This weekend, freshman Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas spearheaded a completely innocent effort to let Iran know that, basically, the Senate GOP would fight any nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic even after it was signed. That, at least, was the implicit threat in the open letter Cotton wrote; the explicit one was that any future president could easily undo such an accord.
Except Cotton, a Harvard-educated lawyer, got his US Constitution wrong (an “embarrassing” error, wrote one Harvard law professor and former George W. Bush administration lawyer) and failed to even mention that his threat to withdraw from an agreement would be a violation of international law—something Iran’s foreign minister, in an epic bit of trolling, brought to his attention.
None of that, though, stopped forty-six other GOP senators from signing onto the letter—including the party’s full leadership slate in the upper chamber! (Notably, Foreign Relations chair Bob Corker of Tennessee, who co-authored the bill to get congressional say-so on a deal, stayed off.) So who is this freshman senator leading his party around by the nose with factually challenged and bellicose pronouncements?
At first blush, Cotton is quite an accomplished figure. Born in Arkansas in 1977, Cotton went to Harvard, where he wrote for the school paper and joined the Republican Club, before graduating from the law school there. Then he joined the army and became an officer, deploying to Iraq in 2006 and earning decorations along the way.
His army service was no doubt a noble pursuit, but it was during this time that Cotton’s particular brand of politics began to shine through a little bit. From Iraq, Cotton published an open letter—apparently he’s a fan of the format—in the right-wing blog Power Line calling for two journalists and the then–executive editor of The New York Times to be jailed and prosecuted for publishing an investigative piece about how the United States tracks terrorist finances. (Jim Lobe pointed out yesterday that those who would defend Cotton’s latest open letter to the Iranians on free-speech grounds may want to check this episode out first.)
The Power Line item made a big splash, and, according to The Atlantic, he struck up a correspondence with neocon don Bill Kristol. When Cotton returned for a stateside army posting, the pair "met frequently over drinks and dinner at Washington’s downtown Mayflower Hotel." Again to his credit, Cotton volunteered for another combat tour, this time in Afghanistan, eventually attaining the rank of captain. Then Cotton returned stateside again as a civilian and clerked for a judge.