On domestic policy—taxation, healthcare, the environment, education, criminal justice, immigration and so forth—there are major differences between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. On foreign policy, not so much. In fact, a number of observers have correctly pointed out that, to a very great degree, we have a “one-party foreign policy.” As a result, there is almost no debate about the basic premises underlying our long-term foreign policy positions. In a complicated and volatile world, this is not a good thing.
Several months ago, Democrats, with virtually no opposition, gave President Trump every nickel that he wanted in increased defense spending. At a time when our infrastructure is crumbling, when public schools lack the resources to provide a quality education for our kids, when 30 million people have no health insurance, there were very few Democrats opposed to Republican efforts to increase military spending by $165 billion over two years.
Democrats, for good reason, vehemently oppose almost everything Trump proposes, but when he asks for a huge increase in military spending, there are almost no voices in dissent. Why is that? Do we really have to spend more on the military than the next 10 nations combined—most of which are our allies? Why do we dramatically increase funding for the military when the Department of Defense remains the only major government agency not to have undertaken a comprehensive audit? Why is there so little discussion about the billions in waste, fraud and cost overruns at the Pentagon?
Here’s a truth that you don’t often hear about in the newspapers, on television or in the halls of Congress. But it’s a truth we must face. Far too often, American intervention and the use of American military power have produced unintended consequences that have caused incalculable harm. Yes, it is reasonably easy to engineer the overthrow of a government. It is far harder, however, to know the long-term impact that that action will have.
Unfortunately, today we still have examples of the United States supporting policies that I believe will come back to haunt us. One is the ongoing Saudi war in Yemen.
On March 20, 2018, Republican Sen. Mike Lee, Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy and I brought a resolution to the floor to end U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen and to change the nature of how Congress does foreign and military policy.
We introduced this resolution for two reasons. First, the war in Yemen has been a humanitarian disaster for the people of that impoverished country. Some 10,000 civilians have been killed, 40,000 more have been wounded and more than 3 million have been displaced. In November 2017, the United Nations emergency relief coordinator said that Yemen was on the brink of “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades.” Fifteen million people lack access to clean water and sanitation because water treatment plants have been destroyed. More than 20 million people in Yemen, over two-thirds of the population, need some kind of humanitarian support, with nearly 10 million in acute need of assistance. More than 1 million suspected cholera cases have been reported, representing potentially the worst cholera outbreak in world history. That is reason enough to end U.S. military support for what Saudi Arabia is doing in the civil war in Yemen.
But the second reason is even more important. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution is very clear. It is Congress that has the responsibility to declare war and send our armed forces into harm’s way. Over the years, Congress has, under both Democratic and Republican leadership, abdicated that responsibility and given it over to the president. The time is long overdue for Congress to regain control over this vitally important process, as the founding fathers mandated.
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