Tom Cotton wasn’t the first GOP senator to try to derail an administration’s foreign policy. Jeb Lund in Rolling Stone looks at the long and sordid history of Republicans interference for their own gain or profit.
Two weeks before freshman Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) and 46 Senate Republican co-signatories sent a Missed Connections letter to Iranian hardliners (“Saw you in Tehran . . . thought you might want to get together and sabotage nuclear arms control talks?”), sparking accusations of treason, I got to see Cotton in action at the Conservative Political Action Conference. I already knew him as a bad liar who still thinks Iraq was involved in 9/11, wants to prosecute New York Times reporters and fears the inevitable partnership betweenMexican drug cartels and ISIS, but homeboy can work a room.
It’s easy to think Cotton is stupid and easy to think he’s insane. His robotically repeating the words “Barack Obama” 74 times during a debate or claiming that signing up for Obamacare will get your identity stolen by Russian hackers feeds both theories in a way that seems too simple. Cotton knows his audience, and he knows that the Republican Party has purity tested itself so many times that an entire conference room of people refusing to leave until they could touch his hand bears more resemblance to the Republican voting bloc than not.
The New York Times editorial page called his conduct “disgraceful” – but despite embarrassingly cretinous excuses after the fact, sending a letter to Iran to undermine Obama’s P5+1 nuclear arms control talks actually wasn’t a bad move. Obstructing presidential foreign policy has a rich bipartisan history. Cotton’s short-term strategy works on the campaign trail and in accordance with the necessities of neoconservative foreign policy. And his interference represents little more than another enactment of the theory of government espoused by his party. To admit that everything he believes in is either completely idiotic or extremely dangerous doesn’t take away from the fact that Tom Cotton, grossly enough, has a point.
Interfering in presidential foreign and military policy works.
Among all the conservative cries of “Munich! Munich!” these days – both Bolton and Cotton parroted it at CPAC like a Teddy Ruxpin shorting out in a pool of blood – you don’t hear a lot about Republican anti-interventionism in the 1930s, when Hitler was on the cover of Time, Mussolini was praised for his contempt of labor and anti-Semite industrialist Henry Ford was being given the highest civilian honor Nazi Germany could bestow. Japan just sneaked up on everyone, and Hitler is always Chamberlain’s fault, with Republican Senators like Arthur Vandenberg and Robert Taft skating on the butcher’s bill. Acknowledging this history tends to cloud the whole narrative of GOP moral clarity and the unalloyed necessity for the United States to defend itself under any circumstances. Still, whatever you think of the reasoning or outcome, this binding of the president’s powers in military and foreign affairs was wholly legal.
Besides, illegal works too, and Cotton knows this. In 1968, Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon dispatched a friend of his campaign named Anna Chennault to tell the North Vietnamese to back away from peace talks with the Democratic Johnson administration, promising the Vietnamese a better deal. Nixon’s campaign guarantee that he had a secret plan to win in Vietnam would have meant nothing if his opponent, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, could have helped end the war and taken credit for it. And so the North Vietnamese backed away, Nixon condemned the Johnson administration for failing to even get the Vietnamese to the bargaining table; Nixon and genocide-and-assassination hobbyist Henry Kissinger admitted to each other that the war was unwinnable as early as 1969; and in the meantime 22,000 more Americans and hundreds of thousands more Vietnamese and Cambodians died. But, hey, Nixon won the 1968 election by a 0.7 percent margin, and Kissinger went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
The Republican philosophy: No one ever accuses the winner of being a traitor.