHINGTON • President Donald Trump has vetoed a bipartisan resolution that would have forced an end to US military involvement in Saudi Arabia's civil war in Yemen, rejecting an appeal by lawmakers to his own deeply rooted instincts to withdraw the United States from bloody foreign conflicts.

The veto, only the second time Mr Trump has used his power to block legislation passed by both houses of Congress, strikes down a resolution that invoked the War Powers Act to distance the US from a four-year conflict that has killed thousands of civilians and resulted in a widespread famine.

The measure was a rebuke of Mr Trump's support for Saudi Arabia even after the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

It was opposed by several of the President's top advisers, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton, according to people who spoke with White House officials.

Mr Trump said in his veto message: "This resolution is an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities, endangering the lives of American citizens and brave service members, both today and in the future."

Although the resolution went against a key ally, Saudi Arabia, it played to Mr Trump's longstanding opposition to US involvement in foreign wars.

This was the first time War Powers legislation passed Congress with bipartisan support and reached a president's desk.

But the rebuke of Saudi Arabia and the perceived threat to Mr Trump's executive powers played a bigger role in his decision.

Representative Ro Khanna said: "The President had the opportunity to sign a historic War Powers Resolution and stand with a bipartisan coalition... to stop endless wars. He failed to uphold the principles of the Constitution that give Congress power over matters of war and peace."

Mr Trump has spoken out for years against US military entanglements, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria.

He has clashed with his generals over the timetable for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and Syria.

In his veto message, Mr Trump said he agreed with Congress that "great nations do not fight endless wars".

He noted that the US was negotiating to end its involvement in Afghanistan and was drawing down troops in Syria after what he said was the conquest of 100 per cent of the territory once held by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria terror group.

Yemen, however, is a different situation, Mr Trump declared. The US provides logistical support to the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthi rebels.

The US stopped its most direct military involvement: in-flight refuelling of Saudi planes. And Saudi Arabia remains a staunch ally of the US, the linchpin of its campaign to isolate Iran, which supports the Houthis in their uprising against the Yemeni government.

"We cannot end the conflict in Yemen through political documents," Mr Trump said. "Peace in Yemen requires a negotiated settlement."

Saudi Arabia's allies in the war praised Mr Trump, insisting that they continued to work for a settlement through the United Nations.

United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash said in a post on Twitter: "President Trump's assertion of support to the Arab Coalition in Yemen is a positive signal of US resolve towards America's allies. Common strategic interests are best served with this clear commitment."

But critics said Mr Trump's veto amounted to a "green light" for continued atrocities in Yemen, where human rights groups said there were already 10 million people on the brink of famine and as many as 100 civilian casualties a week.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 18, 2019, with the headline 'Trump vetoes rare bipartisan move to pull US out of Yemen'. Print Edition | Subscribe