Last we heard from Tom Cotton, he was marshaling most of his Republican Senate colleagues into a widely ridiculed letter to Iran, trying to rile up the Islamic Republic's hard-liners to oppose a nuclear deal with President Obama. Whereas other opponents of a deal couch their opposition in hopes for a unicorn "better deal," Cotton had been explicit about his aim of killing talks.
What's his alternative to negotiations? The freshman senator form Arkansas has been shy on this front: he's stopped short of directly calling for military strikes on the Islamic Republic. But in an appearance on a religious right radio show on Tuesday, Cotton suggested he doesn't think a new war would be such a big deal.
Here's BuzzFeed's transcript of the relevant bits of Cotton's remarks:
Even if military action were required—and we certainly should have kept the credible threat of military force on the table throughout which always improves diplomacy—the president is trying to make you think it would be 150,000 heavy mechanized troops on the ground in the Middle East again as we saw in Iraq and that’s simply not the case.
It would be something more along the lines of what President Clinton did in December 1998 during Operation Desert Fox. Several days air and naval bombing against Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction facilities for exactly the same kind of behavior. For interfering with weapons inspectors and for disobeying Security Council resolutions.
There's a lot wrong with this (more on which in a moment), but the first thing to note, as the analyst Matt Duss quickly did, is that Cotton's formulation—Attacking Iran? NBD!—smacks of the prediction neoconservative hawks made about the Iraq war: that it would be a "cakewalk." Astoundingly, given how that war played out, this isn't the first time neoconservative ideologues have dismissed the complexity, difficulty and potential consequences of a new war against Iran.
The first notable salvo downplaying a future war came from then-Senator Joseph Lieberman, who declared in 2010 that an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities wasn't a war at all, despite the clear implications of dropping bombs on a foreign country. "We're not talking about a war, because nobody is talking about invading Iran," Lieberman said.
Then during the 2012 campaign, as Obama pointed out the dangers of war with Iran, the neoconservative pundit and then-Mitt Romney adviser Dan Senor attacked the administration's public airing of potential consequences of a strike. Obama "talk(s) about how disastrous military action against Iran would be for the United States, for the global economy, for the region," Senor complained, as if Americans are not entitled to a public debate about what they're getting into.