The scenes from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are heart-rending — the bombing of hospitals and civilian neighborhoods, the killing of children by Russian forces, and the driving of millions of Ukrainians from their homes. The carnage in Ukraine has rightly sparked an international coalition to stop the destruction and roll back the Russian invasion.

There is another conflict where the aggressor nation has bombed hospitals, civilian neighborhoods, basic infrastructure, a funeral, a wedding, and even a school bus, causing thousands of civilian casualties in the process — the Saudi-led war in Yemen, which marks its seventh anniversary later this month. But unlike Ukraine, the United States has done more to enable the conflict in Yemen than it has to end it.

It is hard to overstate the humanitarian catastrophe caused by the intervention of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. There have been at least 18,000 civilian casualties caused by coalition airstrikes, and a Saudi air and naval blockade has severely limited the import of fuel and humanitarian aid. Almost 400,000 people have died from direct and indirect causes since the start of the war. A Jan. 21 Saudi airstrike on a detention center in the northern part of the country killed at least 91 people and wounded 226 others.

As soon as he took office, President Joe Biden pledged to do all he could to end the Yemen war. In his first foreign policy speech as president, he promised to end support for “offensive operations in Yemen, including relevant arms sales.”

The Biden administration’s record on the Yemen war has not lived up to its initial rhetoric. After pausing two sales of bombs destined for the Royal Saudi Air Force, the administration approved more than $1 billion in arms sales to the regime. These sales raise serious concerns in their own right, but they also represent an endorsement of Saudi conduct.

The administration may go even further in enabling Saudi conduct in the war as a quid pro quo for Saudi Arabia to pump more oil to counteract the impact of sanctions on Russia. Rewarding one autocracy in an effort to punish another would be both hypocritical and counterproductive.

Unlike in Ukraine, where the push for a negotiated settlement involves a complex clash of interests and U.S. leverage has limits, the Biden administration has a clear path to pressing the Saudis to stop harming civilians and negotiate in good faith for a comprehensive peace agreement. Saudi air and land forces — including over two-thirds of its combat aircraft — cannot operate for long without U.S. maintenance and spare parts. In essence, the United States has the power to ground the Saudi air force if Riyadh doesn’t stop its indiscriminate bombing of Yemen and negotiate in good faith to end the war. It’s long past time for the United States to use this leverage. If the administration fails to do so, Congress should step in to make it happen.

Congress has made a number of efforts to end U.S. support for the Saudi war in Yemen, from voting to block bomb sales to Riyadh, to passing amendments to cut off spare parts and maintenance, to attempting to force an end to U.S. military support for Saudi Arabia by passing resolutions under the War Powers Act. Unfortunately, these efforts were either vetoed by President Donald Trump or stripped out of the final versions of the annual National Defense Authorization Act.

It’s time for Congress to try again. Reps. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., are planning to introduce a War Powers Resolution on Yemen. Congress should pass it and the Biden administration should respect it. Doing so would mark an important first step toward ending the horrific humanitarian suffering in Yemen and bring U.S. policy in line with Biden’s rhetoric and purported values. While the Biden administration deliberates on how to convince Putin to end his devastating war on Ukraine, the U.S. government can act now to end its role in the carnage in Yemen.

William D. Hartung is a Senior Research Fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Annelle Sheline is a Research Fellow in the Middle East Program at the Quincy Institute.

Fighters ride in pickup trucks as forces loyal to Yemen’s Saudi-backed government clash with Houthi rebel fighters around the strategic government-held “Mas Camp” military base.

Fighters ride in pickup trucks as forces loyal to Yemen’s Saudi-backed government clash with Houthi rebel fighters around the strategic government-held “Mas Camp” military base. (AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

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