Rep. Omar and the New Flock of Congressional Doves
For the cover photo on its current issue, Rolling Stone gathered together House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) under the headline "Women Shaping the Future." The inclusion of Omar was bold given the controversy over her repeated anti-Semitic remarks and how Pelosi stumbled in her attempt to separate the Democratic party from them. Yet, Omar's views have long been known. In 2012 she called on Allah to "awaken the people and help them see the evils of Israel.” Yet, Democratic leaders appointed her to the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) and are rejecting calls for her removal. This is because her world view is embraced by her left-wing colleagues who now dominate policy.
During her election campaign Omar issued a statement that called for massive cuts in U.S. defense spending, the closing of overseas bases and the need to "avoid military conflict at all costs" with Iran. She also called for ending sanctions on Tehran and decried U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition battling the Iranian-supported insurgents in Yemen. On this last point, the Democratic-controlled Foreign Affairs Committee voted with her to send to the floor H.J. Res. 37 on February 5, which the full House quickly passed on Feb. 13 on an almost party-line vote (every Democrat plus 18 Republicans). The resolution directs "the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress." And the present Congress will not make any such authorization.
The U.S. started providing intelligence and logical support, including aerial refueling of Saudi-coalition bombers, under President Barack Obama. The main effect of the House measure will be to shift the balance of power on the battlefield towards Iran's Shiite proxies. The timing of the House resolution could not be worse. Talks backed by the Trump administration for a political solution to the conflict have made progress. The port of Hodeidah has been opened for the delivery of humanitarian aid to the war-ravaged country. Yet, the Houthi rebels only agreed to withdraw from the port because of pressure from superior coalition forces. It's called negotiating from strength.
The House report accompanying resolution gives a factual description of the conflict:
"The United States has longstanding strategic interests in promoting security and stability in the Arabian Peninsula.... In 2014, after years of violence and insurgency, Ansar Allah/ Houthi rebels seized the Yemeni capital city of Sana’a, deposing the legitimate, internationally recognized Government of Yemen and further destabilizing Yemen and the region."
The report confirms,
"Iran has trained and equipped Houthi fighters with weapons, reportedly including ballistic missiles and armed drones. These have been used against Saudi civilians and a U.S. navy ship and personnel."
Then, the facts are ignored in favor of a disgraceful "cut and run" resolution.
The strategic importance of Yemen is obvious to anyone who looks at a map. It borders Saudi Arabia and the outlet of the Red Sea and Suez Canal, a trade route that carries 12% of world seaborne commerce.
The U.S. supports the Saudis as a frontline state opposing Iranian aggression. And it is nice to have an ally who will fight. The U.S.-Saudi alliance is the basis for the larger, cooperative relationship between America and the vast Sunni Muslim community. Israel and the Arabs have also been drawn into alignment against the common enemy Iran.
A technicality prevented H.J. Res 37 from being voted on in the Senate. However, on March 13, Sen. Bernie Sanders's version of the resolution (S.J. Res 7) was passed by a vote of 54-46. President Donald Trump has already threatened to veto it. Seven GOP Senators voted with all the Democrats to shift the majority in the upper chamber. The "anti-war" Republicans were led by libertarians Mike Lee (R-UT), who co-sponsored the resolution; and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who like Rep. Omar wants to avoid any confrontation with Iran. Paul has even claimed that Iran's missile program is merely a defensive move to ward off a possible U.S. or Saudi attack.
Sen. Paul is following his father on this issue. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) was a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee when I was serving on its staff. I remember watching with dismay his defense of Iran's "right" to a nuclear program and his criticism of U.S. sanctions as "interference" in Tehran's business.
On the same day the Senate voted to block U.S. action in Yemen, the HFAC held a hearing on H.R. 1004, the Prohibiting Unauthorized Military Action in Venezuela Act. Introduced by Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), the bill has 56 co-sponsors (including two Republicans). Reps. Omar, Ocasio-Cortez and presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) are on board. Their support belies Cicilline's opening remarks at the HFAC hearing condemning Nicolás Maduro as "A dictator who doesn't care about the Venezuelan people." He endorsed opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who has gained official recognition around he world as the legitimate leader of the country. But Cicilline will only support diplomatic and economic pressure on Maduro, not force against a tyrant who is ruling by force; posing at every opportunity with his military commanders.
Instead, Cicilline blamed President Trump for the crisis, citing his "rhetoric" and "saber rattling" about possible military intervention. Any direct action would be "illegal" and would "hurt the Venezuelan people." No wonder a coalition of left-wing "peace" groups have called for passage of H.R. 1004.
On the same day as the hearing, a letter was sent to Speaker Pelosi endorsing the bill, signed by, among others, Code Pink, Democratic Socialists of America NYC, Western Mass Venezuela Solidarity Coalition, and (to square the circle) the Yemini Alliance. Pelosi was praised for "the historic passage of H. J. Res. 37, which, like Cicilline’s H.R. 1004, invokes the War Powers Resolution of 1973." And "adopting legislation on Venezuela... will serve as an effective counterweight to the militaristic and anti-refugee policies of the Trump Administration." At a March 16 rally "in solidarity with the Venezuelan people [meaning the Maduro regime], Code Pink declared "its people decided to be free from the imperial rule of the United States" prompting President Trump to plot a coup.
Yemen and Venezuela are only the first two places where the left-leaning Congress will work to isolate America from the world. In the Jan-Feb issue of Foreign Affairs is an essay by Brian McKean and Caroline Tess entitled "How Congress Can Take Back Foreign Policy." Both authors served in the Obama Administration after having been Senate staffers. They applauded Sen. Sanders's Yemen resolution and set it in a wider effort to control arms sales in general. They look back to the Arms Export Control Act of 1976 which sought to limit sales to allies to avoid arms races or the escalation of conflicts -- unilateral restraints that can only encourage aggressors. And on March 26, the HFAC Oversight Subcommittee will open the door on this subject by holding a hearing on "Proposed Small Arms Transfers." Will President Trump's sale of arms to Israel, Taiwan and the Ukraine be targeted next?
The McKean-Tess essay is filled with nostalgia for the 1970s when large, post-impeachment Democratic majorities in Congress spurred America's world-wide retreat, starting with the betrayal of South Vietnam (which the authors do not mention; it's all about liberal ideals and nothing about the horrific results). And with a libertarian-leftist coalition able to shift the majority in the Senate to match the Democrat majority in the House, it will be a long two years ahead for national security policy. Rep. Omar is just a cover girl for a much larger problem.
William R. Hawkins is a consultant specializing in international economic and national security issues. He is a former Republican staff member on the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee.