Commentary Magazine


Topic: Tom Cotton

Rand Paul, Paleoneoconrealitarian Uniter

When speculation about the 2016 presidential election first began, the question about Rand Paul was whether his candidacy would closely mimic his father’s or whether he’d carve out his own independent identity. Now we know the answer: Neither. He’s running as Marco Rubio. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, of course, but it points to Paul’s recent moves that put him closer to the Republican mainstream and farther from his own distinctive base of support. And it’s beginning to look like if he had to choose between the two, Paul might choose not to dance with the one that brung ’im.

Read More

When speculation about the 2016 presidential election first began, the question about Rand Paul was whether his candidacy would closely mimic his father’s or whether he’d carve out his own independent identity. Now we know the answer: Neither. He’s running as Marco Rubio. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, of course, but it points to Paul’s recent moves that put him closer to the Republican mainstream and farther from his own distinctive base of support. And it’s beginning to look like if he had to choose between the two, Paul might choose not to dance with the one that brung ’im.

To be sure, Paul is far from a carbon copy of defense hawks. But he’s spending considerable energy blurring those distinctions. And a turning point does seem to have been reached, ironically, thanks to the recent open letter to Iranian leaders signed by Republican senators who are opposed to a nuclear Iran and the president’s attempts to go around Congress. Paul, surprisingly, also signed the letter. And he’s continuing down that path with his proposed amendment that would, as Time revealed this morning, boost defense spending:

In an olive branch to defense hawks hell-bent on curtailing his White House ambitions, the libertarian Senator introduced a budget amendment late Wednesday calling for a nearly $190 billion infusion to the defense budget over the next two years—a roughly 16 percent increase.

Paul’s amendment brings him in line with his likely presidential primary rivals, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who introduced a measure calling for nearly the same level of increases just days ago. The amendment was first noticed by TIME and later confirmed by Paul’s office.

The move completes a stunning reversal for Paul, who in May 2011, after just five months in office, released his own budget that would have eliminated four agencies—Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Energy and Education—while slashing the Pentagon, a sacred cow for many Republicans. Under Paul’s original proposal, defense spending would have dropped from $553 billion in the 2011 fiscal year to $542 billion in 2016. War funding would have plummeted from $159 billion to zero. He called it the “draw-down and restructuring of the Department of Defense.”

But under Paul’s new plan, the Pentagon will see its budget authority swell by $76.5 billion to $696,776,000,000 in fiscal year 2016.

I have been sympathetic, as I’ve written in the past, to Paul’s objections to what he and his supporters see as the exaggeration of the extent of his apparent political conversions. But his claim to consistency is going to start looking absurd on its face, and his defense-spending amendment is one reason why.

The Time piece helpfully goes back about four years to show just how far Paul has come on this issue. But even as his term in the Senate went on, Paul continued to be an advocate for cutting defense spending not only on fiscal grounds but on national-security grounds as well. Paul had crafted a very clear rationale for reducing the defense budget, and even sought to draw a contrast with Mitt Romney’s own views on the subject less than a month before the 2012 presidential election. In an op-ed for CNN, Paul wrote:

Romney chose to criticize President Obama for seeking to cut a bloated Defense Department and for not being bellicose enough in the Middle East, two assertions with which I cannot agree.

Defense and war spending has grown 137% since 2001. That kind of growth is not sustainable.

Adm. Michael Mullen stated earlier this year that the biggest threat to our national security is our debt.

If debt is our gravest threat, adding to the debt by expanding military spending further threatens our national security.

Paul’s decision to sign the open letter to Iran, an effort led by Senator Tom Cotton, attracted two kinds of very interesting criticism. One was the antiwar movement’s treatment of Paul as a sellout to the cause. The other was the more muted criticism from the realist and paleoconservative right, which seemed to accept Time’s own formulation that Paul is extending an “olive branch”–or, at this point, a series of olive branches–to those with whom he disagrees. That is, their criticism of him is tempered by their belief he’s not being wholly honest.

That resulted in a moment of near-unity as conservatives pushed back on the hysterical attempt by the left to brand the dissenting senators’ actions as treasonous. There were far fewer cases of terms like “neocon warmonger” being tossed casually at those who oppose the emerging nuke deal with Iran than there might otherwise have been.

Again, muted criticism of Paul is not the same as no criticism of Paul. But suddenly hawkish policies were being combed for nuance. It was a glimpse of what the foreign-policy debate on the right could look like when advocates of greater restraint are willing to characterize hawks as something other than a cross between Dick Cheney and Dr. Strangelove.

That moment of grace will surely pass. But there are likely to be other such moments, as long as Paul continues his flirtation with a more hawkish approach to foreign affairs. The question, then, will be whether he will have mortgaged his candidacy’s raison d’être in the process and allowed his carefully cultivated image to disintegrate. To prevent that, he’ll need to find a balance between those he hopes will believe him and those he needs to assume he’s merely pretending.

Read Less

Obama Evolves on the Concept of Credibility

As Congress has attempted to assert its role in the ongoing Iran negotiations, one of the interesting objections from the Obama White House has been on the grounds that it will erode Obama’s credibility. It’s interesting because defenders of the White House’s various zigs and zags on foreign policy have argued against elevating intangibles like credibility where foreign affairs are concerned. To be clear, Obama’s defenders have not been entirely wrong; as I’ve argued before, there are always risks in trying to pin down evasive concepts like credibility. But it does mean that the White House’s new foreign-policy mantra, Don’t undermine me bro, rings a bit hollow.

Read More

As Congress has attempted to assert its role in the ongoing Iran negotiations, one of the interesting objections from the Obama White House has been on the grounds that it will erode Obama’s credibility. It’s interesting because defenders of the White House’s various zigs and zags on foreign policy have argued against elevating intangibles like credibility where foreign affairs are concerned. To be clear, Obama’s defenders have not been entirely wrong; as I’ve argued before, there are always risks in trying to pin down evasive concepts like credibility. But it does mean that the White House’s new foreign-policy mantra, Don’t undermine me bro, rings a bit hollow.

The president’s most famous brush with the issue of credibility is, of course, Syria. In August 2012, Obama very clearly and very plainly said, regarding Syria: “We have communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region that that’s a red line for us and that there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front or the use of chemical weapons.”

Any attempt to deny he set such a red line would be absurd, which is why he did exactly that. “I didn’t set a red line. The world set a red line,” Obama said once the red line was crossed. If a credibility gap were to open up, that would seem to be the time. In addition, Obama had gone from asserting that Bashar al-Assad would have to end his rule in Syria to making Assad a partner in the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons, which would turn out to be a failure as well once Syria continued using chemical weapons.

But no, said the president: “My credibility is not on the line. The international community’s credibility is on the line. And America’s and Congress’s credibility is on the line.” His credibility is not at risk, and if it were, so is yours. So there. The food’s no good and the portions are too small.

Next was Ukraine. The president’s dithering on Ukraine sent a dangerous message to Russia, didn’t it? And in fact, it sent a message about the president’s credibility more broadly, since the administration was trying to reassure countries in the Middle East about protecting them from an Iranian nuke and yet here was Ukraine, a country we (in the Budapest Memorandum) got to give up its own nukes on the promises its sovereignty would be respected. It turned out everybody lied–that’s got to deplete our credibility, right?

The Economist said yes, Peter Beinart said no, and Tom Rogan sided with The Economist:

For a start, take Dexter Filkins’s study of Qassem Suleimani, the leader of Iran’s Quds Force and an archetypal hardliner of the regime. In his meticulous analysis, Filkins shows how the sharp edge of Iranian strategy is shaped significantly by perceptions of American global resolve. Where America is seen to be resolute and determined, Iran is deterred. Where America is seen to be timid and uncertain, Iran is emboldened.

And perceptions of U.S. credibility among players who are not part of a foreign regime are also important. Take America’s adversaries in the Middle Eastern media. Opinion makers there now present Obama as the master of a rudderless agenda. These populist narratives are important — they mobilize political agendas in ways that are either favorable or problematic for the United States.

Point to Rogan, I would think. Do our past actions really not indicate a future course, especially under the same president? That might be why the administration has evolved, as the president might say, on the issue of credibility.

When Tom Cotton and 46 other senators wrote their open letter to the Iranian government asserting congressional authority over arms treaties, the White House responded with a statement from Vice President Biden: “This letter sends a highly misleading signal to friend and foe alike that that our Commander-in-Chief cannot deliver on America’s commitments — a message that is as false as it is dangerous.” Credibility was back in vogue.

And it continued to be. Republican Senator Bob Corker, chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, told the White House Congress was considering new legislation that would give Congress a say on the agreement the president is negotiating with Iran. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough wrote back to Corker that the president would prefer to sign the deal first, present a fait accompli to the Congress, and grant Congress permission to rubber-stamp the deal. For credibility’s sake:

We believe that the legislation would likely have a profoundly negative impact on the ongoing negotiations–emboldening Iranian hard-liners, inviting a counter-productive response from the Iranian majiles; differentiating the U.S. position from our allies in the negotiations; and once again call into question our ability to negotiate this deal.

Put simply, the Obama administration wants it both ways on credibility. And for their own legacy, they should probably hope they’re wrong this time. After all, if credibility truly matters, the Obama administration’s legacy is going to consist of a Europe at war for the near future, a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, and general instability as states react to the president’s continuing incoherence on foreign affairs.

Read Less

The Cotton Letter and Obama’s Iran Deal

Having spent last week in Japan, I missed the brouhaha over the open letter to Ayatollah Khamenei, organized by Sen. Tom Cotton and signed by 46 Senate colleagues, declaring: “We will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei. The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

Read More

Having spent last week in Japan, I missed the brouhaha over the open letter to Ayatollah Khamenei, organized by Sen. Tom Cotton and signed by 46 Senate colleagues, declaring: “We will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei. The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

Herewith a few thoughts on the controversy.

Thought No. 1: Tom Cotton is a rising star in Republican foreign policy. A 37-year-old, Harvard-educated combat-veteran, he has deep knowledge and interest in foreign policy and considerable credibility in speaking out. All of the controversy over the letter will do nothing to dim his allure—being criticized by one’s political foes is welcome for most GOP leaders; being criticized by America’s enemies in Iran is a bonus. It is welcome to see Cotton joining Marco Rubio and Mark Kirk as leaders of the younger generation of foreign-policy hawks in the Senate, joining the likes of John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

Thought No. 2: The criticisms of Cotton et al. as #47Traitors and the like are beyond parody. Wasn’t it only 2004 when John Kerry was running for president claiming that differences of opinion should not lead anyone to “question his patriotism”? The rule against questioning a political adversary’s patriotism remains a good one, and should apply equally to Republicans and Democrats. It is particularly ludicrous to question the patriotism of someone like Cotton, who, as noted above, volunteered for combat as an army officer.

Thought No. 3: The Cotton letter was immediately pounced upon by the White House and leading Democrats because it offered a welcome distraction from debating the merits of a nuclear accord that would reputedly allow Iran to keep thousands of centrifuges and that would expire within a decade. In that respect, the letter was similar to the controversy over Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress. In both cases, by ramping up the criticism, the White House sought to make this a partisan issue, thereby, it hopes, forcing Democrats in Congress to rally to its cause. If that strategy works (and it’s too soon to tell), the letter may have backfired because Democratic votes will be needed to block an agreement with Iran if it is a bad one—although, admittedly, even before the Cotton letter and the Netanyahu speech, it is doubtful whether there were enough Democratic votes to override a presidential veto.

Thought No. 4: The letter also allows Obama to try to spread some of the blame to Republicans if he is not successful in concluding an agreement. In reality, however, it is doubtful that this letter tells the Iranian leaders—many of them educated in the United States—anything they don’t already know. If an agreement is not concluded, it will not be because of Iranian fears that a future president may renege on Obama’s commitments; it will be because the Supreme Leader is afraid that concluding an agreement with the Great Satan will undermine the Iranian Revolution’s ideological legitimacy and set back the regime’s goal of achieving economic self-sufficiency.

Thought No. 5: Although the Cotton letter is technically accurate, it is also somewhat misleading. Executive agreements, of the kind that Obama hopes to reach with Iran, are hardly rare. A comprehensive study from the Congressional Research Service finds “that over 18,500 executive agreements have been concluded by the United States since 1789 (more than 17,300 of which were concluded since 1939), compared to roughly 1,100 treaties that have been ratified by the United States.” Agreements ranging from the 1945 Yalta accords to the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq have been concluded unilaterally by presidents, and just because they lack Senate ratification doesn’t mean that they lack the force of law. A president of the United States has the right to commit the United States to various international obligations without congressional say-so. Likewise a successor has the right to extract the U.S. from those obligations without congressional say-so—the point made by the Cotton letter—but in practice it is not so easy for one president to renege on a previous president’s commitments. In this case, it would take an exceptionally strong and bold chief executive to rip up an accord with Iran unless there is clear-cut evidence of cheating by the mullahs—which is unlikely. (Iran will probably cheat in ways that are hard to detect.)

So for better or worse, an agreement, if one is concluded by Obama, is likely to be long-lasting. And even if a future president were to decide to exit from the nuclear accord, by the time he or she takes office Iran would have reaped untold billions in sanctions relief between now and 2017—money that will fuel the Iranian economy along with its nuclear program and its support for terrorism abroad. That makes it all the more imperative that any agreement that is concluded be a good one from the standpoint of American interests, rather than counting on a future president to rescue us from the consequences of a bad accord.

Read Less

Iran Hardliners Don’t Need GOP Help; They’re Already in Power

Three days have gone by since 47 Senate Republicans signed a letter sent to Iran’s leadership informing them that future presidents could overturn any nuclear deal they might strike with the United States that is not ratified by Congress. Yesterday’s liberal talking point about the letter was the absurd claim that by publicly opposing an administration initiative and communicating it abroad, the senators had committed treason or were in violation of the Logan Act that prohibits negotiations with foreign powers. Today’s equally fanciful theme, sounded both by Secretary of State John Kerry in testimony given to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and in a Politico Magazine article is that by stating no more than the obvious, the senators were somehow aiding the cause of “hardliners” in Tehran who are opposed to a nuclear deal as well as reform of the Islamist state. There are a number of problems with this last thesis, but none is more important than the fact that the hardliners are already in power in Iran and nothing written by any member of the Senate is likely to decrease or enhance their chances of holding onto control.

Read More

Three days have gone by since 47 Senate Republicans signed a letter sent to Iran’s leadership informing them that future presidents could overturn any nuclear deal they might strike with the United States that is not ratified by Congress. Yesterday’s liberal talking point about the letter was the absurd claim that by publicly opposing an administration initiative and communicating it abroad, the senators had committed treason or were in violation of the Logan Act that prohibits negotiations with foreign powers. Today’s equally fanciful theme, sounded both by Secretary of State John Kerry in testimony given to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and in a Politico Magazine article is that by stating no more than the obvious, the senators were somehow aiding the cause of “hardliners” in Tehran who are opposed to a nuclear deal as well as reform of the Islamist state. There are a number of problems with this last thesis, but none is more important than the fact that the hardliners are already in power in Iran and nothing written by any member of the Senate is likely to decrease or enhance their chances of holding onto control.

The focus about the supposedly outrageous nature of the letter is, as I wrote yesterday, merely a calculated attempt by the administration and its allies and apologists to distract both Congress and the public from the real issues at stake in the negotiations with Iran. That is to say, the egregious nature of the concessions offered to Iran by President Obama and his decision not to submit any such accord to Congress for approval as required by the Constitution.

It is the latter point that the Senate letter, which was spearheaded by freshman Republican Tom Cotton of Arkansas, took up. Contrary to Kerry’s assertion, and as John Yoo points out today in National Review, the GOP letter gets the Constitution exactly right. By choosing to bypass Congress and the Constitution, any deal signed with Iran won’t have the force of law. Like any such commitment, it can be overturned by one of Obama’s successors just as he overturned the Bush administration’s promises to Israel.

The question of helping Iranian hardliners is a bit more nuanced. That argument holds that by undermining the current negotiations with Iran, the senators are aiding the efforts of extremists in Tehran who want to end any chance of a nuclear agreement as well as to stifle efforts to reform the Islamist state. The Politico piece points out that Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is ill and may be replaced by someone implacably hostile to the West, ensuring that the conflict with Iran continues indefinitely. In this reading, the Republicans are not only wrong but also morally equivalent to Iran’s Republican Guard and other Iranian extremists.

The argument that Americans who don’t want to appease a terrorist-supporting, anti-Semitic, aggressive Islamist state are somehow comparable to the tyrants they oppose isn’t worthy of a response.

But what is worth pointing out is that the supposed dichotomy between moderate Iranians that current President Hassan Rouhani is alleged to lead and the extreme mullahs is a myth. Politics within the regime may be cutthroat but the notion of Rouhani’s moderation is more a matter of Western wishful thinking than hardheaded analysis. Just as Rouhani, a veteran Islamist operative who has been doing the bidding of the extremists his entire career, is no moderate, neither are any of the potential successors to the supreme leader. If Khamenei approves the gift of a deal that Obama is offering—which may allow the Iranians to cheat their way to a weapon or even to get one while complying with its terms—it is because he believes it will ensure the survival of the regime’s nuclear ambitions. None of the factions in Tehran really want to, in President Obama’s words, “get right with the world.”

Whatever their differences on internal issues, both moderates and hardliners in Iran want to keep their nuclear program and to achieve regional hegemony, a goal that the informal alliance it has struck with the United States in Iraq and Syria has made more possible.

Yet if Americans really are interested in aiding the efforts of genuine moderates or at least discomfiting the Islamists in control in Tehran, the only thing they can do is to oppose President Obama’s reckless push for détente with the regime. The nuclear deal he is offering Iran will let the leadership keep their nuclear infrastructure and their hopes of a bomb. More to the point, the loosening of sanctions will give the country’s tottering economy, depressed by both the restrictions on trade and the collapse of oil prices, a much needed shot in the arm. Nothing will enhance the ability of the ayatollahs to hold onto their monopoly on power like a nuclear agreement that will allow Iran back into the global economy without requiring it to change its behavior.

So rather than condemning the 47 Republicans and tut-tutting over their brash partisanship, their colleagues, and other Americans who are genuinely interested in ensuring that Iran becomes a responsible nation, they ought to be joining with them. Only by returning to a strategy of tough sanctions and international isolation, a tactic that was no sooner put in place by the Obama administration than it was abandoned in favor of secret negotiations to appease the Iranian hardliners, can there be any hope of a moderate Iran that isn’t a threat to its neighbors and the world. That, and not specious accusation of treason or aiding hardliners, should be the topic of discussion about Iran policy.

Read Less

Presidential Commitments Then and Now

The White House “outrage” at the “open letter” to Iran signed by 47 senators, led by Sen. Tom Cotton, was reinforced by Vice President Biden’s formal statement, which intoned that “America’s influence depends on its ability to honor its commitments,” including those made by a president without a vote of Congress. Perhaps we should welcome Biden’s belated insight. As Jonathan Tobin notes, President Obama on taking office in 2009 refused to be bound by the 2004 Gaza disengagement deal in the letters exchanged between President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. His secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, announced that such commitments were “unenforceable”–that they were non-binding on the new administration. In 2009, Obama disregarded previous commitments not only to Israel but also to Poland, the Czech Republic, and Georgia; he “fundamentally transformed” America’s previous commitments, as he likes to describe the essential element of his entire presidency.

Read More

The White House “outrage” at the “open letter” to Iran signed by 47 senators, led by Sen. Tom Cotton, was reinforced by Vice President Biden’s formal statement, which intoned that “America’s influence depends on its ability to honor its commitments,” including those made by a president without a vote of Congress. Perhaps we should welcome Biden’s belated insight. As Jonathan Tobin notes, President Obama on taking office in 2009 refused to be bound by the 2004 Gaza disengagement deal in the letters exchanged between President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. His secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, announced that such commitments were “unenforceable”–that they were non-binding on the new administration. In 2009, Obama disregarded previous commitments not only to Israel but also to Poland, the Czech Republic, and Georgia; he “fundamentally transformed” America’s previous commitments, as he likes to describe the essential element of his entire presidency.

The Gaza disengagement deal was (1) approved by Congress; (2) included in the Gaza disengagement plan presented to the Israeli Knesset, and (3) relied on by Israel in withdrawing from Gaza later in 2005. The history of the deal (which the current secretary of state endorsed at the time as a U.S. “commitment”) is set forth here, and the reason Obama sought to undo it is discussed here. In 2009, the Obama administration refused at least 22 times to answer whether it considered itself bound by the deal; in 2011 it openly reneged on key aspects of it.

President Obama is currently negotiating an arms control agreement in secret, refusing to disclose the details of the offers his administration has made to Iran, a terrorist state according to his own State Department, and a self-described enemy of the United States since 1979. He has opposed not only a congressional debate before he concludes the deal but also a congressional vote afterwards. If he closes a deal with Iran on that basis, it will not be binding on any future president–at least not if that president chooses to follow the precedent Obama himself set in 2009.

If the administration is now seeking to restore the credibility of presidential commitments, the president might consider taking two steps: (1) acknowledge that the U.S. is bound by the disengagement deal negotiated by President Bush with Israel, endorsed by a vote of Congress; and (2) promise to put his prospective deal with Iran to a similar congressional vote once the deal is done. If not, perhaps a reporter at his next press conference will ask how he reconciles his position that (a) he could ignore President Bush’s congressionally approved deal with his view that (b) future presidents must honor the non-congressionally approved one he is negotiating now.

Read Less

The Iran Letter and the Distraction Game

If the umbrage being expressed by the Obama administration and its press cheering section this week seems familiar, it should. Their response to the letter sent by 47 Republican senators to Iran’s leaders is straight out of the same playbook they used when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was invited to address Congress. Instead of trying to defend a negotiating strategy based on appeasement of the Islamist regime, they are choosing to attack on the spurious grounds that the letter, like the speech, is a breach of protocol and an attempt to undermine President Obama’s diplomatic efforts. While not everyone on the left is going as far as the New York Daily News’s headline that branded the signers as “traitors,” the senators are being blamed, as was Netanyahu, for injecting partisanship into U.S. foreign policy and for attempting to undermine the president’s efforts to reach a peaceful solution to the problem about Iranian nukes. As I wrote yesterday, this is nonsense. But it is worth asking whether the letter will make it harder to gain bipartisan support for congressional efforts to hold the president accountable.

Read More

If the umbrage being expressed by the Obama administration and its press cheering section this week seems familiar, it should. Their response to the letter sent by 47 Republican senators to Iran’s leaders is straight out of the same playbook they used when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was invited to address Congress. Instead of trying to defend a negotiating strategy based on appeasement of the Islamist regime, they are choosing to attack on the spurious grounds that the letter, like the speech, is a breach of protocol and an attempt to undermine President Obama’s diplomatic efforts. While not everyone on the left is going as far as the New York Daily News’s headline that branded the signers as “traitors,” the senators are being blamed, as was Netanyahu, for injecting partisanship into U.S. foreign policy and for attempting to undermine the president’s efforts to reach a peaceful solution to the problem about Iranian nukes. As I wrote yesterday, this is nonsense. But it is worth asking whether the letter will make it harder to gain bipartisan support for congressional efforts to hold the president accountable.

That’s the criticism being expressed by the Wall Street Journal editorial page today. The Journal argues that the letter is a distraction from the effort to persuade the American people that Obama’s Iran policy is a mistake. It also raises the very real possibility that this gesture will make it harder to get enough Democratic votes to pass a the Corker-Menendez bill requiring the president to submit any deal with Iran to Congress for approval. Given the huffing and puffing about the letter from Senate Democrats who purport to be critics of the president’s policy, there’s room to argue that it may have done more harm than good. The Journal is right when it asserts that amassing a veto-proof majority for both that bill and the Kirk-Menendez bill promising more sanctions against Iran in the event that diplomacy fails is the goal; not merely scoring rhetorical points at the president’s expense.

But at this point, with the clock ticking down toward the March 24 deadline for the end of the talks with Iran, it’s time for Democrats who are aware of the danger of the president’s policies to stop being spooked by specious arguments and stick to the real issue. That’s especially true when one considers the very real possibility that, as Politico reports, the same Democrats who said they would not support a vote on either Corker-Menendez or Kirk-Menendez until March 24 are now contemplating giving the president more time to negotiate with Iran if he chooses to let the talks drag on after that date.

Iran has been suckering the West for over a decade with talks that drag on indefinitely, enabling them to get closer to their nuclear goal. But if the president grants the talks a third overtime period after March despite his original promise that negotiations would not continue after July 2014, then Democrats who are serious about holding him to account for pushing for détente with the Islamist regime will have a clear choice before them. If Iran does not agree to the president’s weak proposal that will make it a threshold nuclear power now and possibly give them the chance to get to a weapon even if they comply with Obama’s terms, then the Senate must then vote on both sanctions and the demand that the president submit any potential deal to Congress for approval.

Just as Netanyahu’s speech did not constitute a logical excuse for support or at least acquiescence to a policy of appeasement of Iran, neither does the Senate letter. There is also some irony here that those who are complaining about partisanship are indifferent to the White House statement that compared approximately half the U.S. Senate to Islamist terrorists. The talk about treason or the farcical notion that the letter constituted a violation of the Logan Act which forbids U.S. citizens form negotiating with a foreign government is also just more evidence that it is the Democrats who are the partisans here. Dissent from Obama is not treason. It’s called democracy.

From the start of the debate about Iran, it is the White House that has done its best to play the party card to force even those Democrats who know that the president’s push for détente with Tehran is wrong to get into line behind him. Moreover, the point of the letter is a principle that even those supporting the president’s policies ought to support: the right of Congress to an up or down vote on any agreement the administration concludes with Iran.

The letter, which was spearheaded by freshman Senator Tom Cotton, rightly points out to the Iranians that if a deal is not ratified by Congress, President Obama’s successor will be within his or her rights to revoke it. Though no one disputes that this is true, some of the president’s supporters are treating this possibility as unprecedented when it comes to foreign affairs. But this, too, is nonsense since Obama behaved in exactly the same fashion when it came to some of President Bush’s policies.

One in particular that bears remembering was the Bush administration’s understanding with Israel regarding the West Bank settlement blocs near the 1967 borders. Israel agreed to withdraw from all of Gaza and part of the West Bank in 2005. In exchange, President George W. Bush sent Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a letter stating that it “was unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.” That was a clear U.S. approval for Israel’s right to hold onto some territory that came into its possession in June 1967. Yet President Obama had no compunction about throwing this understanding into the waste bin of history once he took office.

If, as he has stated that he will, the president chooses to bypass Congress, his Iran agreement won’t have the force of law behind it any more than that letter from Bush to Sharon. As such, he and his supporters are in no position to cry foul about his appeasement of Iran being treated in the same manner.

The letter may be a distraction, but perhaps it was a necessary one since it serves to remind Americans as well as Iran that the issue here is as much the rule of law as it is nuclear appeasement. It’s time for Democrats who say they care about stopping Iran to stop responding to the White House’s tricks and start acting as if they mean what they say about holding him accountable on this momentous issue.

Read Less

After the GOP Wave

Some post-election thoughts in light of the GOPs tidal wave on Tuesday:

Read More

Some post-election thoughts in light of the GOPs tidal wave on Tuesday:

1. The majority of Republicans have reacted to their victories in an impressive fashion. Their rhetoric is restrained, serious, and mature. They know that while they did extremely well in races at every level, they still have a ways to go to earn the trust and loyalty of most Americans (that’s more true of congressional Republicans than those who are governors). Republicans in the Senate and House are signaling a willingness to work with the president if he’s willing to show some flexibility. (The president’s apparent commitment to go forward with an unconstitutional executive amnesty order will be all the evidence we need that Mr. Obama is determined to further polarize our politics and rip apart our political culture.) Speaker Boehner and the next Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, have already put forward their to-do list; so have others. There’s evidence that Republicans–most of them, anyway–have internalized the need to show they’re more serious about putting forward a governing agenda and solving problems facing middle class Americans than “telegenic confrontations” and “volcanic effusions.”  The GOP’s detoxification effort is well under way.

2. What ought to encourage Republicans isn’t simply that their ranks have swollen, but the quality of many of the new arrivals, from Tom Cotton and Ben Sasse in the Senate to Elise Stefanik and Barbara Comstock in the House to many others. The GOP does best when it’s seen as the home of individuals with conservative principles and a governing temperament. A winsome personality doesn’t hurt, either.

3. The GOP’s victory was the result of many things, from President Obama’s unpopularity and the awful political environment Democrats faced to the superior quality of the Republican candidates, their disciplined, gaffe-free campaigns, successful fundraising, and the select intervention by various groups into Republican primaries (ensuring that the most electable conservative was nominated). But not to be overlooked is that Republicans did a much better job than in the past with their Get Out The Vote effort, including turnout of low-propensity voters. As National Journal’s Ron Fournier put it:

A review of the RNC’s targeting operation (including a preelection sample of specific projections) suggests to me that the GOP has made significant advances on targeting and mobilizing voters. While the Democratic Party may still own the best ground game, GOP Chairman Reince Priebus has narrowed, if not closed, the tech gap.

A few Democrats saw this coming. “Our side has underestimated the GOP ground game,” Democratic pollster Celinda Lake told me Tuesday morning. “Their electorate doesn’t look like ours, so we don’t recognize or respect what they’re doing.”

4. The most surprising outcome of the evening may have been how well Republicans did in governor’s races around the nation. They were predicted to lose several seats; instead, they made a net gain of three. Among the most impressive was Ohio’s John Kasich, who won by more than 30 points. He carried heavily Democratic counties like Lucas and Cuyahoga. In fact, in a key purple state, Kasich carried 86 of Ohio’s 88 counties and a quarter of the African-American vote. Mr. Kasich has amassed an impressive record as governor–and a popular one, too. He’s one of America’s most engaging and interesting politicians. If he wants to run for president in 2016, he certainly helped his cause on Tuesday.

5. There are plenty of reasons for Republicans to be buoyed. They have very impressive people, including people in their ’30s and ’40s, at every level. Of the two parties, the GOP seems to be the one of greater energy and ideas. The Democratic Party, and liberalism more broadly, seems stale, aging, and exhausted. And of course the GOP has now strung together massive, back-to-back midterm wins. But it’s still worth keeping in mind that Republicans had spectacular showings in 1994 and 2010–and they were defeated by rather large margins in the presidential races two years after those wins. The danger is that a victory like the one Republicans experienced on Tuesday creates a false dawn, a sense of false confidence. Winning midterms elections is important; but midterm elections are different than presidential elections. The GOP still has repair work to do and things to build on. But progress is being made–and the results of this week’s election are the best evidence of that fact.

Read Less

Pryor’s Insane Attack on Military Service

Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor, in an interview with NBC News, said this about his opponent, Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran and current Representative Tom Cotton:

There’s a lot of people in the Senate that didn’t serve in the military. Obviously in the Senate we have all types of different people, all kinds of different folks that have come from all types of different background— and I think that’s part of that sense of entitlement that he gives off is that, almost like, I served my country, let me into the Senate. But that’s not how it works in Arkansas.

To be clear: Representative Cotton, a very impressive man and a very impressive candidate, has never argued that he’s entitled to the Senate seat for any reason, including his military service. But Representative Cotton is arguing, quite rightly, that his military service should be taken into account when judging him in the totality of his acts. Some of the things he learned while serving in the military are transferable. And surely the problem with the Senate right now isn’t that it is comprised of too many people whose lives are characterized by virtue and valor. As for a sense of entitlement: Mr. Pryor’s father was governor and senator of Arkansas. Just FYI.

Read More

Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor, in an interview with NBC News, said this about his opponent, Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran and current Representative Tom Cotton:

There’s a lot of people in the Senate that didn’t serve in the military. Obviously in the Senate we have all types of different people, all kinds of different folks that have come from all types of different background— and I think that’s part of that sense of entitlement that he gives off is that, almost like, I served my country, let me into the Senate. But that’s not how it works in Arkansas.

To be clear: Representative Cotton, a very impressive man and a very impressive candidate, has never argued that he’s entitled to the Senate seat for any reason, including his military service. But Representative Cotton is arguing, quite rightly, that his military service should be taken into account when judging him in the totality of his acts. Some of the things he learned while serving in the military are transferable. And surely the problem with the Senate right now isn’t that it is comprised of too many people whose lives are characterized by virtue and valor. As for a sense of entitlement: Mr. Pryor’s father was governor and senator of Arkansas. Just FYI.

Mr. Cotton is leading the race right now. That lead will grow because of Mark Pryor’s foolish and offensive line of attack. The race is still close and Cotton can’t let up. He needs to run as if he’s running a couple of points behind. But as an outside observer, my own hunch is that we’ll look back at Pryor’s comments and point to it as a sign of desperation and perhaps the moment in which (to borrow from this Willie Nelson classic) it can be said of the Pryor campaign, “Turn out the lights, the party’s over; they say that all good things must end. Let’s call it a night; the party’s over.”

Read Less

Tom Cotton and the Foreign Policy Debate

The decision by Tom Cotton, a rising Republican star and congressman from Arkansas, to challenge Democratic Senator Mark Pryor fits seamlessly into the news of the week. Cotton’s reputation as a foreign-policy hawk and a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as well as his age (36), will undoubtedly cast him as heralding the arrival of reinforcements for the GOP’s internationalist wing.

In Politico’s story on Cotton’s candidacy the author even gives more prominence to his role as a “counterweight” to Rand Paul and Ted Cruz (though Cotton shares Cruz’s Ivy League pedigree) than to the possibility Cotton could help the GOP win back the Senate, though the latter is arguably the more significant aspect of his candidacy. But national-security rhetoric is what, still more than a year out from this Senate race, the political sphere is looking for, and on this Cotton doesn’t disappoint. There are few young Republicans willing to say things like “I think that George Bush largely did have it right,” as Cotton said to Politico in an earlier interview. He went on to state:

Read More

The decision by Tom Cotton, a rising Republican star and congressman from Arkansas, to challenge Democratic Senator Mark Pryor fits seamlessly into the news of the week. Cotton’s reputation as a foreign-policy hawk and a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as well as his age (36), will undoubtedly cast him as heralding the arrival of reinforcements for the GOP’s internationalist wing.

In Politico’s story on Cotton’s candidacy the author even gives more prominence to his role as a “counterweight” to Rand Paul and Ted Cruz (though Cotton shares Cruz’s Ivy League pedigree) than to the possibility Cotton could help the GOP win back the Senate, though the latter is arguably the more significant aspect of his candidacy. But national-security rhetoric is what, still more than a year out from this Senate race, the political sphere is looking for, and on this Cotton doesn’t disappoint. There are few young Republicans willing to say things like “I think that George Bush largely did have it right,” as Cotton said to Politico in an earlier interview. He went on to state:

That we can’t wait for dangers to gather on the horizon, that we can’t let the world’s most dangerous people get the world’s most dangerous weapons and that we have to be willing to defend our interests and the safety of our citizens abroad even if we don’t get the approval of the United Nations.

On this, Cotton’s Senate candidacy joins that of Liz Cheney, daughter of the former vice president, who is running a primary challenge against Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi. Though foreign policy doesn’t usually play much of a role in Senate elections (or even, arguably, presidential elections), this debate should not surprise. The GOP is (mostly) in the wilderness, a time when parties traditionally look inward and chart their future path back to power.

The Republican Party’s identity on fiscal issues is more settled than its foreign policy identity. Neither the libertarians nor the internationalists campaign for tax increases, but they do disagree on foreign affairs. Just how even that disagreement is remains up for debate. When asked whether retrenchment chic is gaining a wide following in the GOP, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol said: “I think Christie-Cotton is much more likely in 2016 than Paul-Amash.”

That is true enough in that particular hypothetical, and the temporary halt in hostilities called by Chris Christie and Rand Paul may give it an added boost. Paul proposed a beer summit between the two men, an invitation Christie rejected while taking a parting shot at Paul. How this ceasefire came about can be interpreted in one of two ways. Paul is surely hoping it makes him look mature and statesmanlike, sending out a peace offering and backing off, citing concerns for the party. Christie, on the other hand, seemed happy to keep swinging away, as if Paul was the one who had had enough.

Paul is also coming off a setback in the Senate, where his attempt to cancel American foreign aid to Egypt was brushed aside by his party and soundly defeated on the Senate floor. Christie may think his side has the momentum–and in any case he enjoys a good verbal sparring too much to want to pipe down. But the interesting question here relates more to what each combatant has to lose in the exchange. Christie’s weakness in a presidential primary contest would be the suspicion with which the conservative base views him after his embrace of the president. For Paul it’s the question of his mainstream appeal and electability.

Paul hinted at this aspect of the dust-up in his beer-summit proposal: “I think it’s time to dial it down. I think we’ve got enough Democrats to attack. I’ve said my piece on this. I don’t like Republicans attacking Republicans because it doesn’t help the party grow bigger.” But that’s not exactly accurate in this instance: Christie probably thinks he can win over independents and undecideds by establishing himself as a mainstream alternative to a supposedly fringe element in his party.

Whether or not Paul actually belongs to a “fringe” is far from settled. As I’ve written before, there has always been a strain of conservatives who genuinely worry that the national security state represents a military twin of the New Deal: expensive, secretive–and now, with the NSA scandals, seemingly intrusive–bureaucracies whose budgets grow inexorably even at a time when conservatives broadly favor austerity.

Those who support a robust American presence in the world counter, correctly, that Western prosperity relies on the peace kept by America and the orderly system of global trade that is highly dependent on the U.S. In many cases foreign aid, too, is a bargain–for the influence it earns the American government abroad, the prevention of armed conflict in some cases, and even the direct economic benefits it secures by spurring foreign investment in the American defense sector. Christie may not have the ear of the base when he makes these points–and the same can be said for veteran senators like John McCain and Lindsey Graham–but Cotton does, and that’s why his candidacy is already generating this attention, and will continue to do so.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.