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Cotton’s Dishonest Attack on Diplomacy with Iran

Tom Cotton makes [1] an odd claim to start his latest op-ed:

A nuclear-capable Iran is the gravest threat facing America today.

If that were true, the U.S. would be even more secure than anyone thought, since a “nuclear-capable Iran” is not much of a threat to the U.S. or to anyone else outside of its immediate vicinity. It may be less than optimal for Iran to have a nuclear capability, but it is far from being “the gravest threat” that America faces. This is the foundation of the rest of Cotton’s argument, and it is very wrong. Everything that follows from it is therefore badly misguided. Cotton is petrified of a thoroughly manageable and relatively minor threat. His assessment of the threat is mistaken, and his recommendations are necessarily unwise.

Cotton continues:

Our negotiating “partner,” Iran, is not a rational or peaceful actor.

Iran may not be peaceful, but it is a regime that desires its own preservation and acts accordingly. It is as rational an actor as any other authoritarian state with which the U.S. has had dealings over the decades. To assert that it is not a rational actor requires us to ignore over three decades of self-interested behavior by this regime.

Cotton portrays the negotiations with Iran as an “endless series of concessions,” which is either misinformed or dishonest. Since Cotton is not a stupid or poorly-informed person, I have to assume it is the latter. The U.S. has conceded almost nothing in these talks. Acknowledging that Iran can continue limited enrichment gives away very little, since Iran has been able to operate without any limitations for a decade before the interim agreement was negotiated. In return for agreeing to minimal Iranian enrichment, Iran’s nuclear program has been significantly constrained and Iran is now farther away from the ability to build a nuclear weapon than it was a year and a half ago. The U.S. has gained far more from the interim agreement so far than Iran has, and Iran has given up far more than the U.S. and the other members of the P5+1 have. Cotton’s presentation of this advantageous arrangement as “appeasement” is so thoroughly misleading that it is discredits everything else he has to say. His insistence on “complete nuclear disarmament” of Iran (i.e., the abolition of Iran’s nuclear program) is totally unrealistic, and if it became U.S. policy it would commit our government to wage a new and costly war.

Unlike some of his Senate colleagues, Cotton has been blunt in stating his view that Congress should be seeking to end the negotiations with Iran. This is irresponsible and dangerous for all parties. To end negotiations with Iran at this stage would not only throw away the best chance to limit Iran’s nuclear program through peaceful means, but it would put the U.S., Iran, and the entire region on a path towards unnecessary conflict. Cotton is a hawkish ideologue, and it seems clear enough that he welcomes the prospect of a new conflict, but that is all the more reason why it is imperative that his reckless counsel be ignored.

21 Comments (Open | Close)

21 Comments To "Cotton’s Dishonest Attack on Diplomacy with Iran"

#1 Comment By scrudapooch On January 29, 2015 @ 11:05 pm

“A nuclear-capable Iran is the gravest threat facing America today.”

B-b-but just a month or two ago it was ISIS. And a few months before that it was Russia, or was it North Korea? I can’t keep all these “gravest threats” straight …

I guess I’ll just have to leave it up to Mr. Cotton, 1st term senator from Arkansas, who once proclaimed that the internet had no role to play in education, and who clearly knows far more about the scale of the threat posed by Iran than the generals he used to report to, the State Department, CIA, DIA, and the collective intelligence and diplomatic arms of every major US ally.

#2 Comment By Grumpy old man On January 30, 2015 @ 12:46 am

If these maniacs seriously want to start a war with a country of 75 million people, and an ancient civilization to boot, they are barking mad.

#3 Comment By William Burns On January 30, 2015 @ 6:32 am

Iran’s not a rational or peaceful actor? One country in this negotiation responded to 9/11 by invading Iraq, and it wasn’t Iran.

#4 Comment By Uncle Billy On January 30, 2015 @ 6:33 am

So what if Iran got a nuke? Israel has hundreds of nukes and the US has thousands. Is Israel going to unilaterally disarm? I don’t think so. Ditto the US. There is a good deal of intellectual dishonesty at work here on the part of Cotton and his associates.

#5 Comment By AnotherBeliever On January 30, 2015 @ 7:52 am

What worries me about Cotton is that he is a combat veteran, and thus had a degree of clout which the chicken hawks do not have.

#6 Comment By BobS On January 30, 2015 @ 8:32 am

Iran is actually relatively “peaceful”(both with respect to it’s foreign policy as well as it’s response to internal dissent) if we compare it to the US (& our NATO allies), Israel, Ukraine, Egypt, Bahrain, etc.

#7 Comment By EliteCommInc. On January 30, 2015 @ 9:14 am

Well, Senator Cotton, I have only this to say.

Having removed Pres. Hussein, you have given Iran leverage to be a serious player in the region they did not have before.

In supporting the toppling of former moderate leaders in the Middle East, you have opened the door to what was reborn in Iran by cleric Khomeini, the Islamic revolution, but this awakening is far more aggressive than even what Khomeini imagined.

Now you are in a bind. Because as we take on ISIS so does Iran. Those strategic moves may have paved to way for something that we will be able to nothing about, short of that which you desire. To go to war with Iran, to cover up the failures in the region thus far.

So your intent then is a two or three fron assault.

Attack ISIS and Syria, an ally of Iran. Attack ISIS in Iraq allied with Iran now an ally —

that ought to be an interesting multiple front endeavor. And you were elected for your military experience and expertise. As a fellow conservative, allow me this word of advice. I think you want to think that through again.

Someone was giving me a hard time about my references to US citizens as gullible and stupid.

#8 Comment By EliteCommInc. On January 30, 2015 @ 9:19 am

We negotiated with the Soviet Union, and we did so while they were actively undermining our efforts elsewhere, even at the loss of US lives. We should be negotiating with anyone to slow and prevent proliferation.

I am not clear what not negotiating with Iran is intended to accomplish.

#9 Comment By EliteCommInc. On January 30, 2015 @ 9:23 am

And by the way, the most dangerous threat to nuclear peace and thereby a threat to the US remains, Iran-Pakistan tension.

#10 Comment By Irony Abounds On January 30, 2015 @ 10:14 am

Not negotiating with Iran accomplishes the same thing as treating Cuba so differently – it gives the hawks a relatively weak opponent to beat up on for cheap use in scaring a gullible public.

#11 Comment By WillW On January 30, 2015 @ 10:45 am

I simply cannot comprehend how anyone could hold these views. Something really does happen to folks once they get inside the Beltway.

#12 Comment By H.K. Anders On January 30, 2015 @ 10:54 am

Conservative hawks seem to think “appeasement” is anything short of a nuclear first strike.

#13 Comment By The Wet One On January 30, 2015 @ 11:10 am

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if no one listened to such flaming idiots.

And yet, these are the people in office in the most powerful country on earth.

One wonders who is the puppet master who gives them their speaking lines? They can’t possibly be that dumb can they?

#14 Comment By Captain P On January 30, 2015 @ 11:18 am

Only in Neocon Fantasyland does “appeasement” mean using sanctions to cripple another country’s economy and coerce it into regular inspections of its nuclear plans. “Appeasement,” for them, is defined as “not launching missiles.”

#15 Comment By rayray On January 30, 2015 @ 11:34 am

I rarely agree with EliteComminc but today we are on the exact same page. Nice analysis.

I think it’s hard for anyone in Washington to get their heads around the fact that most of our Middle East military adventures of the past decade have largely strengthened Iran. The hard fact is that they actually may be our ally now, our partner. Painful. But probably true.

#16 Comment By JohnG On January 30, 2015 @ 11:45 am

Isn’t Pakistan way worse to any thinking person? Who hid Bin Laden for all those years, whose secret services have been linked to Al-Qaeda? Yet we can live with their nuclear bomb.

We all know about serious human rights violations in many countries of this worl, but there are also those in which basic logic is violated on a daily basis: Neoconland, Permawaristan, Chickenhawkistan, McCainia & Liebermanlandia, Bilkristola, Weeklystandardistan, Nationalreviewiland…

#17 Comment By RobZ On January 30, 2015 @ 12:06 pm

“And by the way, the most dangerous threat to nuclear peace and thereby a threat to the US remains, Iran-Pakistan tension.”


#18 Comment By Myron Hudson On January 30, 2015 @ 4:02 pm

Grumpy old man – I do believe that at least a few of them are barking mad.

“They used to chase people like that with butterfly nets. Now they chase them with television cameras”. Spiro Agnew

#19 Comment By Myron Hudson On January 30, 2015 @ 4:05 pm

It is discouraging to think tat, as Mr. Larison indicates, this guy is probably being dishonest. I would almost prefer that he is both an idiot and a member of Congress, as described by Mark Twain.

#20 Comment By long way home On January 30, 2015 @ 4:12 pm

Iran’s government is not the world’s nicest. But we lived with a nuclear Stalin and Mao. Today’s Iran is quite a bit more cool & calculating– and tolerant of domestic reformers– than those folks were.

#21 Comment By Ken_L On January 31, 2015 @ 2:40 am

It’s fitting that he puts negotiating “partner” in inverted commas, because anyone who perceives Iran as a partner in these negotiations is badly astray. I don’t recall the Administration referring to their Iranian “partner” but if they did, it was a silly error.

Iran and the US are negotiating with the goal of reaching an agreement that is in their mutual interests. It will be in their interests if they can achieve a better outcome than is available through alternative processes. Anyone objecting to the negotiation process is merely signalling that they oppose an agreement with Iran for its own sake, regardless of the interests of the USA.