The government of Saudi Arabia has been bombing and starving the Middle East’s poorest country for about three years, now. One recent estimate suggests that 85,000 children under 5 years old have already died from malnutrition as a result of Riyadh’s intervention in Yemen’s civil war. If the Saudis’ air strikes and blockade continue, Yemen is poised to face the worst famine humanity has seen in 100 years, according to the U.N.
The United States bears much of the responsibility for all of this: Our federal government’s steadfast commitment to an alliance with the Saudis has led America to support Riyadh’s monstrous campaign by supplying it with weapons, logistical support, and midair refueling services for Saudi fighter planes. Without that last form of support, much of the Saudi campaign would be impossible.
Recently, a critical mass of U.S. senators decided that abetting a world-historic war crime — for the sake of helping a totalitarian Islamist regime install its puppet government of choice in a country that is of no strategic importance to the United States — might be unwise. Two weeks ago, the Senate voted to actually allow debate on the issue. And as of Wednesday afternoon, a resolution to end American military support for the Saudi intervention was expected to pass the upper chamber.
In a bizarre coincidence, right around the same time, the House Rules Committee realized that its agricultural spending bill was missing one key provision — a rule forbidding the House from voting to end U.S. military support for the Saudi war in Yemen before the end of this year.
The addition of a pro-famine clause to the annual farm bill struck many Republican lawmakers as odd: When the rule came up for a vote Wednesday, 18 GOP House members voted against it. But the measure passed 206-203 anyway — because five Democratic congressmen (they were, indeed, all men) voted in favor.
One of those Democrats was Minnesota’s Collin Peterson. Shortly after the vote, the Washington Post’s Jeff Stein asked Peterson about his rationale for backing the indefinite extension of a brutal war:
Stein: Can you explain your vote on the Yemen resolution?
Peterson: Yeah. It didn’t belong there.
Stein: Why not? Couldn’t you just have come back and done another vote?
Peterson: No — we’ve worked for two years on this farm bill, and I’ll be damned if I let anyone screw it up.
Stein: Do you have any thoughts about the war in Yemen?
Peterson: I don’t know a damn thing about it, and it should be in there and it — it didn’t do anything anyway. [my emphasis]
Stein: What do you mean by that?
Peterson: All it did say was that they couldn’t have a vote or something. Didn’t authorize anything, it didn’t — you know. Our party gets off on tangents. It’s ridiculous.
There are many reasons why Peterson’s explanation is … unsatisfying. For one, by all accounts, voting against the Yemen resolution would not have doomed the farm bill.
But Peterson’s most fascinating argument is surely this: I voted to prolong American involvement in a foreign war (that doubles as the world’s most severe, ongoing humanitarian crisis) because I don’t know a damn thing about it!
Now look: I get that Peterson’s (largely rural and conservative) constituents aren’t calling his office everyday to express their concerns about the Saudi blockade of Yemen. And I understand that Peterson is a Blue Dog Democrat, and thus, contractually obligated to scold his party for “getting off on a tangent” whenever it contemplates issues that do not concern rural white people or major corporations.
But Collin Peterson is not an isolationist. He does not actually believe that the U.S. government shouldn’t involve itself in matters that don’t directly concern the good people of Moorhead, Minnesota. The representative reliably votes to expand (already gargantuan) Pentagon budgets that are designed to ensure American military hegemony over the entire planet. Which is to say: Collin Peterson believes the United States should maintain a globe-spanning military empire — but that U.S. congressmen shouldn’t be expected to read the foreign affairs section of the newspaper.