The National Journal carries an interview by Jeffrey Goldberg, a rather doctrinaire kind of lefty that populates the national media, and Senator Tom Cotton. It is worth your time to read it. (Trigger Warning: If the use of military force offends you or you find yourself mumbling “neo-con” at random intervals, you might not want to read this.)
I went to speak to Cotton not only because his letter interested me, but because he is quite obviously positioned to lead the most hawkish wing of the Republican Party. He is exceedingly bright, and blessed with a wonk’s mind—I will readily admit that his knowledge of Middle East minutiae is impressive, even if I disagree with much of his analysis. And he is a superior standard-bearer for the confront-Iran-before-it’s-too-late faction in the Senate because, as an Iraq combat veteran, he cannot be labeled a chickenhawk.
Confrontation is what it seems he’s after. Though he pays lip service to the notion that the alternative to this deal is not war but a stronger deal, he clearly appears to believe that an American- or Israeli-initiated military confrontation soon—one that would not resemble the Iraq War, he thinks, but instead would be a strike of short duration and limited regional fallout—could prevent a nuclear confrontation sometime in the years to come. “If we agreed to the kind of proposal the Obama administration has made, then military confrontation may be further off, but it might also be nuclear,” he argues
What the interview shows is that Cotton is a thoughtful man. He’s weighed the alternatives and has arrived at the same conclusion I have: a war with Iran is inevitable if the current government it Tehran (and Washington, for that matter) stays in power and our choices are a non-nuclear war or a nuclear war.
His analysis of the current Iran deal is spot-on and he hints, though doesn’t say, that the Corker-Menendez bill is nothing more that Failure Theater calculated to amuse the masses with senatorial sagacity.
Goldberg: Go to the deal. There’s nothing in it that’s fixable to your mind?
Cotton: Well, there’s no deal within the framework, in my opinion. There’s a long list of concessions that Iran’s leaders continue to dispute they actually made. This framework, as you’ve written, is only a success within the specific reality they’ve created. And they created a very narrow and risky reality in which they were focused on getting any kind of deal they could. Now we’re to the point where it is considered unrealistic to expect the United States to demand that Iran not engage in terrorism while we’re granting them nuclear concessions. I thought that [Israeli Minister of Intelligence and Strategic Affairs] Yuval Steinitz had a good list of proposed changes to the president’s proposal, and I don’t think you can argue those changes are unrealistic, because all he did was take all the statements that President Obama and John Kerry and [chief U.S. negotiator] Wendy Sherman made at the very outset of these negotiations about stockpiles of enriched uranium, about the past military dimensions of this program, about inspections and so forth. The positions he lists are positions that our government previously held.
He also makes a key point about why Tehran, as opposed to virtually any other government, should not be permitted to have a nuclear weapon.
Cotton: Well, I think he clearly wants to have a kind of grand rapprochement with Iran. This goes back to his actions in his earliest days, when he was silent in the face of [Iran’s] Green Revolution, and even some of his statements in the campaign.
Goldberg: What’s wrong with wanting a grand rapprochement with Iran?
Cotton: I would love to see that happen. As Secretary Schultz and Secretary Kissinger wrote, they’ve been in government when Iran was an ally, not just of the United States but of Israel. The Iranian people, if you look at their demographics and their level of education, could be a strong source for stability in the Middle East. The problem is they’re run by an apocalyptic cult of ayatollahs.
Goldberg: How do you know they’re apocalyptic?
Cotton: Their own words.
Read the interview. This current crop of freshman GOP senators is impressive. Unfortunately, by the time Cotton is in line to become chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he will probably be worn down to the point that he will be indistinguishable from Bob Corker.