Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton‘s rise to stardom has come at quite an astonishing rate.
Cotton has ascended with dizzying speed from relatively unknown to top commodity in the mainstream media, securing interviews with various outlets, allowing him to put forth his enlightened views on the ongoing negotiations with Iran regarding their nuclear program.
Beginning with his now infamous letter to Iranian officials, about which he harbors “no regrets at all,” Cotton continues his efforts to discourage the ongoing negotiations by insisting in a recent interview that the President should keep the “credible threat of military force on the table,” claiming that this “always improves diplomacy.”
Drawing on Bill Clinton’s four-day bombing campaign of Iraq’s nuclear facilities in 1998, Cotton claims that military action against Iran should take a similar approach.
Let us put aside the fact that promotion of military action is almost always accompanied by assurances that it will be “quick and easy,” the bombing will be over in a few days, and so on, which makes war far easier to sell to the population.
First, we can be clear that Cotton is not asserting outright that we should absolutely use force against Iran.
What he is thinking no one knows, but he is claiming that the current framework for a deal with Iran would “pave the way” for development of a bomb, echoing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s many diatribes. And, clearly, Cotton has been attempting to undermine the deal from the start.
I think it is quite obvious, however, that Cotton has other motivations behind opposing a deal with Iran, outside of security concerns for both Israel and the United States.
For one, his justifications for even suggesting a bombing campaign against Iran’s nuclear facilities reveal a striking (although not at all uncommon among American jingoists) hypocrisy.
He claims that we would carry out “several days” of bombing for the same reason that Clinton bombed Iraq in 1998: Namely, “For interfering with weapons inspectors and for disobeying Security Council resolutions.”
Okay, so we know that Israel has done both of the above, yet no one believes that we should bomb Israel. Pakistan has nuclear weapons, and unlike Iran, they are not signers of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Why apply more stringent standards to Iran?
Iran is not an ally to be sure, and they are often openly hostile toward the United States and Israel (not entirely without reason, I must say), but bombing them for violating Security Council resolutions would be absurd, immeasurably hypocritical, and, frankly, criminal.
Cotton is merely feigning concern about violations of international law to provide a cover for his perhaps less presentable reasons behind suggesting the use of force. What it is, we can’t be sure.
This is all without mentioning the blowback that would undoubtedly take place in the aftermath of such a bombing, further inflaming anti-Americanism among the Iranian population and elites, and probably increasing security concerns.
Iran: The Pinnacle of Evil?
It is also clear that Tom Cotton holds the now rather conventional view that Iran and its leaders are demonic and irrational, and that they are attempting to extend their malicious tentacles to the rest of the Middle East, hoping to attain regional dominance. Here is Cotton in his own words:
There are nothing but hardliners in Iran. They’ve been killing Americans for 35 years. They kill hundreds of troops in Iraq. Now they control five capitals in the Middle East. The are nothing but hardliners in Tehran and if they do all those things without a nuclear weapon, imagine what they’ll do with a nuclear weapon.
I can’t help but draw the parallel to fanatical Cold War rhetoric: Pretend that the “Evil Empire” Iran is behind the majority of the wrongdoing in a particular region, just as the Soviet Union was said to been, and this will in turn justify the use of American force.
I also can’t help but switch “Iran”, “Americans”, and “Tehran” with “the United States”, “Iranians”, and “Washington” in Cotton’s quote.
Both are, of course, an oversimplification. But I think that the answer to the question, “Who has caused more instability and destruction in the Middle East over the past several decades?” is clear (hint: the answer is not Iran).
And Cotton’s claim that Iran is a hegemonic force that “control[s] five capitals in the Middle East” is far from justifiable.
Jon B. Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at CSIS, offers a different, dare I say more educated perspective, one that would not be allowed to reach the American population through any mainstream media source:
The reality is the Iranians don’t control any Arab capital, and they couldn’t if they tried. Iraqis have a strong sense of nationalism and self-interest, as do Syrians, Lebanese and Yemenis. If you were an Iranian trying to impose your will, you’d be tearing your hair out. There is no Iranian ‘order’ in the region. Instead, there is a disorder, and the Iranians are skillful at reaping the rewards.
Paul Pillar expands on the above:
There is no fundamental difference between most of what Iran actually is doing in the region and what either the United States or its regional Sunni friends are doing in reacting to the same disorder.
Yet when the latter step into something like the confusing sectarian/tribal/personal conflict in Yemen, as the Saudis have done with their U.S.-supported military intervention replete with airstrikes, it is looked on benignly, but when the Iranians provide lesser assistance to one of the players in the same conflict, this gets described as country-gobbling trouble-making. Such inconsistency is all the more glaring when Iran and the United States are weighing in on the same side, as they are in Iraq.
Iran is like any other state: They pursue their interests when it is prudent to do so. Okay, if this makes them incomprehensibly evil, what label could be placed on the United States and other world powers?
And we can’t forget that Iran isn’t exactly beloved in the region, and they have security concerns as well. This thought just can’t make its way into the heads of the great patriots of Washington and Israel.
The Media and Iran: Where are the Iranian Voices?
The mainstream media is startlingly petty and childish, and the discussions of Iran are utterly shameful, in most cases.
They rarely if ever interview an Iranian official, or even an Iranian scholar living in America. As Glenn Greenwald points out in a recent piece for The Intercept, this would not be difficult to arrange.
Instead, they endlessly sling mud in Iran’s direction via hawkish Israeli officials and American warmongers like Tom Cotton, John Bolton, John McCain, Ted Cruz, and so on, without allowing a different perspective.
“Fair and balanced,” right? We report, you decide?
How about: The world is how we say it is, got it?
Here’s Glenn Greenwald:
…excluding the Iranian viewpoint ensures that these shows spew propaganda to the American public. Iran is talked about, almost always in demonic terms, but is almost never heard from. That means that these shows, which endlessly boast of their own “objectivity,” are in fact far more akin to state media.
It is perfectly reasonable, I think, to interview Israeli officials about the deal as it has implications for the whole region, but it is not reasonable to allow Israeli voices to drown out the voices which actually took part in the deal, and which can perhaps add some semblance of balance (and fact) to the discussion.
Tom Cotton’s rise to fame says a lot about American political culture and where the attention of the media is centered: Not on the truth, of course, but on sensationalism, jingoistic fanaticism, and incessant warmongering.
During the formal negotiations of the Iran nuclear deal, American/Israeli hawks were in some sense confined to heckling from the sidelines. But the loyal U.S. media is insistent upon ushering them onto the playing field, allowing them to take swing after swing in an attempt to shift the focus from legitimate diplomatic issues to fearmongering and over-simplified soundbites.
Tom Cotton is just a recent manifestation of these tendencies.