The notorious open letter to the rulers of Iran, written by Arkansas’s Tom Cotton and mindlessly signed by 46 other Republican senators, should have been no surprise to anyone paying attention to the GOP’s performance since the Election of 2008. Documented in Robert Draper’s Do Not Ask What Good We Do, on President Obama’s inauguration day on January 20, 2009, 14 Republicans met at the Caucus Room Restaurant and agreed on the GOP’s strategy for the next four years, and it continues to be their game plan.
Republican strategist Frank Luntz was the organizer of the meeting at the upscale Washington, DC, restaurant. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was there. Among the invited senators were Bob Corker (to his credit, he was among the 7 Republican senators who did not sign the Cotton letter) and Jim DeMint (he later left the Senate to head the right-wing think-tank Heritage Foundation). Representatives from the House included Eric Cantor, the former majority leader; Kevin McCarthy, the current majority leader; Paul Ryan, Romney’s vice-presidential candidate; and Pete Sessions, the 2010 chairman of the Republican National Congressional Committee and the current chairman of the House Rules Committee.
The Caucus Room strategy was to destroy the Obama presidency by using obstruction and sabotage. They would do everything possible to prevent passage of anything that was badly needed or that would quickly get us out of the “Great Recession.” Health care, stimulus, highway infrastructure, climate change, renewable energy, Wall Street reform, social safety-net programs, closing Gitmo, presidential appointments, virtually everything would be opposed. If anything did get passed, they would sabotage its implementation and/or repeatedly lie to the public about how it didn’t work. How many times have you heard “the failed stimulus bill” or “failed Obamacare”?
Pete Sessions (TX) proclaimed at the meeting, “We’ll be the Taliban insurgency!” He said they would use the mindset they had learned from the Taliban after the US overthrew them in Afghanistan. Gingrich later regretted Sessions had used that description of what they agreed to do. With virtually no moderates remaining, this group represented what was supposed to be whatever was left of conservative Republicans, but they clearly were radical-reactionaries on the extreme right.
They got help from their cable propaganda network – Fox “News” – and from the rise of the Tea Party, which was promoted by the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity. With the elections of Tea Partiers in 2010, 2012, and 2014, the Fox-Republican-Tea Party moved even farther to the right, rejecting the role of being a loyal opposition: it’s solidly the Party of No.
Mr. Cotton may have no specific knowledge of the Caucus Room meeting, but he certainly has been one of its most extreme practitioners. Columnist John Brummett of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette observed a silver lining in Cotton’s embarrassing two-year House voting record of obstruction and sabotage: not one of his votes ever mattered. Thankfully, his latest stunt probably won’t either.
There was a breakthrough in the negotiations in Lausanne, Switzerland, on April 1 that may lead to an acceptable final agreement on Iran’s nuclear program in June. Fortunately, the negotiators from Iran, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China ignored the ill-conceived letter from the 47 Republican senators. They understand international law and the recalcitrant nature of President Obama’s enemies at home.
Cotton’s letter was juvenile, mischievous, irresponsible, irrational, and definitely not in the interest of preserving peace. Essentially, Cotton contended that the office of President of the United States should not be trusted and the word of the United States is excrement. He warned Iran that the next president may be someone who could not be counted on to live up to our nation’s commitments.
The main purpose of the obstruction letter was to derail the negotiations that might make war less likely. By siding with the hard-liners in Iran, whom they easily relate to, the 47 wanted to embarrass the President of the United States and prevent him from achieving another success. A breakdown of negotiations might also reward major donors to the extreme right: munitions makers and fossil fuel industries.
Producers of weapons would greatly benefit from hostilities with Iran. Shortly after posting the letter on his website, Mr. Cotton was a guest speaker at the National Defense Industrial Association, which is a lobbying group for defense contractors. The organization consists of executives from major military corporations like Northrop Grumman.
Producers of oil would also profit from a war. On the other hand, successful negotiations should lead to a reduction of sanctions against Iran – this would lead to Iran’s introducing vast amounts of oil onto the global market. That would further reduce the price of oil – good for consumers but bad for ExxonMobil and Koch Industries. Remember, so that he could meet with the Koch brothers in California, Mr. Cotton skipped a popular tomato festival in Warren, AR, which was previously considered an obligatory Arkansas campaign event.
Cotton never cared for practicing law but seems to love war. He was a captain in the Army, and it’s hard to imagine why he left a vocation for which he was apparently well-suited. Because of his embarrassing statements on subjects like the CIA’s torture program and the Gitmo prison and his reprehensible voting record in the House, many have written Sen. Cotton off as “a complete crackpot.” He may be a very dangerous man, but he’s not stupid. He’s very ambitious and knows exactly what he’s doing.
By David Offutt
A version of this essay was published April 13, 2015, in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.