U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., called for increasing military spending by 15% next year, modernizing the nation’s nuclear capabilities, and streamlining and expediting oil and gas production during a speech to the American Enterprise Institute in Washington Monday (Feb. 6).
Cotton, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, called for the passage of a $26 billion supplemental spending defense bill this year and for increasing the defense budget by at least $54 billion, or 15% next year. He said the country must modernize its nuclear arsenal and missile defenses and study new capabilities in order to keep pace with Russia.
“Our nuclear forces are our ultimate deterrent. We use them every single day,” he said.
Cotton also said the country must increase economic growth, the key driver being the oil and gas industry. This would be accomplished by streamlining liquified natural gas permitting, expediting the building of terminals and making more use of federal lands and the outer continental shelf.
Cotton said the United States must reassure allies but also expect NATO allies to increase their capabilities. He said the country must be ready to compete with adversaries such as China and Russia.
Cotton said the world is chaotic and unsettled, much of it the fault of former President Barack Obama, who Cotton said removed troops from Iraq and left it vulnerable, was too conciliatory with Iran, and failed in his efforts to reset relations with Russia, encouraging that country’s destabilizing actions. Obama underestimated al-Qaida, used force half-heartedly and toppled Libya’s government with no plan to stabilize the country.
“I would challenge you to name one country where America enjoys a stronger position than we did eight years ago or one country that’s better off because of American policy,” he said. “Barack Obama’s legacy is a legacy of ashes and the smoky ruins of a world ablaze.”
Cotton said that while Obama is no longer in office, his type of worldview remains – one that lacks the courage of its convictions. Cotton said Obama’s type of worldview is uncomfortable with American strength and leadership, resulting in a “giant afraid of its own shadow.”
“Talk for this crowd is always preferable to leverage and pressure. … They never push their chips in the middle, so it’s not surprising they never seem to win the pot,” he said.
Cotton said such people seek to banish from American life the Jacksonian spirit – people who he described as “proud, confident, muscular patriots.” While Democrats have been disinviting Jackson from their party, President Trump is welcoming him as part of a “healthy nationalism” where America puts its own interests first.
“When Donald Trump says he’s the most militaristic guy out there, they nod with approval,” he said of Jacksonians. “Gordian knots exist to be cut. Jacksonians make commitments and draw red lines with caution but uphold and enforce them absolutely and ruthlessly. They aren’t looking for war, but woe unto those who provoke the Jacksonian spirit latent in the American soul. Limited war for them is an oxymoron. Jacksonians have a simple war doctrine: Hit ‘em as hard as you can, as fast as you can with as much as you can until they surrender unconditionally.”
Cotton said “the Jacksonian spirit” naturally offends “Barack Obama and his followers.”
“It revolts their European friends. It constrains a statecraft of nuance and complexity – bad words to the Jacksonian mind. It overreacts at what they consider minor terrorist attacks and drags us into needless conflicts. It underestimates genuine threats like climate change. It’s particular and nationalist – not cosmopolitan and enlightened.”
Afterward, Cotton was interviewed by AEI’s Frederick Kagan, resident scholar and director of the Critical Threats Project. He also took questions from the audience. When Kagan asked Cotton if he was concerned about Trump’s conciliatory rhetoric toward Russian President Vladimir Putin, Cotton said he wouldn’t have characterized Putin as Trump did this past weekend, but Trump’s policies, not his words, are what is most important.
“It would be a good thing if the United States and Russia had a better relationship,” he said. “I am skeptical that better relationship can occur on any basis other than American strength and pressure against Russian aggression throughout the world.”
He said each of the last three presidents had thought they could have a partnership with Putin.
“He wrongfooted each one of them,” he said.
In response to a question, Cotton said defense spending is not responsible for the national debt. In fact, cutting defense is self-defeating because then the military must be rebuilt. Instead, the focus should be on the government’s health and retirement programs and on improving the economy. Asked about waterboarding, he said, “You’re not going to find me calling it torture and adding my name to an affidavit in some European court so those brave Americans who are trying to keep us safe can be detained and thrown in jail overseas.”
Asked about whether Trump has been advocating for protectionist policies, Trump said previous administrations have not been delivering good trade deals to Americans. He said Trump is already delivering on many of his campaign promises, including reducing the scope of regulatory agencies and building a border wall.