“Tehran Tom” Cotton’s Iran Blunder Has Made Him the New Hanoi Jane

On Monday, Sen. Tom Cotton, freshman Republican senator from Arkansas, issued his by now infamous letter to Iran, signed by 47 Republican senators. We cannot know what sort of reaction these people expected, but we can predict with some certainty that it was issued with a sense of triumph and jubilation. Instead, as Politico put it yesterday, the blowback startled them.

Republicans were probably beginning to worry by Tuesday that Cotton’s Iran letter was backfiring. That was the day the New York Daily News called them traitors. Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had already schooled (i.e. mocked) them not only on international law on Monday, but United States constitutional law, providing the public humiliation before the entire world they so much deserved.

This morning, the verdict seems to be in on Tom Cotton’s letter, with 22 newspaper editorials having joined all the other voices of condemnation raised against the blatant attempt to undermine the president.

While clueless, hate-consumed Republican presidential hopefuls compound their poor judgment by scrambling to support the seditious Iran letter, the Senate historian can’t find anything in history that matches it. I don’t even think Caesar’s enemies wrote Cleopatra letters warning her his word was meaningless.

As Jason Easley wrote here yesterday,

It is not an understatement to suggest that the outrage over the Senate Republican letter is national. In this time of great partisan divide, Republicans managed to unify the country with an act that was as blatantly unpatriotic as it was blindingly stupid.

Yet Iran specialist Suzanne Maloney took a very different view at Brookings on Tuesday writing that,

Despite the smug Twitter takedowns, Cotton is no fool; he is an Iraq war veteran with two Harvard degrees and has been called “the future of the GOP” and “Ted Cruz with a war record, Sarah Palin with a Harvard degree, Chris Christie with a Southern accent — a force to be reckoned with.” He has cemented his rising reputation around warning against the threat from Iran; he is apparently a true believer in the latest cockamamie conspiracy theory to sweep the right wing, now that Benghazi and birth certificates are passé — the illusion that there is “an unspoken entente between the Obama administration and Iran: the U.S. won’t impose new sanctions on Iran and will allow it to develop threshold nuclear capabilities, while Iran won’t assemble a bomb till 2017.”

I’m not certain we’ve seen anything to suggest Cotton is no fool. Rather to the contrary, and at this point, the burden of proof is on Cotton and his defenders. Here is how Maloney parses his actions:

The feedback loop between Cotton’s letter and Khamenei’s innate mistrust is brilliantly calculated. As Cotton said earlier this year, “The end of these negotiations isn’t an unintended consequence of congressional action. It is very much an intended consequence.” In December, he promised that Congress would “put an end to these negotiations,” adding that “I think the adults in Congress need to step in early in the new year. And those are people in both parties.”

So Cotton’s letter writing is a direct result of his ideological opposition to a peace accord with Iran, and, one would have to assume, a preference for war. But that he said it and then did it, doesn’t mean it was a good idea to begin with. Again, there is nothing here to suggest Cotton is not as big a fool as we by now all imagine him to be, and indeed, as his actions seem to prove.

Maloney writes that because it will be more difficult once sanctions have been lifted to prevent them from becoming permanent, Republicans were driven by a sense of urgency to send this “seemingly reckless letter” and that “they appreciate that it would be far easier, and far more advantageous in terms of their own public positioning, for Congress to sabotage negotiations than it would be to upend a done deal.”

Her conclusion is that,

Ultimately, the loss of the good opinion of a few Democrats is a small price to pay if the letter hits its real target. The most reliable opponent of a nuclear deal resides in Tehran, and it is entirely possible that the Republican letter has reinforced his aversion to compromise. Washington’s pundits may jeer, but I worry that Senator Cotton & co. may yet have the last laugh.

The loss of the good opinion of a “few Democrats” is the least of the things these Republicans have lost, as we have seen. Indeed, things became so bad for “Tehran Tom” that on Wednesday, the Christian Science Monitor was asking, “Is he the next ‘Hanoi Jane’?”

Maloney no doubt wrote this analysis on Monday, before pretty much everybody who isn’t a Republican reacted with outrage. It certainly does not seem now that their strategy succeeded in derailing the peace process. Instead, this letter is proven to have been as reckless as it seems, like Jane Fonda’s trip to North Vietnam in 1972, an attempt that should never have been made.

What ought to have happened is that Cotton and his colleagues got together and said, “About the only thing left is publishing an open letter to Iran to sabotage this thing, but that would be just stupid.” This utterance would then be followed by sad shakes of the head, and the rest of us would never know about it until some memoir was published a half century from now. And then, because it was such a stupid idea, nobody would believe it.

The CSM is correct in pointing out that “politicians aren’t known for deciding and declaring they were wrong or even simply imprudent about anything,” and this is doubly true of Republicans.

So don’t expect any apologies: even if John McCain, one of the signatories, admitted Tuesday night that the letter might not have been the most “effective” response to the peace negotiations, Tehran Tom was saying Wednesday that he has “no regrets,” and that his treasonous letter actually “protects” America.

We cannot expect Cotton to one day share Fonda’s moment of clarity, but no apology is going to save the Republicans from themselves, or from President Obama. As the saying goes, stupidity is its own reward, and Republican Senator Tom Cotton has certainly proven the truth of that anonymous proverb.

When combined with the Netanyahu fiasco, which has led to Bibi’s popularity crashing both here and in Israel, we have plentiful evidence that we should be thankful it is not Republicans controlling our foreign policy, but the very sober, steady hand of President Barack Obama.

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