Trump’s Yemen Vengeance
On Tuesday, US President Donald Trump used the second veto of his presidency when he discarded a Congressional resolution that would have ended US support for war crimes in Yemen. To call the veto a “painful missed opportunity” as did Ro Khanna, one of the bill’s sponsors in the House, is to undersell it. If anything, it was another example of the 4-D imprecision we have come to expect from the Trump administration. It was, in other words, a painful reminder of what we knew already.
Not only did Tuesday’s veto remind us of the uncomfortable comfortableness between US President Donald Trump and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, but it also reminded us of Trump’s love for the dictator aesthetic, even as he cloaked himself in claims of constitutional authority. There’s the over-fondness for the glitz and the gold, the narcissism, the demagoguery, and the friendliness to other tough guys (Rodrigo Duterte, Kim Jong-Un, Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Muammar Qaddafi, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, an exhaustive list might take the rest of this column).
The use of the veto was also uncontestably hypocritical. Trump said the resolution was a “dangerous” attempt to weaken his constitutional authority. But here’s Trump in 2013 commenting on Obama and Syria: “The President must get Congressional approval before attacking Syria-big mistake if he does not!” Seemingly, that was in line with the usual conservative argument: namely, that Congress should play a role in decisions about military actions, particularly in large scale and high profile cases. When he decided that interfering with Obama’s decision in Syria (as he argued for) would have been a “dangerous” intervention on his constitutional authority, Trump has yet to say.
Tracking the inconsistencies and imprecisions of the administration– or the president himself– can feel a lot like trying to use a napkin as an umbrella during a tsunami. Still, it may pay to look at the proximate consequences of this particular imprecision. First, Saudi Arabia can continue to commit war crimes in the service of limiting Iranian influence. From Iran’s perspective, this would make the conservative shredding of the nuclear deal even more laughable than it was already. It also further commits the United States to Saudi Arabia.
Second, it wastes the momentum built from the anger over the vicious murder of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi who was murdered at the behest of the crown prince (who sneeringly denies it). The Saudi prince has been conscienceless in persecuting or silencing dissenters. Whatever happened to the Trump administration that pulled out of the UN Human Rights Council (supposedly) because it was a “cesspool of political bias”?
Third, Trump has re-entrenched the imperious trend of American presidents merely assuming war powers in the absence of a Supreme Court pronouncement. The resolution also marked the first Congressional citation of the War Powers Act of 1973. Jonathan Cristol, a research fellow at Adelphi University and Bard College, wrote for CNN about the reasons the veto may indeed lead to a Supreme Court challenge over the 1973 War Powers resolution. In a world where the majority of conflicts are decided by presidential fiat, where the traditional war has been replaced by drone strikes and Special Forces deployments, establishing clear checks to presidential “authority” seems absolutely necessary.
There is no question as to the moral capital of America on the world scene. It has taken a swan dive into an unfilled pool. It is not self-hatred to point out when an action is wretchedly stupid. The self-hatred would be to ditch conscience and let this pseudo-tough guy bullshit go without an outcry.
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