This is certainly not the end of the devastating war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and it’s probably premature to even call it the beginning of the end. But at the very least, today may be remembered as a turning point in the conflict.
At U.N.-brokered talks in Sweden, the Saudi-backed, internationally recognized Yemeni government and the Iranian-aligned Houthi movement agreed to a ceasefire around the city of Hodeidah and to remove troops from the area.
The Houthi-controlled port is a where the bulk of humanitarian aid enters the country, in which an estimated 16 million people are facing famine.
Fighting around the city threatened to cut off a vital lifeline. Ceasefires were also agreed to at two other ports. The U.N. Security Council will meet Friday to discuss a resolution on monitoring the troop withdrawals.
There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical. Previous ceasefire agreements have fallen apart over the course of the conflict, which has raged since 2014 and likely killed more than 60,000 people. Several armed groups were not party to the deal and its terms—particularly the question of who will maintain security in Hodeidah after the troop withdrawals—are vague. But on the other hand, there is far more international pressure to end the conflict now, as the sickening humanitarian toll has grown and the Saudi government has faced a backlash over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The best example of that backlash was in Washington today, where the Senate passed a resolution invoking the War Powers Resolution to end U.S. cooperation with the Saudi-led coalition. The resolution, co-sponsored by Sens.
Chris Murphy, Bernie Sanders, and Mike Lee, was tabled by the Senate in a 55-44 vote last March, but today passed 56-41, a result that would have been unthinkable prior to Khashoggi’s death.
Procedural shenanigans by House leadership will keep a similar resolution from getting a vote in the House this term, which means this won’t reach President Trump’s desk, much less become law.
But even if it’s mostly a symbolic gesture at this point, the vote is a landmark in two ways: It marks the first time the Senate has voted to invoke the War Powers Resolution to end a conflict, and the first time the WPR has been applied to an assistance mission rather than the deployment of U.S. combat troops. The Senate is also not done with the Saudis yet: Several other Saudi-related measures are currently up for debate, including one that would suspend U.S. arms sales to the kingdom for the duration of the Yemen conflict.
Until recently, advocates called Yemen a “forgotten war,” a deadly but obscure conflict of little interest to the international media or policymakers in countries allied with Saudi Arabia. It’s taken far too long, and required an unexpected and unrelated event—the killing of Khashoggi—but at least the world is now paying attention to Yemen.