WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Wednesday delivered remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate urging his colleagues to support the bipartisan joint resolution he introduced with U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) to end U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen. The resolution would remove U.S. Armed Forces from hostilities between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis in Yemen pursuant to the War Powers Resolution. During his remarks, Murphy called attention to the devastating humanitarian consequences this war has caused, noting the thousands of children who have died from starvation and diseases, and the over 22 million people in the country who cannot live without humanitarian assistance.
“We need to shake up the stalemate that exists today. We need to send a signal that the United States is not okay with the way that the Saudis have perpetuated this war. Frankly, the way they have lied to us over the course of the last several months about other things that they are doing to quell dissent in and around the kingdom. We need to send a message, but we also need to get the United States out of a conflict right now that is doing no benefit to American national security and has become a nightmare for people who are stuck in Yemen today. I'd urge passage of the resolution,” Murphy said in his speech.
The full text of Murphy’s remarks is below:
I want to speak very briefly on behalf of the resolution being offered today by Senator Sanders, Senator Lee, myself, and several others. I want to encourage my colleagues to support it. And I want to use my brief time to respond to some of the arguments that the administration has made over the course of the last few days as to why we should not stand together as a body and say that without a congressional declaration of war, the United States cannot and should not be involved in a disastrous civil war in Yemen.
This is as important a vote as we will take here in the Senate. Lives are at stake. Lives are in the balance. I don't need to repeat everything that Senator Sanders and others have said about the humanitarian catastrophe that exists inside that country, but this is different than other famines. This is other than different cholera outbreaks. This is different than other humanitarian nightmares in which tens of thousands of children are losing their lives, because we are not just a spectator in Yemen. We are a participant. The bombing campaign that is causing the worst humanitarian nightmare in the world today is caused by a military campaign of which the United States is a major player and participant. And so we have something to say here today about whether or not this civil war ends. We have something to say here about whether this Congress is going to allow the administration to continue to perpetuate a war that has had no debate here in the United States Congress.
So let me take the four arguments that the administration uses to try to argue against our resolution and talk to you a little bit about them. The first argument that was made probably most clearly in secretary Pompeo's op-ed in The Wall Street Journal this morning is that the real issue here is it’s not Saudi Arabia, it's Iran and that if we do not continue to support the Saudi bombing campaign inside Yemen that the result will be that Iran wins in the region. Well, first, that exhibits a third-grade understanding of the Middle East. The Middle East is not a zero-sum game between the Saudis and the Iranians. Every time you do something that is potentially disadvantageous to the Saudis, it doesn't result in an equal-size benefit for the Iranians. In fact, it may be that both countries are doing things that are deleterious to American National Security. It may be that we want to pick and choose when we engage with the Saudis and when we don't engage with the Saudis. Just because we choose not to engage in one particular aspect of Saudi foreign policy does not mean that that equals a gift to the Iranians. And yet that's what Secretary Pompeo would have you believe; that if we don't blindly support the Saudi civil war inside Yemen, then that is a win for the Iranians.
Well, the reality is while this civil war has been occurring, al Qaeda and ISIS has gotten stronger, more numerous. In fact, the greatest threat to the American homeland today comes from the wing of al Qaeda that is inside Yemen. And so this civil war that we have been helping to perpetuate is actually making our most sacred enemy even stronger inside that country. Second, there has to be a line that crossed in which our ally has gone too far that we're not willing to follow. Clearly that has happened inside Saudi Arabia. As they intentionally bomb schools and hospitals and school buses. Just because we stand up and say, we are not willing to support you, Saudi Arabia, in your targeted bombing of civilians that does not equally gift to Iran. We are still able to decide when we engage and when we don't engage, even with our allies. Second, a lot of folks seem to believe that there is some command-and-control relationship between the Iranians and Houthis. They are certainly tied together. There are certainly weapons, capabilities that have been gifted, granted to the Houthis by the Iranians. But the Houthis are not Hezbollah. Right? This is not a group of fighters that Iran controls. And in fact as the civil war goes on and on, gets deeper and deeper, the Houthis and Iranians get closer and closer together. So as we continue to just feed enough support to the Saudis to keep the civil war going, we are actually, we are actually perpetuating the very end that seek to avoid, which is the merger of the Iranian regime and the Houthi rebels. They are becoming closed and closer the longer and longer the United States becomes engaged in this conflict. The Middle East is not a zero-sum game. You do not have to unconditionally back the Saudis in everything they ask of us simply because you don't like the Iranians. That's not how the Middle East works. You can pick and choose the places in which you back up your ally. At no cost to your campaign to try to delegitimize and reduce the influence of Iran.
Second, the claim is that this resolution, if it were to pass, would hurt negotiations that are scheduled for next month. False. Exactly the opposite, for two reasons. One, the Saudis need to understand that our support is not unconditional. That they actually have to bend at the negotiating table. Right now they don't believe they have to do that. In fact, they have been, more often than not over the course of this civil war, the reluctant party in these negotiations because they believe that if negotiations fall apart and they return to a state of military hostilities, the United States will give them whatever they need. It's really important right now for the Saudis, as they head into that negotiation, to understand that if these negotiations don't succeed, that there are consequences. Second, the idea that the Houthis are ready to give up the fight, that they are tired, is also false. There is no evidence of that. The Houthis don't believe that the negotiation is real and so they are prepared to just fight it out. If the Houthis believe that the United States is an honest broker here, that there is some point at which we are unwilling to follow the Saudis into battle as they continue to deliberately attack civilians inside Yemen, then the Houthis are actually more willing to sit and talk at the negotiating table. Showing that there is some conditionality to our support for the Saudis, that there is some line on war crimes that they cross that is too far, actually is helpful in getting both of these parties closer together at the negotiating table.
Third, the claim is made that if this resolution were to pass, it would hurt our work against al Qaeda and ISIS. Absolutely false. Inside this resolution is an exclusion, what we say is if there is an existing authorization for war inside Yemen, that this resolution does not erase it. There is an existing authorization for any campaign, anywhere in the world, that the United States launches against al Qaeda. The administration and the prior administration, the Obama administration, have expanded the 9/11 AUMF to cover ISIS as well. So nothing in this resolution hurts our ability to go after al Qaeda and ISIS inside Yemen. All of those operations can continue even if this were to pass and become law. But, second, al Qaeda has been growing in strength. ISIS had no foothold in Yemen before this civil war. They are stronger today than they were three years ago, because once again, like we did in Iraq for ten years, like we're doing in Syria, we are giving just enough help to the Saudis to keep the civil war going without actually ever being willing to give enough force so as to be dispositive on the ground. All we are doing is lengthening the civil war, right? Nature abhors a vacuum. In the vacuum that is created by that civil war, especially in the vast, ungovernable portions of Yemen, al Qaeda takes advantage. ISIS continues to grow. Every day that we continue to just keep this thing going, our sworn Sunni extremist enemies are getting stronger.
Lastly, the argument is made that if the United States is not involved with the Saudis, the humanitarian nightmare would be worse. How could it be worse? How is that a justification? 85,000 children under the age of five have died of starvation and disease. 22 million people in the country, three-quarters of the population, cannot live without humanitarian assistance. The world's worst cholera epidemic in the history of the world is happening right now inside that country. Why? Because the Saudis have been deliberately hitting the water treatment facilities. I'm not making this up. I'm not making this up. They've been targeting the water treatment facilities, so you can't get clean water, so people get cholera. Today humanitarian supplies have been reduced by 50% into the port of Hudaydah because as we speak the Saudis, with U.S. Support, are bombing all around Hudaydah and humanitarian agencies have cut off many of the supplies that they would traditionally send into that capital. The humanitarian nightmare is getting worse right now as we speak today because this civil war continues to go on and on.
It can't get much worse than it is today, and there's no evidence that the U.S. participation in this campaign has made it better. In fact, since we have been sitting inside these targeting centers with U.S. personnel helping the Saudis pick targets, more civilians have been killed, more civilians have been killed, not less. We actually pulled out of the targeting centers at the end of the Obama administration. The Obama administration made a determination in 2016 that we were potentially committing war crimes by being with the Saudis as they were choosing to hit the water treatment facilities and so they pulled our people out. There's no evidence that during the time that we were not in the targeting centers, the Saudis were hitting more civilian targets. In fact, the evidence tells us that the deeper we get involved in the targeting decisions, the more they hit civilian targets. There's a perfectly reasonable explanation for that. So long as they have the United States inside the tent, they have moral cover for hitting civilian targets. They can use us -- they can use us to say, well, the United States were there, right? They were inside the room when these decisions were made. So it can't be that we're doing the kind of damage that you say we are. The evidence suggests -- the evidence doesn't suggest the contrary. The evidence says that the contrary is true. 160% increase in civilians being killed just this year versus last year.
So the Middle East isn't a zero-sum game. The passage of this resolution does not empower Iran. We are not obligated to follow the Saudis into every mistake that they make. This resolution will not hurt negotiations. It will help negotiations by showing that the United States is going to be an honest broker here. The Houthis are bad, bad players. They've killed a lot of people. They've done a lot of damage inside that country. This is not just a question of what the Saudis have done. 70% of the civilians have been killed by Saudi bombs. But the Houthis need to be held to account for what they've done as well. We need to be a broker of peace. This resolution will help us be a broker of peace. Third, al Qaeda and ISIS can still be confronted, even if this resolution passes, and the quicker this civil war ends, the less power they have. And, fourth, maybe theoretically things could be worse. Maybe we could have 185,000 children under five die starvation and disease, but that is not a justification to just stay the course. We need to shake up – we need to shake up the stalemate that exists today. We need to send a signal that the United States is not okay with the way that the Saudis have perpetuated this war. Frankly, the way they have lied to us over the course of the last several months about other things that they are doing to quell dissent in and around the kingdom. We need to send a message, but we also need to get the United States out of a conflict right now that is doing no benefit to American national security and has become a nightmare for people who are stuck in Yemen today. I'd urge passage of the resolution and yield the floor.