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Cotton’s Confused Argument About Iranian Influence

Tom Cotton said this during his appearance on Face the Nation:

Moreover we have to stand up to Iran’s attempts to drive for regional dominance. They already control Tehran increasingly they control Damascus and Beirut and Baghdad and now Sana’a as well. They do all that without a nuclear weapon. Imagine what they would do with a nuclear weapon.

Cotton has been mocked for saying that Iran controls its own capital as if that were a new development, but it should be obvious that he was just reciting the standard hard-line talking points that Netanyahu used in his speech before Congress. Netanyahu also claimed that Iran “dominates” four capitals of Arab states, and went further to say that more would follow. This is the Iranian “march of conquest” story that hard-liners are now eager to tell. This conveniently ignores the extent to which Iranian influence in the region grew because of the Iraq war and how the U.S. keeps fighting wars in the region against Iran’s enemies, and it contradicts the other story hard-liners tell of a besieged, vulnerable Iran that will cave under additional pressure.

The story Cotton told also omits how much Iran’s proxies have been weakened because of the ongoing conflict in Syria, and it is very simplistic to see the Houthis in Yemen as nothing more than Iranian proxies. The hard-liners’ story overstates Iranian power in the region to make Iran seem more menacing than it actually is. It also overstates the value of Iran’s proxies and allies, some of which have become liabilities for Tehran that it has to shore up at considerable cost. The purpose of telling this story in connection with the nuclear negotiations is to make it appear as if a nuclear deal that limits Iran’s nuclear program is somehow part of a broader trend of increasing Iranian influence.

The final claim Cotton tries to make is beside the point, since the deal he is doing everything he can to derail makes it significantly less likely that Iran will build a nuclear weapon. He is making every effort to sabotage the best chance that the U.S. to limit Iran’s nuclear program, and he is lamely presenting his sabotage as part of an effort to curb Iranian influence. Like all the Iran hawks before him, Cotton claims to fear growing Iranian influence while supporting policies that have facilitated its growth.

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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