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Cotton’s Appalling Militarism

The same fanaticism and militarism that warp Cotton's foreign policy views are on display here.

Tom Cotton calls for military intervention in the United States:

One thing above all else will restore order to our streets: an overwhelming show of force to disperse, detain and ultimately deter lawbreakers. But local law enforcement in some cities desperately needs backup, while delusional politicians in other cities refuse to do what’s necessary to uphold the rule of law.

Cotton made a version of this argument earlier in the week when he was calling for sending active military units into American cities to show “no quarter” to looters. In other words, he was openly calling for committing war crimes against American citizens just days before this op-ed ran:

“A no quarter order is a war crime, prohibited even in actual insurrection since Abraham Lincoln‘s signed the Lieber Code in 1863,” conservative attorney David French tweeted. “Such an order is banned by international law and would, if carried out, be murder under American law.”

Cotton’s vile statement provoked a great deal of criticism, so there is no way that The New York Times‘ editors didn’t know this background when they published the later piece. He doesn’t use the “no quarter” language in the op-ed, but we know this is his position and it is implicit in his statement that an “overwhelming show of force” is required. He repeatedly refers to rioters as “insurrectionists.” This misrepresents the nature and extent of the disorder, and Cotton conflates riot with insurrection to provide an excuse to invoke the Insurrection Act. Cotton makes no effort to demonstrate that deploying the military to American cities is actually necessary. He asserts that local law enforcement needs backup in some places, but he offers no proof that the situation demands such an extreme response. He says that many cities are “in anarchy,” but he cannot back up that claim anywhere because it isn’t true.

Using the military domestically is an extraordinary measure that should be considered only in catastrophic conditions. It is dangerous and outrageous to call for such extreme action when it is not absolutely necessary. The governors in the states that have been most affected by unrest don’t want military intervention, and as recently as this week the Secretary of Defense said that invoking the Insurrection Act was not warranted. Cotton’s eagerness to use the military in this way reflects both his own horrible judgment and his knee-jerk, hard-line approach to every security problem. The same fanaticism and militarism that warp his foreign policy views are on display here. Cotton’s argument is particularly obnoxious under the circumstances. The unrest across the country has been sparked by the excessive use of force by police, and over the last week we have seen many more examples of gratuitous police brutality against peaceful protesters. Putting soldiers on the streets risks inciting more violence and inviting more abuse.

One of the growing problems in the U.S. is the ongoing militarization of the police. Police officers are not only being equipped with military gear and vehicles that should have no place in domestic law enforcement, but in some cases they are behaving as if they were an occupying force rather than as the protectors of their communities. That in turn leads to more unjustified uses of force against American citizens. Further militarization of law enforcement by deploying troops to our cities will make these problems worse, and it will further erode public trust in both their local police and the military.

Just as the military shouldn’t be used to police other countries, it should not be used to police this one. The American people aren’t insurgents to be opposed by occupying forces. Americans should recognize Cotton’s idea for the ugly authoritarian poison that it is, and they should reject it.

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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