The good Senator Tom Cotton isn’t acting like the farm boy from Yell County who was dominant in his campaign commercials. Those small town, farm values he loaded up in Dardanelle on the half-ton farm truck for his trip to D.C. must have fallen off somewhere around Walnut Ridge.
It’s this letter-to-Iran thing and his subsequent “maiden” speech on the U.S. Senate floor that is troubling. Less than three months in the U.S. Senate, Cotton thought it best to write a letter to the theocratic thugs in Iran to let them know that he and 46 other U.S. Senators don’t much care for President Obama’s foreign policy plans toward Iran. (And, unfortunately, Cotton was able to talk the normally pragmatic U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., into signing the ill-advised missive.)
The letter was not a popular move. Some have come to his defense, but even the editors at the ultra-conservative National Review were not impressed: “Whether justified or not, the senators’ letter remains troubling from the standpoint of constitutional propriety and precedent. It may be within the senators’ rights, but it is nonetheless an interference with the president’s constitutional power to conduct the nation’s foreign affairs.”
Two people with several decades of political observation experience and who I respect for having a broad, non-partisan view of politics were also not impressed with the letter.
“It was a poor idea. If you really want to get something done, you have to convince/persuade people to join your cause. He just lobbed a grenade in the debate as a publicity stunt.”
“He is a very serious and impatient person and I don't know how long a career that gets him.”
Most who defend Cotton’s actions do so by citing all the Democratic members of Congress who pulled similar – or worse – stunts when a Republican was in the White House. But resorting to moral equivalency is a poor defense in any debate. Defending Cotton by comparing his action to those of Reid, Pelosi, Kerry or Teddy Kennedy is not doing Cotton any favors.
His first speech on the Senate floor was a recitation of historic analogies and quotes selectively used to make his case that America should increase defense budgets and discontinue its “experiment in retreat.” But our recent history begs the question: Are we retreating or returning to where we should be? And how does he balance being a deficit hawk and a war hawk?
The good Senator Cotton said in the speech that an unwillingness to use a strong military to stand down dictators resulted in World War II. That history ignores the impact of war reparations imposed on Germany through the Treaty of Versailles. It ignores the pre-WWII relations between Germany and an emerging Soviet Union. It ignores a host of other factors. Indeed, Cotton’s summations conveniently forgot all the Cold War years the U.S. and the U.K. and France provided money to dictators in the Middle East to kill their own people – or we just killed them ourselves.
Our dealings with the post Saddam Iraqi government helped result in the rise of ISIS. Speaking of Saddam, remember when we gave him a lot of money and advanced weaponry to fight Iran in the 1980s? And didn’t we help arm the founding fathers of the Taliban when we provided weapons to the Mujahideen when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan? And a small part of our ongoing problems in the Middle East is the result of post-WWI borders drawn by the then Colonial powers – to include a Winston Churchill of which Cotton is so fond.
The good Senator Cotton’s seemingly simple – more guns, less diplomacy, never retreat – and jingoistic conclusions remind me of a saying from the great American journalist and satirist H.L. Mencken: “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” The politics of the Middle East are much too complex to be rationalized with a few quotes from Churchill and a peace-through-strength mantra.
Others who defend the good Senator Cotton on his recent foreign policy moves say they speak to his boldness and courage. They suggest that criticism of Cotton results from not being accustomed to boldness and courage in D.C.
Being bold and courageous are nice. So is having wisdom and patience; knowing the difference between advancing smartly and charging windmills. We don’t need a U.S. Senator who rushes in “where angels fear to tread.” Cotton’s next historic reflection might include a President George Washington who warned the country about political connections with foreign governments and “permanent alliances” with other nations. He said such connections and alliances may result in harmful passions.
“The government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations, has been the victim,” Washington noted in his farewell address.
Some folks say the good Senator Cotton is focused on the political career of Tom Cotton. They say he’s positioning to be a VP candidate on a 2016 ticket. Maybe so. Maybe not. Let’s hope this high-profile drama is not the norm for the good Senator Cotton during the rest of his term.
As a small-town farm boy from nearby Johnson County, I’d like to remind the good Senator Cotton that one should move slow in and around a new herd until they get to know you, and vice versa.