The world according to Tom Cotton: A footnote

Wall Street Journal Global View columnist Walter Russell Mead writes today about Senator Tom Cotton’s new book Only the Strong: Reversing the Left’s Plot to Sabotage American Power. I know from Senator Cotton himself, by the way, that he is a great fan of Mead’s Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World. (Walter only observes in passing that Senator Cotton “mentions my work in the text.”) Mead’s column is published as “The world according to Tom Cotton.”

Colin Dueck reviewed Cotton’s new book here in the current Claremont Review of Books. Mead concludes that “having senior politicians lay their convictions before the public is good for the country. One hopes more of them will take the time to share their foreign-policy views. These are grave times; we need a more substantive debate than tweets and cable-news sound bites can provide.”

Walter does not mention that this is Senator Cotton’s second book. His first was Sacred Duty: A Soldier’s Tour at Arlington (2020). I wrote about it here, Paul Mirengoff here.

Circling back to Mead’s column, I note that Walter begins this way:

Most politicians try to keep the writing bug at bay, perhaps remembering Job’s cry in the Bible: “Oh . . . that mine adversary had written a book.” A writer gives hostages to fortune on every page, and opposition researchers will comb over the books of rival politicians for years to come.

For Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, however, writing has been key to his political rise. As an Army officer serving in Iraq, he wrote a letter to the New York Times expressing hope that the Justice Department would prosecute the journalists responsible for revealing information that endangered the lives of soldiers. The Times declined to publish it, and the resulting controversy helped launch his career. Subsequent Cotton encounters with the Times have been equally consequential, wreaking havoc at the paper and boosting his standing on the right.

I should think that most attentive readers of this column in the Journal would wonder how an unpublished letter to the Times by an Army platoon leader resulted in controversy. Students of ancient history may recall that Senator Cotton copied us on the letter and that we promptly published it. Jay Nordlinger picked up the story for National Review in Part II of his 2012 profile of Cotton.

To this day the Times has left Senator Cotton’s letter on the cutting room floor. Yet the paper began its 2015 interview with him asking about that letter. I wrote about that in my post “Nine years later, Tom Cotton’s letter to the Times.” I include the text of Senator Cotton’s 2006 letter as published on Power Line in that post as well as links to all four parts of Jay Nordlinger’s NR profile.

I thought that interested readers might have been served by a parenthetical mention of where Senator Cotton’s 2006 letter had been published. Neither Times nor Journal readers know the rest of the story captured by Nordlinger. In the interest of adding a little context to Mead’s column today, I wanted to revisit this history or, in the case of Times and Journal readers, visit it.

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