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Cotton’s Clumsy Attack on Zarif

John Allen Gay comments on Tom Cotton’s odd Twitter attack on the Iranian foreign minister:

It’s a surprising escalation of Cotton’s already-sharp rhetoric against Iran diplomacy in general and Zarif in particular. It’s clearly a calculated move: Zarif’s lack of a war record is unusual among Iranian leaders, and it’s one of his greatest political weaknesses.

Gay may be giving Cotton far too much credit for cleverness here. While Zarif’s lack of a military record may be a liability for him at home, it seems to me that Cotton is just using it to denigrate him for alleged cowardice. In the context of Cotton’s series of attacks, the remarks about Zarif’s military service were meant to emphasize that Zarif would supposedly be too afraid to debate Cotton head to head. In fact, drawing attention to the tensions between Zarif and hard-liners in Iran undermines other claims Cotton has made, since he has said that he doesn’t believe there are any moderates in the Iranian government and therefore he dismisses concerns that derailing negotiations would strengthen Iranian hard-liners.

Cotton’s attacks on Zarif were mostly just a petulant and rather silly response to a point Zarif was making about a U.N. resolution that would confirm the deal. Zarif referred to Cotton by name presumably because Cotton was the author of the obnoxious Iran letter, and as such he went out of his way to make himself the public face of the effort to sabotage the deal. Far from hurting Zarif at home, I suspect that the episode will likely have the opposite effect. Most Americans would react negatively to attacks on our top officials by loudmouth parliamentarians from other countries, and considering Zarif’s current popularity at home in connection with the nuclear negotiations we should assume that most Iranians will respond similarly. This is the second time in the last few months that Cotton has chosen to pick a public fight with Zarif, and once again he lost. While this may play well with other Iran hawks here, it makes him look like the boorish hard-liner that he is.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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