Washington, DC – More than 30 community, faith-based and anti-war organizations warned President Biden against escalation toward Yemen, including unauthorized military strikes. This comes after reports indicated that the administration was developing plans for airstrikes on Yemen, which would risk a full-blown expansion of the conflict in Israel and Palestine across the greater Middle East, in response to a spate of recent Houthi attacks on commercial shipping vessels in the Red Sea.
Please see below for the text of the letter and quotes from some of the organizers of this timely effort:
“A direct attack by the U.S. on Yemen would lead to further catastrophe and is a concern for humanitarian organizations. Military action would exacerbate the already dire situation for civilians and would not lead to a resolution of the U.S. concerns. Diplomacy and a reevaluation of U.S. policy in the region are more viable solutions.” – Aisha Jumaan, President, Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation
“With the Middle East on fire over Gaza, there is an urgent need for multilateral diplomacy to address root causes of violence. More war is not, and has never been, the answer. President Biden must reject calls to launch unauthorized strikes and impose more sanctions on the Houthis, which would only deepen Yemen’s humanitarian crisis. Instead, his administration must prioritize peace talks to achieve an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and promote de-escalation in Yemen and beyond.” – Hassan El-Tayyab, Friends Committee on National Legislation
“President Biden should be leaving no stone unturned in his efforts to stop the horrific killing in Palestine and push for a broader and sustainable peace. Yet as this conflict goes on with no end in sight and a blank check from Biden for its continuation, risks of a disastrous regional war are growing. Rather than double down on the errors of this war by moving to expand it through airstrikes in Yemen, Biden must move to stop the killing and secure a sustainable ceasefire.” – Ryan Costello, Policy Director, National Iranian American Council
“With the Biden administration unapologetically arming Israel’s brutal war in Gaza and acting as a spoiler in the peace talks between Riyadh and Sanaa, it isn’t surprising that they are open to escalating the conflict with Yemen. Launching new attacks on Yemen or imposing sanctions that would block the peace process would cause a humanitarian disaster and further harm U.S. global leadership. This quick turnaround letter shows that the coalition that helped pass the Yemen War Power Resolution through Congress stands ready to work with allies on the Hill to prevent more harmful mistakes in our policy towards Yemen and the region.” – Aida Chavez, Communications Director and Policy Adviser, Just Foreign Policy
December 22, 2023
President Joseph R. Biden
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Biden,
As Americans, we are horrified by the devastating civilian toll in the Israel-Gaza war and deeply concerned about the potential for escalation of the war and crisis in Yemen. We agree with your goal of avoiding an expanded conflict, and urge you to reject calls to launch attacks on Yemeni forces or impose new sanctions that could harm Yemen’s peace process. We believe the best path forward is for your administration to work diplomatically to reach an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and a regional de-escalation.
It is widely reported that “administration officials are actively weighing options to strike back at Houthis in Yemen” to respond to a string of attacks primarily aimed at commercial shipping vessels in the Red Sea. While these attacks are concerning, expanding the war into Yemen will not resolve them and instead may dramatically worsen the threats to commercial shipping both in the Red Sea, Persian Gulf and other regional waterways.
Houthi officials have been clear that these attacks are tied directly to the ongoing war between Israel and Palestine. As a Houthi statement last week indicated, “We will continue to prevent all ships heading to Israeli ports until the food and medicine our people need in the Gaza Strip is brought in.”
Reports indicate that the Department of Defense had recently cautioned against an expansion of the war into Yemen to retaliate for the uptick in attacks. Even Saudi Arabia – longtime foe of the Houthis – has reportedly urged “restraint” in the U.S. response, instead emphasizing “why the Gaza conflict should stop.” These are the right instincts.
With the horrific civilian toll in Gaza, the entire region is on a knife’s edge. In this environment, launching an offensive attack on a member of the so-called “resistance axis” would undoubtedly upend this tentative balance and invite more direct attacks on U.S. forces and interests throughout the region. A full-blown open-ended regional war would be horrific and undoubtedly entail significant casualties to U.S. forces and civilian populations across the region, adding to the horror being inflicted in Palestine. It would not serve Israel’s security, either, as it would entail a dramatic escalation of the cross-border conflict with Lebanon. It would play into the Houthis’ hands by strengthening them politically, both at home and abroad. The U.S. should be seeking to avoid such a calamity, not choose one.
Congress has never authorized participation in hostilities against the Houthis pursuant to its authority under Article I of the Constitution. In fact, Congress has repeatedly voted to restrict or terminate U.S. participation in the war in Yemen, with repeated votes to end limited support such as refueling Saudi fighter jets or supplying them with spare parts that enable bombing in Yemen. These positions were supported by core national security officials in your administration such as National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer, and USAID Administrator Samantha Power. In addition, as Department of Defense Press Secretary Patrick Ryder noted last week, the U.S. does not believe that the Houthis are targeting U.S. forces or territories, which means that presidential power to militarily repel a sudden attack under Article II of the Constitution is not applicable. Accordingly, proceeding with unauthorized military action against Yemen would violate the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution of 1973 unless and until there is a full debate and vote that the framers of our Constitution wisely enshrined in our political system.
Other policy changes short of military action could also gravely undermine the interests of the U.S. while causing immeasurable harm to the people of Yemen and further destabilizing the region. Specifically, calls to re-designate the de facto authorities in Sana’a – who have governed approximately 70% of Yemen’s population for nine years – as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) should be categorically rejected. Your administration was correct to withdraw that designation in the early days of your presidency. As Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted, you “listened to warnings from the United Nations, humanitarian groups, and bipartisan members of Congress, among others, that the designations could have a devastating impact on Yemenis’ access to basic commodities like food and fuel.”
Those humanitarian concerns remain just as valid today. In addition, the Saudi government and the de facto authorities in Sana’a are reportedly close to signing an historic peace agreement after nearly 9 years of war. U.S. officials acknowledge that an FTO designation would block key aspects of that agreement, including the desperately-needed payment of civil servants and the long-overdue lifting of the blockade on Yemen’s air and sea ports. Reinstating these sanctions and blocking a peace agreement would not only violate your commitments to promote humanitarian relief and seek an end to the war in Yemen, but would also further damage U.S. credibility and leadership in the region and around the world.
U.S. culpability in Israel’s war crimes has spurred significant global protests and anger regarding your administration’s approach. This outrage would be sure to expand if the U.S. moves to widen the war to new fronts, or if the U.S. shows that actively blocking a peace deal in Yemen is preferable to pursuing an end to the war in Gaza.
Only by securing a permanent ceasefire in Gaza can the administration truly hope to defuse threats from the Houthis, Hezbollah, militias in Iraq and Syria, and Iran. We urge your administration to continue to reject unilateral options that would expand the violence in the region and undermine peace in Yemen, including by launching unauthorized strikes in Yemen or placing a new FTO listing on Ansar Allah. Thank you for your consideration of this important matter.
Center on Conscience and War
Church of the Brethren, Office of Peacebuilding and Policy
Churches for Middle East Peace
Community Peacemaker Teams
Defending Rights & Dissent
Demand Progress Education Fund
Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN)
Doctors Against Genocide
Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL)
Historians for Peace and Democracy
Institute for Policy Studies, National Priorities Project
International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)
Just Foreign Policy
National Iranian American Council
Pax Christi USA
Peace Action New York State
Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft
United for Peace and Justice
World BEYOND War
Yemeni Alliance Committee
Yemen Freedom Council
Yemen Relief and Reconstruction FoundationBack to top