Foreign Policy

Tom Cotton: I Said 'replacement with a pro-western regime,' not Pre-Emptive War!

Hawkish senator disputes characterization of his interventionist views toward Iran

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Don't shoot the messenger! ||| Tom Cotton archive
Tom Cotton archive

In a March 11 post about Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), titled "GOP's New Foreign Policy Hero Is a Surveillance-Loving Interventionist Nightmare," I listed among the freshman senator's policy positions that

the U.S. should pre-emptively invade Iran, topple the mullahs, and ensure "replacement with [a] pro-western regime."

Cotton's office emailed asking for a correction, saying that the senator has never said anything explicitly about pre-emptively invading Iran. After reviewing and transcribing the source material for my claim—a Feb. 26 panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference titled "When Should America Go to War," which I attended—I have concluded (updating the piece accordingly) that Team Cotton is in the right: He did not explicitly say America should pre-emptively invade Iran. As an avowed literalist, I apologize.   

What Cotton did say was that "The fundamental American policy towards Iran now, in the future, as well as in the past should be regime change," that "Whatever happens in these negotiations, the policy towards Iran has to be regime change, and the replacement with a pro-western regime that is not going to be the greatest force of instability and greatest state sponsor of terrorism in that region," that the current Iranian regime has "been exporting terror and killing Americans around the world for 35 years," and that on the general question of "When would we be going to war," the answer includes when "our people are attacked" and "when we have transnational terrorist groups…operating in lawless safe havens."

So how on earth did I get the impression that Cotton advocates attacking Iran?

Before Tom joined the Army…. |||

The answer, I think, is more interesting than parsing the seemingly proactive properties of the word replacement, or taking a walk through the history of U.S. politicians fantasizing about a pro-western regime in Tehran. Cotton truly believes, as he stressed at the CPAC panel (which you can watch and judge for yourself here), that "The best way to avoid a war…is to be prepared to fight a war, and then to be willing to fight a war." The preparation part involves "substantial increases in spending on our defense," but what about the willingness piece? Let's quote a longer chunk of Cotton's thinking:

[Y]ou also sometimes face a world where deterrence breaks down. And the world has to know we are willing to go to war. That's both our allies and our enemies. Regrettably, right now many people around the world don't believe that our president is willing to go to war.

When would we be going to war? To defend our core national security interests, when our our territory and our people are attacked, as they were in World War II at Pearl Harbor, as they were on 9/11 in New York and…in Virginia and in Pennsylvania. When our allies are invaded, as happened in Kuwait, when Saddam Hussein crossed an international border and threatened more allies in the region as well. When we have transnational terrorist groups like the Islamic State operating in lawless safe havens, like Syria, Iraq, [unintelligible] Libya and elsewhere. Like Al Qaeda did in Afghanistan in the years before the 9/11 attacks.

At minimum, if we are to take those words seriously, that's a recipe for a whole lot more war in the here and now: against ISIS in Iraq and Syria and perhaps Lebanon; probably against Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula in Yemen; arguably against bad guys controlling various safe havens within Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Hezbollah, to name one organization in the news, is a "transnational terrorist group" that shares at least some commonalities with ISIS.

Cotton sees American readiness to take up arms as an essential deterrent: "If we are willing to fight a war, if we're prepared to fight a war, then war is much less likely to occur." His go-to historical analogy, to the surprise of no one paying attention to conservative interventionism, is the weak 1930s response to the rise of Hitler. But it's hard to fathom how that insight translates to, say, the Taliban in Afghanistan—do we just need to fight them longer, and nation-build them better, only this time not get tired of the effort? Would a more convincing willingness by the Great Satan to robustly go after AQAP in Yemen deter that or any other Islamist group from acting terribly and against American interests? Or would this increased willingness to go to war lead to more war?

You have to ask? ||| The Weekly Standard
The Weekly Standard

You of course can have an official policy of "regime change" that does not involve pre-emptive war. That's in fact what America had toward Baghdad after the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, a law championed by Cotton's chief intellectual sponsor, William Kristol. How were we supposed to achieve this goal? Through a familiar-sounding cocktail of economic sanctions, weapons inspections, credible threats and use of force, and assistance to dissident groups. So how did that story end?

With pre-emptive, ill-advised war (which Cotton said at the CPAC was still in hindsight "the right decision"). Even with all that American sacrifice, the existence of a "pro-western regime" in Baghdad is tenuous at best. 

So I asked Cotton's Communication Director, Caroline Rabbitt,

[D]oes Sen. Cotton believe that a hypothetical tighter international economic sanctions regime, backed with the credible threat of U.S. force where appropriate, will be sufficient to bring about "replacement with a pro-western regime that is not going to be the greatest force of instability and greatest state sponsor of terrorism in that region"? If so, I wonder if he has any reflections as to why sanctions/enforcement failed in that regard with Iraq?

She responded:

I appreciate you sending along those hypothetical scenario questions, but perhaps you should have sent those before you published an inaccurate statement.

I earned that.

I believe that the practical effects of Cotton's foreign policy would almost certainly lead to pre-emptive war; that the Kristolian pool he swims in is filled with those openly pining for pre-emptive war; that one of the biggest beneficiaries of conservative interventionism has been the very mullahs they all find so distasteful; and that nobody I've seen on the neoconservative side has ever convincingly thought through the problem of long-term American public disaffection with open-ended overseas military engagement precipitated by a promiscuous willingness to threaten force. Libertarians are hardly the only political cohort whose foreign policy views need to get real.

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  1. Tom Cotton: I Said ‘replacement with a pro-western regime,’ not Pre-Emptive War!

    Yes, let’s replace the theocracy with a dictator who will do what the USA says because he’s getting big ol sacks of tax payer dollars delivered to his doorstep every morning.

    Oh, wait… didn’t we already do that once and it sort of went to shit?

    1. Which Theocracies has the US ousted? The Taliban?

    2. We sorta ousted a dictator who’s gradually being replaced by a theocratic regime.

    3. I don’t know which country you’re referring to. Maybe it would be simpler to list the countries in which we have not meddled.

      1. I was referring to Iran. But I guess we didn’t have anything to do with Shah of Iran. My bad.

        1. No we didn’t, at least in installing him. He was put in power by mobs in the street angry at Mossi’s inept dictatorial governance. The US-Shah alliance was a very good one and produced a lot of benefits.

          1. The innocence of the USA in world events is a wonder to behold.

            1. Innocent until proven guilty! Also, self-defense.

            2. See, the US didn’t *directly* move to replace Mossadegh, they just helped organize and back those who did.

              So the US is completely blameless for anything that happened afterwards.

              1. The CIA-backed coup failed. The CIA role in the anti-Mossi revolution was a bit part, and it was the right thing to do considering the times. The Iranian people should be thankful to America, but they should thank themselves: they were the ones who removed Mossi from power and put the relatively modern Shah in power. He empowered women.

          2. No we didn’t

            You’re right, Canada didn’t but the US was involved.

            1. Barely.

        2. The Shah was a Theocrat?

          1. Or Mossadegh?

          2. Good grief. What I meant is that currently Iran is a theocracy, so that’s what we would be replacing this time. I wasn’t trying to say that we replaced a theocracy, I was trying to say that we’ve had these experiments with setting up puppet dictators and that it sometimes (always) goes to shit. Hope that clears it up.

            1. didn’t we already do that once and it sort of went to shit?

              And who is this “we”?

              1. Anglo-American.

            2. we’ve had these experiments with setting up puppet dictators and that it sometimes (always) goes to shit. Hope that clears it up.

              Actually, the setting up of puppet dictators has usually worked quite well for America.

              1. Isn’t that nice – we put puppet dictators into a country and it works out well for us.

                Maybe we should do that with Canada?

        3. We cleaned Iran up with AJAX..

        4. Ol’ Jimmeh was responsible for that disaster.

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  2. Well the US and UK did replace Mossadeg without invading…

    1. I just learned that we had nothing to do with that.

      1. It was Churchill and Stalin who installed Mohammed Pahlavi as Shah in 1941, natch.

  3. As an avowed literalist, I apologize.

    I can respect that.

  4. Well Russia ousting Anti-Russian regimes militarily on the other hand is okay/ Rothbard/Rockwell/Richman/Raimondo

    1. Did they actually say that it’s okay, or did they say it’s really none of America’s business, or did they say nothing and you’re just being a douche because you’re the only one who wants to oil wrestle with Putin?

      1. They said it was fine and that anyone who disagreed was a neocon. I kid you not.

        1. You’ll forgive me if I remain skeptical without a link.

          1. https://reason.com/blog/2014/03…..ty-preside

            McCobin wrote on Tuesday that Paul “gets it wrong when he speaks of Crimea’s right to secede” because it was “annexed by Russian military force at gunpoint and its supposedly democratic ‘referendum’ was a farce.” He fires some shots saying, “it’s much too simplistic to solely condemn the United States for any kind of geopolitical instability in the world.”

            Round Two:

            Paul didn’t shoot back himself, but Daniel McAdams, executive director of the Ron Paul Institute, yesterday asserted that McCobin has “no evidence” that Russian military played a role in annexing the region, and that if Crimeans wanted to remain part of Ukraine, they could have just delegitimized the referendum by “stay[ing] home” and not voting at all.

            McAdams dropped some more bombs. He accused McCobin of being a “neocon warmonger,” suggested that his organization “is in bed” with the National Endowment for Democracy, and warned that SFL would experience an exodus of members for attacking Paul.

            1. Well claiming that Russia had nothing to do with the Crimea secession vote is just fucking dumb. McAdams is either making excuses for a noninterventionist position that he considers weak or he’s just colossally stupid. That’s not exactly the same thing as claiming it’s okay for Russia to topple Ukraine, but either way nobody needs to take that dipshit seriously.

              1. So say we all.

          2. Have you read For A New Liberty? Rothbard states defends the USSR for invading Hungary in 1956 for being defensive and engages in whataboutism.

            Or this:
            https://reason.com/archives/201…..lism-at-th

            Under these circumstances, Putin has acted as any Russian ruler would be expected to act with his country encroached on from the west: “His response to events there has been defensive, not offensive.”

            1. Under these circumstances, Putin has acted as any Russian ruler would be expected to act with his country encroached on from the west: “His response to events there has been defensive, not offensive.”

              The first part of this statement is true. The second part is a false dichotomy. I can see how you would get “Russia is justified” from that, but it reads to me more that Russia was responding predictably to western encroachment.

              1. If you read enough of them they clearly state that Russia is merely engaged in self-defense in defending its sphere of influence from American aggression. Americans defending its sphere of influence is bad though or hypocritical. If the latter then they are engaged in nothing more than whataboutism.

                Not to mention this is quite different then “they say it’s really none of America’s business”.

                1. Don’t forget Rothbard’s statement that “The Soviets arrived early at what libertarians regard as the only proper and principled foreign policy”.

                  1. Or where Rothbard said that Stalin wouldn’t have turned Eastern Europe into communist puppets if the US had left him alone. He claims that Stalin didn’t start this until 1948 even though the Soviets were rigging elections before then.

  5. You know who else wanted to send tanks into a sandy country?

    1. Walter Donovan?

  6. You Know Who Else Invaded Iran?

    1. Alexander of Macedonia?

      1. Genghis Khan?

  7. How is what Cotton is saying any different from what Clinton signed in to law regarding Iraq in 1998?

    “The Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 is a United States Congressional statement of policy calling for regime change in Iraq. It was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, and states that it is the policy of the United States to support democratic movements within Iraq.”

    Sounds the same to me.

    1. Which makes either action okay….because?

      1. I have no problem with Cotton or Clinton for that matter saying that the regimes in question should die and be replaced with a Pro-western government. I agree with them wholeheartedly.

        That doesn’t mean I’m proposing we invade, just that I support the removal of the regime.

    2. Well, the Taliban and ISIS are all about regime change in the US.

      1. In Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan too! They’re just like us!

  8. A noninterventionist making inaccurate claims about his opponent’s statements? Why I never!

    At least Welch manned up and admitted it, which is better than many here.

    Cotton is wrong on some things and right on others. He is right about the Iranian regime. It must go. Get Yellen to jack up interest rates and watch oil prices go through the floor.

    1. along with the stock market

      1. So be it. Suck the poison out.

    2. what exactly is the 1:1 relationship with US interest rates and global oil prices you are aluding to, Cytotoxic? Werent interest rates and oil prices high in the 80’s?

      1. Oil prices came tumbling down shortly afterward.

  9. There’s always the CIA installing a pro-west dictator for us. But alas, I fear those days are over.

    1. They never were at least in Iran. The CIA barely had a bit part in installing the Shah.

      1. The CIA didn’t exist in 1941

          1. What actually installed the Shah was the 1941 Anglo-Soviet Invasion of Iran, not the 1953 coup that ousted Mossadegh.

            1. I meant put him in total power but okay.

              1. Cyto and the flying goalposts!

  10. the U.S. should pre-emptively invade Iran, topple the mullahs, and ensure “replacement with [a] pro-western regime.”

    Isn’t this straight from the Neo-conservative handbook? I’m surprised he didn’t throw a “Democracy! Fuck Yeah!” in at the end.

    I’m still trying to figure out whose warmongering assholes are worse: TEAM Red’s Neocons who truly believe, in their heart of hearts, that they can bomb the world into loving Democracy and McDonald’s, or TEAM Blue’s brand of “war electioneering” where the success or failure of any military enterprise is measured into how well it will test in a focus group.

    1. He never said that.

      1. Take it up with @mleewelch

        1. The whole point of this piece was that the guy didn’t say that. RFTA

          1. Well, I fucked that up. I apologize to Senator Cotton and all affected by my microaggressions.

  11. “when we have transnational terrorist groups?operating in lawless safe havens.”

    Since there are already transnational terrorist groups operating in lawless safe havens, Tom Cotton’s own logic dictates we should invade Iran now.

  12. The fundamental American policy towards Iran now, in the future, as well as in the past should be regime change

    So Sen. Cotton wants us to develop time machine so we can go back and force George Washington to invade the Qajar Dynasty?

    1. …what? Pretty clear he meant since 1980. Your obtuseness is showing.

      1. Regime change now, regime change tomorrow, regime change forEVER!

  13. Wow, a post from Matt AND Nick….on the same day!

    I think the interns must all be sick or something. Or some escaped.

  14. Alice Bowie has to be a troll because there’s no way anyone would say something this ridiculous if they were real.

    Alice Bowie|3.25.15 @ 5:56PM|#|?|filternamelinkcustom

    True, lots of tax money goes to cronies and deputy this-that-the-other.
    Nevertheless, I’m not ready to throw the baby out with the bath water.

    Just as libertarians generally harp on the fact that capitalism has some negatives yet it’s the best system we have (and I agree), we need taxes.

    What we need is to weed out corruption. And, not with more cronies and government. But with citizen action and transparency.

    Dark Lord of the Cis|3.25.15 @ 6:02PM|#|?|filternamelinkcustom

    I get the distinct impression that reading comprehension is not your strong suit.

    Alice Bowie|3.25.15 @ 6:07PM|#|?|filternamelinkcustom

    I started reading at ten.

    What.

    1. *shrugs*

      He could have bad dyslexia.

    2. “Alice Bowie” has been around for YEARS and is a confessed parodist.

      I think the relative infrequency of his* trolling is why people keep forgetting.

    3. That’s like bragging about a 1.0 GPA.

    4. It’s kind of a corollary of Poe’s law. It’s impossible to tell trolling from true retardation.

  15. OT: One writer’s take on apps which censor books

    http://terribleminds.com/rambl…..t-matters/

    I am an author where much of my work utilizes profanity. Because fuck yeah, profanity. Profanity is a circus of language. It’s a drunken trapeze act. It’s clowns on fire. And let’s be clear up front: profanity is not separate from language. It is not lazy language. It is language. Just another part of it. Vulgarity has merit. It is expressive. It is emotive. It is metaphor.

    So, as someone with a whole pig wagon full of fucks at stake, let be be clear:

    Fuck you, Clean Reader.

    1. If I’m in the middle of a book I don’t like, am I allowed to stop reading it, or must I get the author’s permission to stop? After all, if I don’t read the end, I’ve experienced the story in away the author did intend, and “authorial consent matters”.

      1. No, this dipshit covers that. He explains that there is a ‘contract’ between the reader and the writer and your contract only includes whether you pick up and read the book or whether you put it down. Therefore you aren’t allowed to do anything else with a book, apparently.

        Where’d this contract come from? Who knows! He apparently invented it himself, and who are we to question a Published Author.

        1. Well, I hope he doesn’t try to make any changes to his house or car.

    2. Is Clean reader violating a publishing agreement? Is it copying content without permission?

      If so, they’ll be sued out of business fairly quickly.

      If they’re operating with consent of the author/publisher, then more power to them, only people who *want* clean reading will get the edited version.

    3. Let me see if I get this straight: You can still read the book with profanity if you want to, this book just censors the profanity if you don’t want to read it.

      So it’s individual choice. His books aren’t being ‘censored’ anymore than they’d be censored if I bought a copy and then threw it in the garbage when I was done.

      Also:

      Profanity is a circus of language. It’s a drunken trapeze act.

      So you’re a terrible writer who uses ridiculously lazy metaphors and then assures me you’re not being lazy. He also gets petulant:

      You may say, Well, Mister Wendig, surely your books do not require the profanity, to which I say, fuck you for thinking that they don’t. If I chose it, and the editor and I agree to keep it, then damn right it’s required.

      Every day there are movies that are slightly censored so they can be shown on broadcast T.V. There is nothing wrong with this because if you want to see it uncensored, you can get it from Netflix anytime. This is no different than that, and whining that it’s ‘censorship’ proves nothing except that this guy’s a little bitch (I can use profanity too!) who doesn’t know what censorship means.

      1. I think what he’s really trying to say is ” I use profanity as a cover for my shitty writing skills, and this will expose me to an even greater degree”.

      2. “It’s a drunken trapeze act.”

        As metaphors go, this is pretty epic fail.

        Given that a “drunken trapeze act” would last about 2 seconds and entertain no one.

    4. Just submitting this for your approval.

    5. Well, if anything it suggests that the author there is so incredibly stupid and unaware of whom his/her potential audience actually might be that they think that there’s a big overlap between

      a) people who buy books full of profanity
      and
      b) people who use ‘profanity cleaners’ on their purchased books

      it seems to be a pre-emptive attempt to notify people who might be interested in their written output that they’re a complete idiot, and not worth reading

  16. Cotton’s office emailed asking for a correction, saying that the senator has never said anything explicitly about pre-emptively invading Iran

    OH! Not explicitly. Well, carry on then.

  17. In which Youtube commenters debate the morality of Arthur the Aardvark punching his sister

    girl1213
    4 months ago

    Moral of the story: punching gets you in trouble. End of story. Doesn’t matter if it was deserved. You get in trouble when you “attack” someone. And if not punished, children grow up thinking it’s alright to attack someone in anger: which leads to abuse and assault, which in turn leads to jail. That’s why Arthur got punished worst off then DW, who was not “let off the hook” as some people seem to think. Her punishment wasn’t part of the moral of this story: it was Arthur’s.?
    23

    kudurrumaqlu
    3 months ago

    shut up fgt?

    ufofireninja99
    3 months ago

    thats a horrible lesson. So basically its ok to break things and do whatever you want and as long as you don’t use violence you don’t get punished. And later on in the episode Binky punches Arthur because of pier pressure (arthur only did it because dw pushed him to the point of insanity) and gets no consequences and can even be considered the protagonist. ?
    4

    I am enthralled.

    1. They also discuss physics.

      Now hold the fuck up. There are only two things that could have actually happened here. Either Arthur just shoved DW and actually DIDN’T punch her but instead caused her to scrape her arm when she fell, which is impossible as she was holding her upper arm. OR He stopped at the last second but the shock of Arthur getting so mad that he almost did hit her caused DW to fall off balance when she flinced and again she would have had to scrape it which again is impossible. IF Arthur had in fact hit DW in the arm where she had grabbed it she would NOT have fallen forward as hitting in the arm does NOT cause that kind of effect. I have been hit in the arm and I have hit other people in the arm and NEVER NOT ONCE did they fall like that, they either fell to an angle or not at all. THEREFORE DW IS A FUCKING LIAR AND NEEDS TO BE THROWN OUT THE FUCKING WINDOW HERSELF.?

    2. shut up fgt?

      This is the most abundant comment on youtube, or some variation of. It’s like trying to discuss video games with a horde of 10 year olds on Steam.

    3. Well, at least the story included a lesson concerning pier pressure.

      1. “pier pressure.”

        Is that like, high tide?

        1. Or “fatties on the boardwalk”?

          1. ^This.

            I was trying to come up with something snarky about budding civil engineers, but….you win.

  18. Incidentally, not playing into the hands of Iran was a great reason to oppose invading Iraq in 2003, and there were people who opposed the Iraq War for just that reason.

    …some of whom you may have met right here in the comments section of Hit & Run!

    Incidentally, not playing into the hands of Iran was a great reason to oppose invading Iraq and toppling the Saddam Hussein regime in 1991, too. In fact, that’s the primary reason why Bush the Greater didn’t invade Iraq and depose the Hussein regime in 1991.

    1. In fact, that’s the primary reason why Bush the Greater didn’t invade Iraq and depose the Hussein regime in 1991.

      Uh, was it?

      I was under the impression it had more to do with the Security Council mandate and the really poor optics of the highway of death. Everything I’ve ever read about that decision indicates that HW opposed deposing Hussein because it would exceed the mandate.

      1. Yes, but he did see the folly in a full invasion and would not have done it regardless.

        He also tried to warn Bush II not to do it prior to his invasion and for the same reasons.

    2. Incidentally, not playing into the hands of Iran was a great reason to oppose invading Iraq and toppling the Saddam Hussein regime in 1991, too. In fact, that’s the primary reason why Bush the Greater didn’t invade Iraq and depose the Hussein regime in 1991.

      Incidentally, not playing into the hands of Iran was a great reason to oppose invading Iraq in 2003, and there were people who opposed the Iraq War for just that reason.

      Which is dumb because Iraq never acted to contain Iran after the former lost to the latter, and the only thing invading Iraq without deposing Sadaam achieved was never-ending war.

  19. “regime change” has long been understood as inferring proactivity as a foreign policy term of art. Cotton and his people are full of shit.

  20. Matt, I love you but you’re dead wrong on this one. We had our chance when there was a popular uprising against the regime in Iran, and we did precisely nothing to support them.

    Its one thing to be against interventionist policies that involve war. It’s entirely different to support advocates of freedom and liberty. We did nothing to help a repressed population under a totalitarian regime.

    The fact that you glaringly omitted that entirely from your analysis is not admirable. There are alternative solutions that do not involve us invading. Not supporting the protests drastically increased the chances that we will eventually be at war with Iran or at bare minimum be forced to engage in airstrikes against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.

    1. Reason’s stance on the 2009 protests is a mark of shame its writers refuse to address or correct.

  21. When our allies are invaded, as happened in Kuwait

    We had no treaty with Kuwait, and in fact Iraq just prior to the invasion was considered an ally of convenience (since we both were against Iran).

    The simple fact is that the Saudis shit their pants about a toothless monarchy getting knocked over and bought our military services to put the secular bastard back in his place.

    So is the good Senator an ignoramus or a liar? In either case he fits right in with the World’s Gratingest Deliberative Body.

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