Tom Cotton: Obama’s no Chamberlain

Atlantic national correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg sought out Senator Tom Cotton for an interview on Obama and Iran. The Atlantic has posted the interview under the heading “Obama’s Iran deal may lead to nuclear war.”

Goldberg presses Senator Cotton on each of the administration’s talking points supporting the arrangement in process. Goldberg sounds like a true believer, or he may be drawing Senator Cotton out. In either case, it seems to me that Senator Cotton has thought through the consequences of the arrangement far more deeply than Goldberg. The lengthy interview merits attention its its entirety.

Goldberg explores the American involvement in Iraq as the backdrop to the current challenge of Iran. Senator Cotton draws powerfully on his experience leading a platoon in Iraq to respond to Goldberg’s inquiries.

One motif among Senator Cotton’s answers is the need to confront the challenges of terrorism and aggression early. “You know,” he says, “Syria’s a great example of how you need to try to nip these problems in the bud. They never get better with time. If you let these problems fester, then they continue to grow. That’s the lesson time and time and time again. Obviously that’s the lesson of the 1930s, but if you don’t want to go to that example, then just look at what happened in the Balkans in the early 1990s.”

Goldberg responds: “Wait, is this the 1930s to you?” Goldberg was cordially inviting Senator Cotton to retreat, but Senator Cotton advances. He makes the case that the arrangement with Iran is worse than Munich, or rather that Obama is worse than Neville Chamberlain:

Cotton: It’s unfair to Neville Chamberlain to compare him to Barack Obama, because Neville Chamberlain’s general staff was telling him he couldn’t confront Hitler and even fight to a draw—certainly not defeat the German military—until probably 1941 or 1942. He was operating from a position of weakness. With Iran, we negotiated privately in 2012-2013 from a position of strength, not a position of weakness. The secret negotiations in Oman. This ultimately led to the Joint Plan of Action of November 2013. So we were negotiating from a position of strength—not just inherent military strength of the United States compared to Iran, but also from our strategic position.

As Chamberlain put it in the Foreign Policy Committee meeting deliberating over a fresh commitment to Czechoslovakia in March 1938, “all we could do would be to make war on Germany, but we were in no position from the armament point of view to enter such a war[.]” (I’m drawing from chapter 24 of Telford Taylor’s Munich: The Price of Peace.)

By contrast, Obama touts our military superiority to Iran. Our military superiority has been rendered worthless in the negotiations because Obama poses no credible military threat to Iran. On the contrary, he has come to serve as Iran’s protector.

Bret Stephens does not directly address this point in his Wall Street Journal column this morning (accessible here via Google), yet his observations regarding the nature of the arrangement in process also serve to distinguish it unfavorably from Munich: “We are on the cusp of reaching the most consequential foreign-policy decision of our generation. We have a deal whose basic terms neither side can agree on. We have a president whose goals aren’t what he said they were, and whose motives he has kept veiled from the public.”

The Atlantic interview with Senator Cotton warrants reading in its entirety. Seth Lipsky comments on it in the New York Sun editorial The Cotton Doctrine.” The interview in its entirety is accessible here.

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