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Cotton, Tom

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  • U.S. Senator (R-AR): 2015 -

  • Former Congressman (R-AR): 2013 - 2015

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Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) is one of the Senate’s more ardent promoters of confrontational U.S. foreign policies whose rhetoric often combines the eccentric features of the Sarah Palin-wing of the Republican Party and the militaristic views of U.S. neoconservatives. He has been described as “Ted Cruz with a war record, Sarah Palin with a Harvard degree, Chris Christie with a Southern accent.”[1] Others have highlighted the considerable financial backing he has received from influential rightwing “pro-Israel” megadonors and his long-standing relationships with pundits like Bill Kristol, which one writer says must “have opened up promising vistas for Cotton” as he worked his way up the ranks on Capitol Hill.[2]

An example of Cotton’s strident foreign policy views was his knee-jerk reaction to the seizure by Iran of two U.S. military vessels in January 2016 that had strayed into Iranian waters. While many commentators applauded the swift resolution of the situation, which seems to have been facilitated because of the improved diplomatic ties between the two countries since the signing of the historic 2015 Iranian nuclear accord, Cotton pounced on the news of the incident to argue that it was precisely because of the accord that Iran felt empowered to take such action. "This is the ayatollah trying to get maximum leverage and inflict maximum humiliation on the United States and on President Obama," Cotton said. "Unfortunately, that's been the story that we've seen since the nuclear deal was signed in the summer."

Cotton added that “No one should be surprised by Iran's behavior,” to which one commentator ironically quipped “since seizing other countries' military ships in one's territorial waters is entirely unsurprising.”[3]

Cotton, who frequently advocates for higher military spending, has ties to the defense industry. In March 2015, Cotton was a speaker at the National Defense Industrial Association, a lobbying organization for defense contractors. His appearance at the event came one day after he authored a controversial letter to Iran which many observers said was aimed at sabotaging the diplomatic efforts aimed at peacefully resolving the Iranian nuclear dispute.[4]

In a February 2015 report on Cotton, Salon opined: “All the aging hawks can rest easy. The mantle of bloodthirsty warmongers has been passed to a new generation. And unlike the veterans of yore, this one makes no tepid disclaimer that war is hell or that it should ever be avoided. He straight up wants more of it.”[5]

A military veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and a graduate of Harvard Law School, Cotton first gained public attention after writing a letter in 2006 calling for two New York Times journalists to be prosecuted for writing a story about government tracking of terrorism financing. “By the time we return home, maybe you will be in your rightful place: not at the Pulitzer announcements, but behind bars,” Cotton said in the letter.[6]

Soon after the publication of the letter, Cotton developed an enduring friendship with the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol. According to The Atlantic, “Kristol saw a kindred spirit in Cotton’s aggressive national-security hawkishness, and the men developed what Kristol describes as ‘a bond beyond pure policy.’”[7]

Another writer, pointing to Kristol’s and Cotton’s shared background of having both studied under an important scholar of Leo Strauss at Harvard, Harvey Mansfield, wrote: “I mean, really, this vision of the older Kristol counseling the young soldier on his career path over drinks at the Mayflower Hotel—with its 1920s-era murals of the woodlands, the sea, and the ruins of Greek temples—sounds like a Straussian wet dream. Kristol, of course, is Strauss’s ‘philosopher’ who cultivates and advises the ‘gentleman’ about the ways of the world, knowing that, although he the philosopher lacks the charisma and the common touch to appeal to the masses, his eager (and manly) gentleman-protege may well become ‘prince’ and thus the instrument for implementing his political agenda. No wonder the Weekly Standard’s man-crushon Cotton and Kristol’s current promotion of Cotton as the 2016 Republican vice-presidential candidate!” [emphasis in the original].[8]

In 2014, Kristol’s Emergency Committee for Israel also supported Cotton’s Senate run with a million-dollar contribution in the form of supportive political advertising. Other hardline “pro-Israel” figures—like casino-mogul Sheldon Adelson, hedge-fund billionaire Paul Singer, and former Romney foreign policy adviser Dan Senor—also supported Cotton’s successful Senate bid.

Senor, who alongside Kristol is a co-founder of the neoconservative Foreign Policy Initiative, wrote of Cotton in June 2013: “Tom is the type of individual, based on his own history and his command of the issues, who can resist this siren call and explain—in a convincing, reassuring and powerful way—why America needs to provide leadership in the world, for the sake of security and peace, as well as for the strength of our democratic allies.”[9]

Cotton was mentioned in an April 2015 New York Times piece that examined why Republicans are “more fervently pro-Israel than ever.” The article linked such sentiment to being “partly a result of ideology, but also a product of a surge in donations and campaign spending on their behalf by a small group of wealthy donors.”[10]

According to thearticle, Paul Singer donated $250,000 to an “independent expenditure group” that supported Cotton during his 2014 run for Senate. “Pro-Israel” billionaire hedge fund investor Seth Klarman also contributed $100,000 to Cotton’s campaign. The Times article also reported that John Bolton’s political action committee—which is partly financed by “pro-Israel” donors—spent over $825,000 to support Cotton’s bid for Senate.[11] In total, Cotton spent $13.9 million on his campaign.[12]

On Iran

Cotton has been among the more ardent opponents of negotiations with Iran and in the years leading up to the successful Iran negotiations in July 2015 he made various attempts to derail diplomacy and increase pressure on Tehran. In 2013, for example, he attempted to add an amendment to an Iran sanctions bill that would have “automatically” punished family members of individuals who violate Iran sanctions with sentences of up to 20 years in prison. Referring to their crimes as “corruption of the blood,” Cotton included in the family category “parents, children, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, grandparents, great grandparents, grandkids, great grandkids.”[13] After the amendment drew objections from members of the Foreign Affairs Committee, including that it was unconstitutional, Cotton withdrew it.[14]

In December 2014, Cotton said during a panel discussion at the Foreign Policy Initiative that the United States should sell Israel the advanced aircraft and bombs it needs to be able to effectively attack Iran.[15]

Cotton was the architect of a controversial March 2015 open letter to Iran that was signed by 47 Senate Republicans. The letter, which purported to explain to Iran’s leaders that any nuclear agreement with the United States would not last past the Obama administration, spurred widespread criticism and scorn.[16]

“Cotton, a Harvard-educated lawyer, got his U.S. Constitution wrong (an ‘embarrassing’ error, wrote one Harvard law professor and former George W. Bush administration lawyer) and failed to even mention that his threat to withdraw from an agreement would be a violation of international law—something Iran’s foreign minister, in an epic bit of trolling, brought to his attention,” wrote Ali Gharib of The Nation.[17]

Added former CIA analyst Paul Pillar: “Probably the single most remarkable—and egregious—aspect of the Cotton letter is that it was blatantly and expressly designed to damage U.S. credibility. In the future, it will lack credibility for any signatory of this letter to complain about alleged damage to U.S. credibility regarding anything else.”[18]

Cotton has candidly stated that his aim has been to sabotage the nuclear negotiations with Iran and prevent an agreement from being reached. Speaking at the right-wing Heritage Foundation in January 2015, he said: “But, the end of these negotiations isn’t an unintended consequence of Congressional action, it is very much an intended consequence.” Cotton has also called for working towards the installment of “a pro-Western regime” in Iran.[19]

Cotton was again widely ridiculed in March 2015 after he told Face the Nation’s Bob Schieffer that Iran controls Tehran. “They already control Tehran, increasingly they control Damascus and Beirut and Baghdad and now Sana’a as well,” Cotton said during the interview.[20] One observer said in response: “Tehran, of course, is the capital of Iran. In effect, the Republican senator was lamenting Iranian dominance of Iran, concerned that Iranians ‘control’ the capital of their own country.”[21]

In April 2015, Cotton drew intense condemnation when he argued that a U.S. attack on Iran “would be something more along the lines of what President Clinton did in December 1998 during Operation Desert Fox. Several days [of] air and naval bombing against Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction facilities for exactly the same kind of behavior.”[22] A contributor to The Nation responded saying that Cotton’s notion about a war with Iran “smacks of the prediction neoconservative hawks made about the Iraq war: that it would be a ‘cakewalk.’ … Astoundingly, given how that war played out, this isn't the first time neoconservative ideologues have dismissed the complexity, difficulty and potential consequences of a new war against Iran.”[23]

Soon after the nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 world powers was announced in July 2015, Cotton lambasted U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, claiming he had “acted like Pontius Pilate.”[24] Cotton also stated that the congressional vote on the Iran deal will be a “weighty decision,” but added that “it’s also not a hard one: the United States should reject this deal.”[25]

Despite the historic breakthrough in negotiations, Cotton reiterated his claim that military force can be used to effectively destroy Iran’s nuclear program. “You can destroy facilities. I don’t think any military expert in the United States or elsewhere would say the U.S. military is not capable to setting Iran’s nuclear facilities back to day zero,” he said in an interview with Israeli reporters.[26]

Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) responded saying: “Senator Cotton said this week that we could bomb Iran back to day zero if we took a military route to divorcing Iran from a nuclear weapon. Let’s get back to reality for a second about what a military strike would mean. You can set back Iran’s nuclear program for a series of years, but you cannot bomb Iran back to day zero unless you are also prepared to assassinate everyone in Iran who has worked on the nuclear program. Why? Because you can’t destruct knowledge. You can’t remove entirely from that country the set of facts that got them within two to three months of a nuclear weapon.”[27]

In the lead up to the Congress’s vote on the Iran deal in September 2015, Cotton travelled to Israel and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “There is no one better to discuss the impact of a nuclear Iran, both in the Middle East and in the world,” he said after his meeting with Netanyahu. “I will stand with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israel and work with my colleagues in Congress to stop this deal and to ensure that Israel has the means to defend itself against Iran and its terrorist surrogates.”[28]

Cotton has wildly claimed that the Iran deal would risk a “nuclear attack” on the United States. He opined in August 2015: "This deal, whether it's breached or whether it's followed, is putting us on a path to a second nuclear age in which the risks of nuclear war are much greater. And the risk of a nuclear attack against the United States and our interests, whether by a nation-state or a terrorist organization that's been provided or has obtained nuclear material is much greater.”[29]

Additional Views

Cotton has repeatedly called for militaristic U.S. foreign policies, often parroting neoconservative talking points to justify his views. “There are evil people in the world who would do evil things,” he told neoconservative Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin after his election to the House of Representatives in 2012. “It’s important to remind the American people why we’re still engaged [militarily].”[30]

Describing a previous election, he told Rubin: “What I used to say in the campaign was, ‘You may be tired of war, but war is not tired of you.’”[31]

Cotton has also been a staunch opponent of closing the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, calling instead for its expansion. “The only problem with Guantánamo Bay is there are too many empty beds in cells there right now,” he said during a February 2015 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “We should be sending more terrorists there for further interrogation to keep this country safe. As far as I’m concerned, every last one of them can rot in hell. But as long as they don’t do that, they can rot in Guantánamo Bay.”[32]

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Sources


[1] Heather Digby Parton, “’Sarah Palin with a Harvard degree’: Why new senator Tom Cotton is so frightening,” Salon, February 12, 2015, http://www.salon.com/2015/02/12/sarah_palin_with_a_harvard_degree_why_new_senator_tom_cotton_is_so_frightening/.



[2] Jim Lobe, “OMG ! Cotton is Kristol’s Protege,” Lobelog, March 11, 2015, http://www.lobelog.com/omg-cotton-is-kristols-protege/.



[3] Ali Gharib, “Did Iran 'toy' with the U.S.?” Los Angeles Times, Jan 13, 2016, http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-0114-gharib-iran-marines-non-crisis-20160114-story.html



[4] Lee Fang, “Immediately After Launching Effort To Scuttle Iran Deal, Senator Tom Cotton To Meet With Defense Contractors,” The Intercept, March 9, 2015, https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/03/09/upon-launching-effort-scuttle-iran-deal-senator-tom-cotton-meets-defense-contractors/.



[5] Heather Digby Parton, “’Sarah Palin with a Harvard degree’: Why new senator Tom Cotton is so frightening,” Salon, February 12, 2015, http://www.salon.com/2015/02/12/sarah_palin_with_a_harvard_degree_why_new_senator_tom_cotton_is_so_frightening/.



[6] Nick Baumann, “The GOP Candidate Who Wants Journos Jailed,” Mother Jones, November 10, 2011,http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/11/tom-cotton-arkansas-new-york-times



[7] Molly Ball, “The Making of a Conservative Superstar,” The Atlantic, September 17 2014,http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/09/the-making-of-a-conservative-superstar/380307/.



[8] Jim Lobe, “OMG ! Cotton is Kristol’s Protege,” Lobelog, March 11, 2015, http://www.lobelog.com/omg-cotton-is-kristols-protege/.



[9] Eli Clifton and Jim Lobe, “GOP’s Man of the Moment Promoted by RJC’s Singer and Adelson,” LobeLog, March 10, 2015,http://www.lobelog.com/gops-man-of-the-moment-promoted-by-rjcs-singer-and-adelson/.



[10] Eric Lipton, “G.OP.’s Israel Support Deepens as Political Contributions Shift,” The New York Times, April 4, 2015,http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/05/us/politics/gops-israel-support-deepens-as-political-contributions-shift.html?smid=pl-share&_r=0.



[11] Eric Lipton, “G.OP.’s Israel Support Deepens as Political Contributions Shift,” The New York Times, April 4, 2015,http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/05/us/politics/gops-israel-support-deepens-as-political-contributions-shift.html?smid=pl-share&_r=0.



[12] Eli Clifton and Jim Lobe, “GOP’s Man of the Moment Promoted by RJC’s Singer and Adelson,” LobeLog, March 10, 2015,http://www.lobelog.com/gops-man-of-the-moment-promoted-by-rjcs-singer-and-adelson/.



[13] Ali Gharib, “Meet Tom Cotton, the Senator Behind the Republicans’ Letter to Iran,” The Nation, March 10, 2015,http://www.thenation.com/blog/200993/meet-tom-cotton-senator-behind-republicans-letter-iran.



[14] Zach Carter, “Tom Cotton 'Corruption Of Blood' Bill Would Convict Family Members Of Iran Sanctions Violators,” The Huffington Post, May 22, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/22/tom-cotton-corruption-of-blood_n_3322251.html.



Ali Gharib, “Meet Tom Cotton, the Senator Behind the Republicans’ Letter to Iran,” The Nation, March 10, 2015,http://www.thenation.com/blog/200993/meet-tom-cotton-senator-behind-republicans-letter-iran.



[15] Ali Gharib, “Meet Tom Cotton, the Senator Behind the Republicans’ Letter to Iran,” The Nation, March 10, 2015,http://www.thenation.com/blog/200993/meet-tom-cotton-senator-behind-republicans-letter-iran.



[16] Laura Clawson, “Newspapers across the country condemn Republican open letter to Iran,” Daily Kos, March 11, 2015,http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/03/11/1370145/-Newspapers-across-the-country-condemn-Republican-open-letter-to-Iran.



[17] Ali Gharib, “Meet Tom Cotton, the Senator Behind the Republicans’ Letter to Iran,” The Nation, March 10, 2015,http://www.thenation.com/blog/200993/meet-tom-cotton-senator-behind-republicans-letter-iran.



[18] Paul Pillar, “The Damage to U.S. Interests Abroad of Domestic Political Intemperance,” LobeLog, March 12, 2015,http://www.lobelog.com/the-damage-to-u-s-interests-abroad-of-domestic-political-intemperance/.



[19] Ali Gharib, “Meet Tom Cotton, the Senator Behind the Republicans’ Letter to Iran,” The Nation, March 10, 2015,http://www.thenation.com/blog/200993/meet-tom-cotton-senator-behind-republicans-letter-iran.



[20] Nicole Flatow, “Tom Cotton Seems Confused About The Basic Geography Of Iran,” ThinkProgress, March 15, 2015,http://thinkprogress.org/world/2015/03/15/3633912/tom-cotton-alarmed-capital-iran-controlled-iran/.



[21] Steve Benen, “Being Tom Cotton means never having to say you’re sorry,” MSNBC, March 16, 2015,http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/being-tom-cotton-means-never-having-say-youre-sorry



[22] Glenn Kessler, “Tom Cotton’s four-day war against Iran,” The Washington Post, April 9, 2015,http://www.thenation.com/blog/203833/tom-cotton-iran-war-will-be-cakewalk.



[23] Ali Gharib, “Tom Cotton: The Iran War Will Be a Cakewalk,” The Nation, April 8, 2015,http://www.thenation.com/blog/203833/tom-cotton-iran-war-will-be-cakewalk.



[24] Paige Lavender, “Tom Cotton: John Kerry ‘Acted Like Pontius Pilate’ During Iran Nuclear Talks,” The Huffington Post, July 23, 2015, http://www.lobelog.com/tom-cotton-assails-iran-deal-again/.



[25] Derek Davison, “Tom Cotton Assails Iran Deal (Again),” LobeLog, July 30, 2015, http://www.lobelog.com/tom-cotton-assails-iran-deal-again/.



[26] Greg Sargent, “Tom Cotton: We can bomb Iran’s nuke program back to ‘day zero,’” The Washington Post, August 5, 2015,https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2015/08/05/tom-cotton-we-can-bomb-irans-nukes-back-to-day-zero/.



[27] Greg Sargent, “Tom Cotton: We can bomb Iran’s nuke program back to ‘day zero,’” The Washington Post, August 5, 2015,https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2015/08/05/tom-cotton-we-can-bomb-irans-nukes-back-to-day-zero/.



[28] Raphael Ahren, “Battle against Iran deal far from over, US senator vows in Israel,” The Times of Israel, September 1, 2015,http://www.timesofisrael.com/battle-against-iran-deal-far-from-over-us-senator-vows-in-israel/.



Julian Hattem, “Sen. Cotton meets Netanyahu in Israel,” The Hill, August 31, 2015, http://thehill.com/policy/national-security/252356-cotton-meets-with-netanyahu-in-israel.



 



[29] Andrew DeMillo, “Tom Cotton: Iran Agreement Could Spark Second 'Nuclear Age,’” Arkansas Business, August 26, 2015,http://www.arkansasbusiness.com/article/106742/tom-cotton-iran-agreement-could-spark-second-nuclear-age.



[30] Jennifer Rubin, “Tom Cotton: No ordinary freshman congressman,” The Washington Post, December 5, 2012,http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2012/12/05/tom-cotton-no-ordinary-freshman-congressman/.



[31] Jennifer Rubin, “Tom Cotton: No ordinary freshman congressman,” The Washington Post, December 5, 2012,http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2012/12/05/tom-cotton-no-ordinary-freshman-congressman/.



[32] Burgess Everett, “Cotton storms the Senate,” Politico, March 10, 2015, http://www.politico.com/story/2015/03/cotton-storms-the-senate-115960.html#ixzz3U2mryqc6.


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Cotton, Tom Résumé


Affiliations

  • Emergency Committee for Israel: Purchased supportive political advertising for 2014 Senate Campaign


Government

  • U.S. Senator (R-AR): 2015 -

  • Former Congressman (R-AR):2013 – 2015

  • US Army


Business

  • McKinsey & Company: Consultant


Education

  • Harvard University: BA, Government

  • Harvard Law School: JD


          


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