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“Presidents Negotiate Arms Agreements”: Cotton And The War Caucus Count On Constituents’ Ignorance

When a Man’s fancy gets astride on his Reason; When Imagination is at Cuffs with the Senses; and common Understanding, as well as common Sense, is Kickt out of Doors; the first Proselyte he makes, is Himself. Jonathan Swift, 1704

As near as I can determine, Senator Tom Cotton’s biggest worry about Iran is that its government is as bellicose and fanatical as he is.

The good news is that based on the Islamic Republic’s response to the condescending, adolescent tone of the “open letter” he and 46 Republican senators addressed to Iran’s leaders, that seems unlikely. Judging by their measured responses, Iranian politicians appear to understand that they weren’t its real audience.

Rather, it was a grandstand play directed at Cotton’s own constituents among the GOP’s unappeasable Tea Party base. Its actual purpose was to express contempt and defiance toward President Obama, always popular among the Fox News white-bread demographic — basically the same motive that led Cotton to repeat Obama’s name 74 times during a 2014 election debate with Senator Mark Pryor.

That big doodyhead Barack Obama’s not the boss of them.

Except that particularly with regard to foreign policy, he is. But hold that thought.

Javad Zarif, the American-educated Iranian foreign minister involved in intense negotiations with Secretary of State John Kerry, observed that the senators’ letter has “no legal value and is mostly a propaganda ploy.”

The Persian diplomat pointed out that the agreement’s not being hashed out between the U.S. and Iran, but also among Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. Any deal would be put before the UN Security Council and have the force of international law.

A future U.S. president could renounce it, but at significant political cost unless Iran clearly violated its terms.

Slate’s Fred Kaplan points out chief executives from FDR and Reagan to George W. Bush have negotiated arms control deals negotiated in ports of call from Yalta to Helsinki. “In other words,” Kaplan writes, “contrary to the letter writers, Congress has no legal or constitutional role in the drafting, approval, or modification of this deal.”

Presidents negotiate arms agreements, not raw-carrot freshman senators.

Iran’s crafty old “Supreme Leader” Ayatollah Khamenei lamented “the decay of political ethics in the American system,” but added that he stood by the process. “Every time we reach a stage where the end of the negotiations is in sight,” Khamenei said, “the tone of the other side, specifically the Americans, becomes harsher, coarser and tougher.”

Los Angeles Times columnist Doyle McManus reported the score: “Qom Theological Seminary 1, Harvard Law 0. When an ayatollah sounds more statesmanlike than the U.S. Senate, it’s not a good sign.”

Bargaining is practically the Persian national sport. They’re inclined to see a my-way-or-the-highway type like Tom Cotton as unserious and immature.

As if to confirm that impression, the Arkansas senator took his newfound notoriety to CBS’s Face the Nation, where he complained about Iran’s growing “empire.”

“They already control Tehran, increasingly they control Damascus and Beirut and Baghdad and now Sana’a as well,” Cotton said. “They do all that without a nuclear weapon. Imagine what they would do with a nuclear weapon.”

You read that correctly. Arkansas’ brilliant Harvard law graduate complained about Iran’s control of Tehran — the nation’s capital since 1796.

As for Iran’s alleged “control” of Baghdad, you’d think an Iraq veteran like Cotton would have some clue how that came about. Hint: President George W. Bush invaded Iraq. The Bush administration deposed Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein, whose invasion of neighboring Iran led to an eight-year war killing roughly a million people. They installed as prime minister Nouri al Maliki, a Shiite nationalist who’d spent 24 years exiled in, yes, Iran.

How Iranian-armed Shiite militias came to be leading the fight against ISIS terrorists west of Baghdad is that the Iraqi government begged for their help. It’s in Tehran’s national interest to defeat ISIS even more than in Washington’s. Can this possibly be news to Cotton?

Probably not, but he can count on his constituents’ ignorance. It would be astonishing if 20 percent of Arkansas voters could locate Iran on a world map, much less grasp that if Iran looks stronger, it’s because the U.S. keeps attacking its enemies. “Like all the Iran hawks before him,” Daniel Larison writes in American Conservative, “Cotton claims to fear growing Iranian influence while supporting policies that have facilitated its growth.”

For President Obama, a verifiable agreement preventing the Iranian regime from developing nuclear weapons they say they don’t want could be a diplomatic triumph, reshaping the entire Middle East without firing a shot.

To the War Party, that would be a bad thing. Meanwhile, Tom Cotton gave his first speech in the U.S. Senate, prating about “global military dominance” and “hegemonic strength” like the villain in a James Bond movie.

It was a performance calculated to make him a star.


By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, March 18, 2015

March 19, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Tea Party, Tom Cotton | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Talk About A Hot Mess!”: Attempting To Blow Up Hostages Is NOT Governing

Talk about a hot mess! Just try unravelling the lunacy contained in this article by Sarah Mimms. As best as I can understand it, she is suggesting that perhaps Sen. Tom Cotton has come up with a new way for the “conservative firebrands” to blow up hostages in light of the fact that Republican leadership is thwarting their attempts to do so via the legislative process.

Just look at Cotton. His letter criticizing the administration’s attempts to craft a deal with Iran—and his relentless pursuit of signatures from conservative and establishment Republicans—has driven the conversation in the Senate all week and has 2016 candidates clamoring to join his effort. Cotton, with a few mere months under his belt in the upper chamber, arguably holds more power on the issue of Iran right now than Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker and, perhaps, even McConnell himself.

Whether he can translate that into legislative victory remains to be seen, but Cotton is creating a model that conservatives hope to follow. But by getting out ahead of the issue, Cotton has forced leadership to include him in the conversation from the start, rather than having to try to outmaneuver the establishment in a floor fight after the fact.

Mimms alludes to previous legislative battles where conservatives tried to shut down the government over funding of Obamacare or deny DHS funding over executive actions on immigration only to eventually be thwarted by Republican leadership’s mastery of the “rules” of the legislature.

But its really not that complicated. Leadership had to amend legislation in a way that attracted enough votes (including Democrats) to actually get passed. That’s called “governing” – something about which those conservative firebrands seem to be completely oblivious.

But this is the paragraph where Mimms really got me scratching my head with a “whuuuu?”

What’s often lost in those fights is that on the biggest issues facing Republicans, conservatives and their leadership are on the same page. The difference is in how and when to fight those battles. If it were possible to gut the Affordable Care Act or overturn Obama’s “executive amnesty,” as conservatives term it, leaders would have done so by now.

She’s right…on most of these issues Republicans are on the same page. But the difference isn’t about “how or when to fight those battles.” It’s that as long as Barack Obama is in the White House and Republicans can’t put together a veto-proof majority to roll back his policies, it can’t be done – not unless you are willing to blow up the hostage. THAT’S the big difference between those she calls “conservatives” and the Republican leadership.

Ever since our founding, politicians have gone to Washington and found it difficult to accomplish their agenda. That’s because our Constitution sets it up that way. Actual governing requires working with the opposition, negotiation and compromise. What Mimms and these conservatives are trying to come up with is a way to avoid all that.

If you are looking for a culprit that could destroy our democracy, you need look no further than those who continue to threaten to blow shit up if they don’t get their way. Sen. Cotton tried to find a new way to do that with the Iranian negotiations. It’s pretty clear by now that he has failed. Rather than cheer him on, those who value our democratic process should be breathing a sigh of relief.


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, March 14, 2015

March 16, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Governing, Tom Cotton | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Era Of Party Polarization”: GOP’s “Constitution” Confusion; Why Tom Cotton’s Silly Iran Letter Matters

As readers of my colleague Jim Newell know by now, Tom Cotton, Arkansas’ new GOP senator, is already establishing himself as one of the leading doomsayers and fearmongers in Congress, which is no small feat. Indeed, by acting as the driving force behind a provocative open letter to the leaders of Iran and helpfully informing them that any deal reached with the Obama administration over their nuclear program will ultimately be subject to the Senate’s review, Cotton has already made himself a hero to the neoconservative right. In fairness, though, that wasn’t the hardest thing to do: Cotton’s earlier warnings of a (completely fictional) alliance between Mexico’s drug cartels and ISIS, as well as his rant in defense of Guantánamo Bay, had endeared them to him already.

But while Cotton is making the media rounds and hoovering-up donations from Bill Kristol and the military industrial complex, I think it’s worthwhile to revisit a discussion that was bouncing around the left-wing corners of the Internet last week. The topic was the inherent, structural flaws of the U.S.’s presidential system — which is rickety and slow in the best of times and downright unstable in the worst — and how they were becoming increasingly hard to ignore in our era of party discipline and polarization. Because even though I don’t believe Cotton and his letter represent a constitutional crisis as some of President Obama’s allies have suggested (and is certainly not an act of treason), I do consider the freshman senator’s recent behavior to be a good window into how the presidential system’s flaws can manifest in the real world.

However, before we look at Cotton more closely, let’s do a quick and dirty recap of one of the presidential system’s more common critiques. As readers of the late political scientist Juan Linz (or Vox’s Matt Yglesias) remember, one of the issues that can arise when a presidential system features disciplined and ideological parties is a crisis of sovereignty. That’s a fancy way of describing an argument between the executive and the legislative branches over which one is really in charge. Since they exist independently, and were empowered by voters through separate elections, both can claim to represent the will of the people. And if the two branches find themselves on opposite sides of a major dispute, push can come to shove — and worse.

Applying this model to the current foofaraw over Cotton’s letter isn’t a slam-dunk, but it is still edifying. In this case, the problem is that Cotton and his fellow signatories are mucking-up the conduct of President Obama’s foreign policy, which has traditionally been seen as constitutionally (and normatively) protected. Congress always has a role in foreign policy, of course — even if recent history indicates it to be shrinking. Usually, a president is left to negotiate a deal that he then presents to Congress for approval. But Cotton and his Republican allies in the Senate are so dead-set against an agreement of any kind with Iran that they’re trying to squash the deal upfront instead.

The end result seems to be the further dissolution of what was once an unwritten rule — “politics stops at the water’s edge” — in the name of some greater good. And this is where ideology comes in. Because it’s hardly as if Congress has never disagreed with a president’s foreign policy this strongly before. They have, as the representatives and senators elected during the worst days of the Vietnam War can attest. What is different, though, is the tenor of their arguments, as well as the dispute’s supposed stakes. Hysterical warmongers like Cotton have always been with us — but rarely before have people with such radical views held so much power within either party’s caucus.

Keep this in mind about Cotton: Unless he’s an actor of Daniel Day Lewis-like talents, he sincerely believes that the consequences of a nuclear Iran would be apocalyptic. He’s said dozens of times that the only deal with Iran he’d accept is one that resulted in complete nuclear disarmament — which, as Think Progress’s Igor Volsky noted, is a demand that even the George W. Bush administration considered ridiculous. He also seems to be under the impression that Iran is even more dangerous than it is, agreeing as he does with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim that Iran is on the verge of going nuclear. The fact that Netanyahu’s been saying this for more than a decade, and that his own country’s leading intelligence agency disagrees, has apparently not made much of an impression.

Regardless of how broken Cotton’s assessment of the Iranian threat may be, though, he’s still a U.S. senator. And as his letter notes with a characteristic lack of subtlety, Cotton and his fellow members of the Senate are quite likely to stick around (for “perhaps decades”) while the term-limited President Obama isn’t. Which means that so long as Cotton and his allies believe a deal with Iran over its nuclear program will lead to a second Holocaust, or will strengthen Iran’s hand in its “war” with “the West,” then the kind of norms of conduct he’s breaking — like not trying to sabotage a sitting president’s foreign policy — will continue to fade into irrelevance. And so long as right-wing donors and the voters in Arkansas reward him for challenging the president’s sovereignty, while the media allows him and his allies to muddy the waters with specious claims that Obama is the one breaking protocol, he’ll have no reason to act any other way.


By: Elias Isquith, Salon, March 11, 2014

March 13, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, GOP, Tom Cotton | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Complete Crackpot”: For Tom Cotton, Letter To Iran Is Anything But A ‘Fiasco’

There are a lot of people, including some Republicans, who by now have concluded that Tom Cotton’s Iran gambit was a truly terrible idea. I’d hazard a guess that at least some of the 46 other Republican senators who signed on to Cotton’s letter to the government of Iran essentially trying to sabotage negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program didn’t think through all the ramifications, and now wish they had. The move has been lambasted not only by the White House and liberals like me, but by centrist analysts, foreign policy experts who say that it helps Iranian hardliners, and even some conservatives who worry that, as Greg observed yesterday, it makes it easier for hawkish Democrats to side with President Obama on the underlying issue.

All told, it looks like quite the fiasco. But Tom Cotton himself is probably saying, “That worked out great!”

That’s partly because the name “Tom Cotton” is now on so many lips, and he surely has more requests for television interviews than he could ever wish for. More than that, he’s shown what even a Senator who’s been in office just a few months can accomplish with a little initiative and creativity. It may be a black eye for his party, but to the tea party base from which Cotton sprang, he’s now a hero. The more criticism he gets, the more convinced they become of his heroism.

Indeed, a legislator in his home state of Arkansas has just introduced a bill that would allow Cotton to run for both re-election to his Senate seat and for president in 2020.

On paper, Cotton looks like a dream politician with nowhere to go but up — Iraq veteran, Harvard Law School graduate, the youngest senator at 37. It’s only when you listen to him talk and hear what he believes that you come to realize he’s a complete crackpot. During the 2014 campaign he told voters that the Islamic State was working with Mexican drug cartels and would soon be coming to attack Arkansas. When he was still in the Army he wrote a letter to the New York Times saying that its editors should be “behind bars” because the paper published stories on the Bush administration’s program to disrupt terrorist groups’ finances (which George W. Bush himself had bragged about, but that’s another story).

While in the House in 2013, Cotton introduced an amendment to prosecute the relatives of those who violated sanctions on Iran, saying that his proposed penalties of up to 20 years in prison would “include a spouse and any relative to the third degree,” including “parents, children, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, grandparents, great grandparents, grandkids, great grandkids.” Forget about the fact that the Constitution expressly prohibits “corruption of blood” penalties — just consider that Cotton wanted to take someone who had violated sanctions and imprison their grandchildren. Needless to say, this deranged piece of legislation was too much even for Republicans to stomach, and it went nowhere.

And now, Tom Cotton stands ready to become the next Jim DeMint. You may remember that the South Carolina senator used his time on Capitol Hill to become the leader of the GOP’s right flank, which often meant undermining or even directly opposing his party’s leadership, including endorsing tea partiers trying to unseat his Republican colleagues in primary races. When he left Congress, DeMint became the head of the Heritage Foundation, quickly turning the think tank into an outpost of undisguised far-right hackishness.

If Cotton is to emulate DeMint and not, say, Michele Bachmann, he’s off to a good start. There’s always a market for a politician willing to express the nuttiest beliefs, but if you have real ambition you need to make a real impact. Cotton’s letter managed to pull most of his colleagues along on his misguided mission, and for him it was a victory, whatever the fallout to Republicans more generally and the headaches it generates for the party. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s already planning his next move. And there may be other Republican senators thinking of doing something similar.

Mitch McConnell must be thrilled.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, March 11, 2015

March 13, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Tea Party, Tom Cotton | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Burden’s On Him”: More Signs Tom Cotton’s Not As Smart As He Thinks

In a debate with opponent Mark Pryor last night, Republican Senate candidate Tom Cotton, who’s very much the poster boy for the GOP future if the party refuses to moderate or diversify, showed again he’s not as smart as he thinks he is. ThinkProgress’ Alice Ollstein has the story:

Tom Cotton, the Republican candidate for Arkansas’ U.S. Senate seat, has repeatedly denounced the Affordable Care Act as a failure and vowed to help repeal it if elected. But in his second and final debate Tuesday night against Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor, he went further, claiming the high-risk insurance pools that many states ran before Obamacare’s passage were better for people with pre-existing conditions than the current exchanges.

“Many people were happy with their coverage under the high-risk pool, before it was eliminated,” Cotton said. “They should have been allowed to keep that choice.”

Pryor shot back, saying his personal experience proved otherwise. “I am a cancer survivor,” he said. “I have been in the high-risk pool. I have lived there. It is no place for any Arkansan to be. If we go back to the high-risk pool, it’s like throwing sick people to the wolves.”

Many of the high risk pools Cotton praised were known for their sky-high costs, exclusion of many applicants, and strict limits on what care is covered. In Arkansas, out of pocket costs for patients in such pools could be as high as $20,000 and those with pre-existing conditions had an average 6 month waiting period for care.

Now to be fair, it’s not 100% clear whether Cotton was referring (as was Pryor) to the high-risk pools that existed in Arkansas and many other (though not all) states prior to the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, or to the new high-risk polls set up by Obamacare itself. But either way, the costs are much higher and the coverage much less extensive than under policies available via the exchanges. Maybe there’s somebody out there who did better under an unusually generous high-risk poll than under, say, an Obamacare Bronze Plan. But I’d say the burden’s on Cotton to explain what the hell he’s talking about. Certainly as a cancer survivor Pryor is in a superior position to know what it’s like to depend on high-risk pools, and Republicans everywhere have gotten away far too much with blithely talking about such pools as an “answer” without acknowledging the problem of crappy insurance at unaffordable rates.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 15, 2014

October 16, 2014 Posted by | Arkansas, GOP, Tom Cotton | , , , , | 1 Comment

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