Tom Cotton

GOP's New Foreign Policy Hero Is a Surveillance-Loving Interventionist Nightmare

Freshman Sen. Tom Cotton wants to invade Iran and Syria, jail journalists and whistleblowers, eavesdrop on Americans, and keep the 'savages' locked up in Gitmo.

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In soviet America, Cotton picks you! |||

He's "the star of the 2014 Senate class," proclaims The Washington Post. A "conservative superstar," deems The Atlantic. The "leading GOP national security hawk," says The Washington Post again. Even a "dark horse" 2016 candidate for president, says The New Republic. So just who exactly is the new letter-writing chairman of the Senate Armed Services Airland Subcommittee, and what does his prominence say about the contemporary GOP?

Beyond being a Harvard-educated Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol's biggest new political protégé, and also a target of sustained affection from National Review, Cotton is a politician who has already taken plenty of policy positions. Among them:

* That the U.S. should pre-emptively invade Iran, topple the mullahs, and ensure "replacement with [a] pro-western regime." (** UPDATE: See correction below.)

* That "we should be proud for the way we treated these savages at Guantanamo Bay," and that "the only problem with Guantanamo Bay is that there are too many empty beds."

* That we should keep at least 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan for the forseeable future to finally get the job done there.

* That the U.S. should deploy ground troops against ISIS.

* That President Barack Obama should have taken "decisive, effective military action" against Syria after the regime crossed the administration's "red line" in 2013.

* That the National Security Agency needs to be able to collect bulk metadata on unsuspecting Americans, because "Folks, we are at war. You may not like that truth … Do not take this tool away from our warriors on the front lines."

* That Edward Snowden is a "traitor."

* That defense spending needs to be jacked up: "We need to restore money not only cut by the sequester but the $1 trillion [reduced before that]."

* That, "Far from restraining the use of drones […] through unwise and unconstitutional mechanisms, we should continue and probably expand their use in our war against radical Islam."

* That Iraq was a "just and noble war."

* That, concerning pre-emptive military intervention, "George Bush largely did have it right, that we can't wait for dangers to gather on the horizon, that we can't let the world's most dangerous people get the world's most dangerous weapons, and that we have to be willing to defend our interests and the safety of our citizens abroad even if we don't get the approval of the United Nations."

* That ending President Barack Obama's negotiations with Iran "is very much an intended consequence" of Cotton's efforts in the Senate; "a feature, not a bug."

* That, concerning the Obama administration's November 2013 agreement with Iran in Geneva, "I fear that future generations may view what happened in Geneva as we have viewed Munich for 75 years. What makes this moment worse is that the West appeased Hitler at Munich out of fear and weakness. President Obama capitulated at Geneva even though we were in a position of strength given the sanctions regime. One can only imagine the thinking behind this grievous, historic mistake."

Cotton first came to prominence as an Army lieutenant in Iraq in 2006, when he wrote a soon-to-be-viral open letter to then-New York Times executive editor Bill Keller and reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau criticizing the paper's investigative piece about administration efforts to disrupt terrorist financing. The letter closes with a desire to see the journalists deprived of their freedom:

And, by the way, having graduated from Harvard Law and practiced with a federal appellate judge and two Washington law firms before becoming an infantry officer, I am well-versed in the espionage laws relevant to this story and others — laws you have plainly violated. I hope that my colleagues at the Department of Justice match the courage of my soldiers here and prosecute you and your newspaper to the fullest extent of the law. By the time we return home, maybe you will be in your rightful place: not at the Pulitzer announcements, but behind bars. 

It is no wonder that neoconservatives such as Washington Free Beacon founder Michael Goldfarb wish "there were 20 Tom Cottons." The open question, as it pertains to the new GOP majority, is whether Goldfarb is correct in his assessment that "At the end of the day, the Republican base is for bombing bad people."

** Correction: Cotton did not, to my knowledge, ever state explicitly that he was in favor of pre-emptive U.S.-led war against Iran, for which I apologize. He did, however, utter the quote in question. For a longer discussion about his views, see this link.