John noted last night that, according to strong rumors, Sen. Tom Cotton will resign from the Senate and succeed Mike Pompeo as head of the CIA. Pompeo, according to the same rumors, will become Secretary of State.
I’d rather see Cotton in the Senate than at the hornets nest across the river in Langley (and, frankly, the hornets nest of the Trump administration). However, I think I understand why he would want to make the move.
The answer isn’t found is in Paul Kane’s analysis for the Washington Post. His article, called “Cotton to CIA? The move would say a lot about how the GOP star views his party’s future,” misses a central point about Tom Cotton — his desire to serve the country.
I didn’t know Tom when he left his job at a top law firm to enlist in the Army and fight in Iraq. I did know him when, on his way out of the Army, he decided at the last minute to re-up and take a dangerous assignment in Afghanistan.
Tom told me that after visiting wounded warriors at Walter Reed Hospital he felt he had not yet “done enough.” I said that he certainly had. I don’t remember if I added that we don’t want him to end up a wounded warrior, but I know that was my thought.
Tom went to Afghanistan.
Having led army patrols down the streets of Baghdad and handled security for a major U.S. project in Afghanistan, it’s not surprising that Sen. Cotton isn’t overly daunted by Langley. And having left comfortable places to serve his country in two wars, it won’t be surprising if he leaves his comfort zone to serve at the CIA.
There isn’t much doubt that Tom can provide more service to America at the CIA than in the Senate (albeit for much less time). This reality, absent from Kane’s analysis, is likely at the heart of Tom’s thought process.
Kane’s article is deficient in another respect. It casts Sen. Cotton as “bet[ting] that the GOP’s future is with Trump’s more nationalist views. . .” The implication is that Cotton’s position on matters like immigration (which Kane mentions) are an opportunistic bet on a Trumpian future, rather than a matter of conviction.
In fact, Cotton’s positions on immigration are ones that many (and, in the case of illegal immigration, most) conservatives have long held. I discussed immigration issues with Tom before either of us imagined that Donald Trump would run for president, let alone run as an immigration hardliner. I discern no inconsistency between where Tom was then — circa 2007 — and where he is now.
On national security, there is an inconsistency, I think, between where candidate Trump was and where Tom Cotton has been since I have known him. But Tom never altered his position to conform with candidate Trump’s.
If anything, it is Trump, as president, who has shifted. His foreign and national security policies remain inchoate, but he’s far more receptive now to engaging in Afghanistan and the Middle East than he was (or made out to be) when he was running for president.
This brings us back to the reason why Tom might well prefer to join the Trump administration as CIA director. The Senator is, I think, among those who have helped Trump see the need for greater U.S. engagement in hot spots like Afghanistan and Syria. Having served in the former theater and close to the latter one, and having sterling credentials beyond his military service, his credibility with Trump surely is high.
The CIA job would enable Tom to talk to the president about national security and foreign policy on something like a daily basis, I think. It would enable Tom to have maximum influence on the issues that have preoccupied him since 9/11. It would enable him to better serve America.
Thus, one need not focus on “bets” about the GOP’s future or frustration with the Senate to understand why, if offered the opportunity, Sen. Cotton might well resign from Congress and head to Langley.