WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today delivered the following remarks on the Senate floor as the Senate began consideration of Senate Joint Resolution 54, addressing U.S. military support of the Saudi-led coalition fighting Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen. Below are his remarks as delivered:
“First, I want to thank Senators Lee, Sanders, and Murphy as well as the other cosponsors of the resolution we are debating, for their commitment to elevating this debate in the U.S. Senate. I agree with my colleagues that this is an important debate with significant implications. As the elected representatives of the American people, we must serve as an effective check on the executive branch, fulfill our commitments to protect the national security interests of the United States, and be responsive to our constituents.
“This debate is about how we best leverage the tools in our national security toolbox – including military tools – to protect U.S. national security. Although the resolution focuses on one particular element of U.S. policy – limited military support – basically refueling – intelligence, and advice to the Saudi Coalition – I encourage my colleagues to expand the aperture of this debate so that we may call on the Administration to assert real leadership, diplomatic heft, and non-military resources to move the conflict in Yemen toward a political track.
“As the Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I remind my colleagues that it’s this Committee that has jurisdiction over questions of the use of force.
And I also remind my colleagues that it was under my leadership as Chair of this Committee that it twice voted on authorizations for the use of military force – once in 2013 in response to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons against the Syria people, and once in 2014 in response to the rapid rise and spread of the Islamic State.
“I remind my colleagues of these two Committee votes to underscore my commitment to open debate, my willingness to take tough votes, and my enduring commitment to a robust role for the legislative branch of the U.S. government in the use of force and oversight of that force.
I am pleased that Chairman Corker has agreed to hold a public hearing with Administration witnesses on the war in Yemen, I think a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is critically important, and to look at the U.S. military support to the Saudi Coalition, and our overarching U.S. policy for resolving the war in Yemen. I also welcome his commitment to a mark-up in the committee in the near future over legislation that deals with the question of Yemen, and his commitment to mark up an AUMF for use of force in Committee. Those are significant and will actually go a long way towards an informed process of how we deal with this challenge.
“In considering Senate Joint Resolution 54, I encourage my colleagues to assess the best way to promote core U.S. security interests in the Middle East, including: (1) pushing back on Iran’s aggressive and destabilizing actions across the region, (2) countering terrorism, and (3) ensuring freedom of navigation.
“To achieve these goals, our long-standing policy has been to partner with the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council to promote the security and stability of the Arabian Peninsula.
“As we consider this resolution we must fully grasp the situation on the ground and the scope of attacks on one of our traditional security partners. Saudi Arabia has endured Yemeni-originated attacks inside its territory on a scale that no American would accept; Ballistic and SCUD missile attacks aimed at major Saudi population centers, cross-border attacks by Iranian-backed Houthis, and those are significant.
“I do, however, share the concerns of the majority of my Senate colleagues regarding the conduct of the Saudi-led Coalition’s operations – the unacceptable scale of civilian casualties, the severity of the humanitarian crisis, and the seeming lack of momentum on all sides toward a political track to negotiate an end to this conflict.
“The Saudi Coalition bears significant responsibility for the magnitude of human suffering and scale of destruction in Yemen. Seventy five percent of the population is in need of humanitarian assistance and more than 8 million are on the brink of famine. The conditions have also led to the worst outbreak of cholera in modern history, with an estimated one million people suspected to be infected. While the Houthis bear much responsibility for the violence – the Saudi-led campaign has played a significant role in exacerbating the current humanitarian catastrophe.
“We must remember that the Houthis overthrew the internationally-recognized, lawful government of Yemen, and continue the conflict by resisting a political solution. So we ask the Saudis to have a political solution but we need the Houthis to engage in a political solution as well. We must also remember that the Houthi insurgency has vastly expanded the opportunities for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
“At the same time, I worry that withdrawal of limited U.S. military support to the Saudi Coalition will weaken our leadership and ability to influence a political settlement AND improve humanitarian conditions and could even make the situation worse.
“And let us be clear-eyed about who will most benefit from an absence of American power: As it has done in political vacuums throughout the region, Iran will continue to expand its proxy power, and through its Revolutionary Guard, Iran will continue shipping weapons to the Houthis in violation of the arms embargo. With an emboldened Iranian patron, the Houthis will continue their campaign within Yemen and their attacks on Saudi Arabia.
“Meanwhile, other nations in the region will be left questioning the commitment of its long-time security partner – the United States. In Saudi Arabia’s darkest hour, as ballistic missiles are launched at major population centers in Saudi Arabia and Lebanese Hezbollah is on their border training Houthi fighters while Iran continues to transfer lethal equipment, we risk sending a signal to our partners and to our adversaries that the United States is not reliable.
“Across the world, from Canada to the United Kingdom, President Trump has damaged our credibility as a reliable partner, even to some of our most stalwart allies.
We must push against those concerns, and show our allies that the United States upholds its international commitments.
“Consideration of withdrawal of support for the Saudi Coalition must be taken in concert with the other ways in which the U.S. is working to end this war, the totality of U.S. policy which I fear is lacking.
“The solution, I believe, is to bolster our diplomatic, humanitarian, and political presence to help solve this crisis and end the human suffering. To assert practical, concerted leadership. Thus far, the Administration’s approach has effectively abdicated leadership on the global stage.
“While we have heard senior officials assure us that there is no military solution to this conflict and a political settlement is necessary, this Administration is actively dismantling the State Department and antagonizing the United Nations – the two entities that have the potential to play the most critical roles in moving toward a political settlement and addressing the humanitarian crisis.
“We have vacancies at the Assistant Secretary of State level for the Middle East, and the Ambassador in Riyadh. A failure of leadership.
“With this dangerous approach to our diplomatic institutions, we will not be in a position to promote political solutions, and our military, once again, will be called on to do the critical work of diplomacy and development, distracting their attention from other pressing challenges. A failure of leadership.
“Regarding a broader diplomatic strategy, the Administration has also failed to develop a comprehensive strategy to confront Iran, including holding Iran accountable for continuing to provide missile supplies and lethal training to the Houthis.
“Across land and sea, we know Lebanese Hezbollah operatives are in Yemen, and yet we have seen no sanctions and no action at the Security Council for this illicit, illegal activity. The Administration has not made one designation for Iranian violations of arms embargos, as directed by the legislation passed here 98-2, The Countering American Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. Again, a failure of leadership
“I expect the Administration to articulate and implement a comprehensive strategy for addressing Yemen that includes: requisite conditions for continuing to support the Saudi Coalition, a strategic push for a political settlement, efforts to alleviate the humanitarian suffering, and comprehensive strategy to decisively push back on Iran’s destabilizing actions in Yemen. This includes tough diplomacy with countries that will continue to facilitate, or at a minimum fail to push back on, Iran’s actions.
“I will continue pushing the Administration to assert critical American diplomatic leadership, rooted in the values of democracy, human rights, and human dignity.
“So based upon Chairman Corker’s commitments to those hearing and future markups, I will vote to table the motion to discharge, because I am not ready to abandon our partners who face an existential threat from Iran run amok in Yemen. However, my support is not unconditional, and I will demand responsive actions.
“I want to see, as I told the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia earlier today, a renewed commitment and rapid movement toward a political track by the Saudi Coalition. I want to see consistent demonstrations of commitment to humanitarian access and alleviating the humanitarian crisis.
I want to see follow through in pledges of assistance to stabilize and rebuild Yemen by the members of the Saudi Coalition.
“I also want to see energy and diplomacy from the Trump Administration.
This week’s visit of Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman is an opportunity to press forward on a path for ending this war and addressing the civilian suffering. That certainly was my message to him. The limited military support the United States provides is leverage, now the Trump Administration needs to use it.
“In conclusion, I invite my colleagues on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to join me in holding the Administration to account and pushing the Administration to use our leverage to drive this conflict toward a political track. I also invite my colleagues to join me in conducting oversight of our policies and programs to counter Iran’s activities in the region, including implementing CAATSA.
“Finally, I want to be very clear that my vote today is not a blank check for U.S. military support, nor an endorsement of the current policy and strategy, and finally not a thumbs up FOR the Saudi Coalition that we should continue business as usual. I expect to see improvements on all fronts as I have previously stated, and I will review future decisions with respect to potential arms sales and other votes with extreme scrutiny.
“There is no more time to waste – we must move toward a political settlement to end the war in Yemen and the people of Yemen must see improvements in their situation immediately.
“I look forward to working with all of my colleagues to ensure we are working towards a policy that embraces American leadership in promoting a political solution and alleviating the devastating humanitarian suffering in Yemen. I look forward to continuing this debate before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.”