Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) has laid out his alternative to the Obama administration’s ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program: Tehran must completely capitulate or face military force.
Appearing on MSNBC’s Morning Joe one day after Bloomberg news reported that he spearheaded a letter to the government of Iran warning the Persian leaders that any deal they strike with the United States and its international partners will not last past the Obama administration, Cotton described his preferred course for preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon: “complete nuclear disarmament by Iran.”
Pressed by co-host Willy Geist over the improbability of such a demand — after all, even George W. Bush officials eventually conceded during his presidency that “there was no way to reach a deal without Iran retaining at least a face-saving amount of enrichment capability” — Cotton called for “more sanctions” and “confronting Iran.” The newly-minted senator argued that a credible threat of force should be on the table, adding “Israel struck Iraq’s nuclear program in 1981 and they didn’t reconstitute it. Israel struck Syria’s nuclear reactor, they haven’t yet reconstituted it. Rogue regimes have a way of getting the picture when there is a credible threat of military force on the table.”
But past experiences with Iran appear to undermine Cotton’s policy prescription.
As Secretary of State John Kerry pointed out during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing least week, the George W. Bush administration pursued a “no nuclear capability” policy on Iran throughout most of its eight years in office only to see Iran’s centrifuges grow. In 2005, Bush officials vetoed an agreement with Iran that would have contained its nuclear program and allowed for verifiable inspections, objecting to “any Iranian enrichment capability, regardless of the circumstances.” Rather than shrink its program under the weight of international sanctions, as Cotton and Republicans would have hoped, Iran actually expanded its nuclear infrastructure from 164 centrifuges to 19,000 centrifuges today. Regional experts predict that should the current round of talks fail, Iran “would likely have 50,000 centrifuges, a massive stockpile of highly enriched uranium, new facilities, thousands of experienced nuclear scientists and technicians, and a fully functioning heavy water reactor that can produce plutonium.”
And what about Cotton’s backstop of military action? American and Israeli military leaders warn that any strike against Iran would only set Iran back two or three years and could gravely destabilize the region. As former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who served under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, predicted, such action would “bring together a divided nation, it will make them absolutely committed to obtaining nuclear weapons.” Experts also point out that a strike against Iran “could not be accomplished in a single sortie and would require employing much greater force than Israel used against Iraq and Syria.” While Iraq and Syria relied on outside suppliers for their nuclear capabilities and were thus unable to rebuild their programs, “Iran would not need outside help” and will reconstitute a more covert operation.
During the interview, Cotton also claimed “there are nothing but hardliners in Tehran,” a claim belied by the country’s massive protests against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s 2009 victory in the presidential election. The so-called Green Movement saw up to 3 million Iranians take to the streets and demand democratic change with some Iranians shouting, “Death to No One” and “A green Iran doesn’t need nuclear weapons.”
Cotton and the 46 other senators who signed on to the Iran letter have come under strong criticism from the Obama administration, Democrats, their fellow Republicans and editorial boards across the country. On Tuesday morning, The New York Daily News blasted “TRAITORS” on its front page under pictures of letter signatories Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Cotton.