by Eli Clifton and Jim Lobe
If Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) wasn’t the face of GOP Iran hawks, he is now. His letter making common cause with Iran’s hardliners to scuttle a nuclear deal puts Cotton, along with his 46 Republican co-signatories, in uncharted territory. His promise to work for years, if necessary, to rescind any nuclear deal with Iran is an attempt to undermine the executive branch’s ability to conduct foreign policy.
As this blog has noted before, Cotton clearly stated his intent to blow up any diplomatic overtures to Iran during a speech to the Heritage Foundation in mid-January, telling the audience, “But, the end of these negotiations isn’t an unintended consequence of Congressional action, it is very much an intended consequence. A feature, not a bug, so to speak.”
And if Cotton succeeds in sabotaging the negotiations? He’s less clear about that now. But in 2012, the then-freshman congressman explained his hawkish foreign policy views to The Washington Post‘s neoconservative blogger Jennifer Rubin. “You may be tired of war, but war is not tired of you,” he said.
Cotton’s rise to prominence didn’t come cheap and required friends with very deep pockets. His Senate campaign cost $13.9 million, and some of his biggest campaign contributions came from far outside his home state of Arkansas. That doesn’t include the nearly one-million-dollar contribution in supportive political advertising made by Bill Kristol’s Emergency Committee for Israel in the closing days of Cotton’s Senate campaign, as has already been reported here.
A National Review article from July 2013 offered some details about a fundraiser held on behalf of the then 36-year-old “farm boy” from Arkansas’ in New York City. The guest list, as described in the article, was a who’s who of the hawkish Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) leadership and the Republican Party’s most influential money men. It reads:
The conservative hedge-fund billionaire Paul Singer and former Romney foreign policy adviser Dan Senor last month hosted a fundraiser for him in New York City that hauled in over $100,000 from high-dollar Republican donors including Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam. There, according to one attendee, Senor joked about Cotton’s looming senatorial bid, “just to acknowledge the elephant in the room.” “The subtext was, ‘Okay, we all know why we’re here, but let’s not put Tom in a tough spot — and no one did,” says the source.
Paul Singer’s New York-based Elliot Management hedge fund, which has also employed Senor, went on to become the second biggest source of direct contributions to Cotton’s Senate campaign after the pro-business Club for Growth.
Both Singer and Adelson, who famously recommended a first-strike nuclear attack on Iran to send the message that the U.S. is serious about dismantling the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, are huge donors to a series of hawkish think tanks.
Between 2008 and 2011, the two billionaires made combined contributions of $5.1 million to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies—a hard-line neoconservative think tank some of whose associates have advocated bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities in addition to waging “economic warfare” against the regime.
Adelson serves as chairman of the board of the Republican Jewish Coalition. Singer is one of its directors. Both men have made efforts to construct astroturf groups to appeal to a broader demographic than anti-Iran Republicans.
Adelson provided nearly one-third of the funding for United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), a group that engages in broad outreach to the Jewish community, human rights and non-proliferation activists, and the business world. Among other measures, it has promoted a de facto embargo on all trade with Iran, including food and medicine.
And Singer appears to be the driving force behind his own astroturf group, the Philos Project, which promotes “Christian engagement in the Middle East” and propagates a series of clichéd talking points about Iran’s alleged messianic ambitions.
While UANI and the Philos Project generally avoid overtly hawkish messages, Adelson and Singer’s favorite senator is working from a different playbook.
The backlash against Cotton’s letter has been striking. “#47traitors,” a reference to the letter’s 47 signatories, is trending on Twitter, and Harvard Law professor Jack Goldsmith offered his own takedown of the GOP senators’ shaky understanding of our constitutional system. (See also this more recent analysis.)
Senor, who became famous or infamous as the spokesman for the hapless Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq and now serves on the Philos Project’s board, sang Cotton’s praises in a letter to potential donors that was excerpted in a June 2013 Politico article. The article read:
“[T]he GOP right now is drifting into dangerous waters, particularly in international affairs. There are increasingly prominent voices in the party who want America to disengage from world affairs, to let events unfold without the benefit of American leadership,” Senor wrote. “They are quite willing, even eager, for the United States to be at the mercy of events rather than help shape them.”
He went on: “Tom is the type of individual, based on his own history and his command of the issues, who can resist this siren call and explain—in a convincing, reassuring and powerful way—why America needs to provide leadership in the world, for the sake of security and peace, as well as for the strength of our democratic allies. One need look no further than the Middle East today—in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon; in Iraq; in Iran; in Israel and elsewhere — to see the results of American passivity.”
Senor is also a director of the staunchly neoconservative Foreign Policy Initiative, which he co-founded with Kristol, another big admirer of Cotton if ECI’s contribution to last November’s campaign and coverage by Kristol’s Weekly Standard are any indication. The Standard published a (predictably) fawning paean to the up-and-coming Army veteran in October 2012 entitled “A Rising Political Star in Arkansas.” In fact, a few months before that article, Kristol was himself proposing Cotton as the Republican presidential candidate for 2024 or 2028 (“The Man from Yell”). Noting that the Standard had published some 20 items about or by Cotton during the 2012 campaign, David Weigel wrote a brief piece in Slate entitled “Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Weekly Standard.)” Much as Kristol played matchmaker between Sarah Palin and John McCain, the neocon princeling may well have played a similar role for Cotton and the RJC’s billionaires.
Although Cotton is far more educated than Palin, his views are not necessarily so different, as noted in this article, “‘Sarah Palin with a Harvard Degree’: Why New Senator Tom Cotton is So Frightening,” published in Salon just last month. And, as this blog pointed out last November, Cotton’s fanaticism was on display when he tried (unsuccessfully thankfully) to introduce an amendment to the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013 that would have “automatically” levied prison sentences of up to 20 years against violators of US sanctions against Iran. Moreover, such punishment would have been applied to “a spouse and any relative, to the third degree” of the sanctions violator, including, in Cotton’s words, “parents, children, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, grandparents, great grandparents, grandkids, great grandkids.” Cotton explained during a markup hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that “there would be no investigation” needed in such cases because, “if the prime malefactor of the family is identified as on the list for sanctions, then everyone within their family would automatically come within the sanctions regime as well.”
Such profound appreciation for the U.S. Constitution and legal process is certainly reflected in Cotton’s effort to undermine the authority of the executive branch of government to conduct foreign policy and negotiate a peaceful solution to Iran’s nuclear program. But then this senator—and his 46 Republican colleagues—doesn’t seem especially concerned about the possible consequences, including war, as his interview with Jennifer Rubin made clear. And while he may now be suffering some blowback for his audacity now, the support he gets from GOP megadonors Paul Singer and Sheldon Adelson will no doubt help him weather the storm.
UPDATE: For more on the role played by Adelson and Singer, Paul Blumenthal has just posted an excellent piece entitled “Republicans and Iran Deal Opponents Are Funded by the Same Mega-Donors” on Huffpo.
Image: Tom Cotton via DonkeyHokey and flickr