Sen. Cotton on Iran: ‘When Your Opponent is on His Knees, You Drive Him to The Ground’

Patrick Goodenough | October 4, 2017 | 4:22am EDT
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Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., speaks about the Iran nuclear deal at the Council on Foreign Relations on Tuesday, October 3, 2017. (Screengrab: CFR)

( – Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) sparred with an audience member at the Council on Foreign Relations on Tuesday evening, after he took issue with the senator’s comment that an enemy on its knees should be choked out, not given a hand up – in reference to the Obama administration’s approach towards Iran in 2013.

During a discussion on the Iran nuclear deal, Cotton recalled the role that congressionally-imposed sanctions had in pushing Iran to a point where it agreed to negotiate over its nuclear programs.

“These were the toughest sanctions Iran had ever faced and they helped drive the regime to its knees,” he said. “One thing I learned in the army,” added Cotton, a U.S. Army veteran with combat service in both Iraq and Afghanistan, “is that when your opponent is on his knees, you drive him to the ground, and you choke him out.”

Instead, he said, “President Obama extended a hand, and helped the ayatollahs up.”

“So it was a duplicitous, outlaw regime, and a naïve, desperate president, combined to produce the dumbest and most dangerous deal in American history, as President Trump has rightly called it.”

During a question-and-answer session later Peter Zimmerman, a nuclear physicist and arms control specialist, challenged Cotton’s remarks.

“I would hope that, either in the army or at Harvard, you learned that American practice is, when you have a defeated enemy on his knees, you accept surrender and offer mercy,” he said. “You don’t smash him to the ground.”

Cotton replied that, “Iran was not defeated in 2013. Iran was wounded by our sanctions but they obviously were not defeated, since they got 100 billion dollars—”

Zimmerman interjected, “You said, when an enemy is defeated – you learned this in Iraq – you stomp on him …”

“I said,” Cotton retorted, “when they’re on their knees – when they’re on their knees you drive them to the ground and choke them out. If they’re on their knees to surrender then you accept their surrender. So we can quibble over semantics here but your fundamental point is wrong.”

“Iran was not defeated in 2013,” he continued. “If they were defeated in 2013, how did they seize one of our naval vessels and hold ten American sailors hostage last year? How are they building missile factories on the borders of Israel?”

“How are they providing missiles to Houthi rebels that hold a large percentage of the world’s commerce at risk in the Babel-Mandeb strait, where they can strike Jeddah and Riyadh?” Cotton asked. “It’s an interesting point that you make, but it is fundamentally wrong.”

Trump has until mid-October to report to Congress whether Iran is complying with its commitments under the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Cotton argued that Trump should not certify.

“The president should decline to certify, not primarily on the grounds related to Iran’s technical compliance, but rather based on the long catalogue of the regime’s crimes and perfidy against the United States – as well as the deal’s inherent flaws and weaknesses,” he said.

The certification requirement is not part of the JCPOA itself, but is mandated by the 2015 Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act.

Not certifying Iranian compliance does not mean the U.S. is withdrawing from the deal immediately. Instead, it gives Congress 60 days to consider next steps.

Cotton suggested that the 60-day window be used by Congress and the president, working together, to “lay out how the deal must change – and if it doesn’t, the consequences Iran will face.”

Negotiated by the U.S. and its P5+1 partners – Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – the JCPOA offered Iran sanctions relief in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

The Obama administration said it cut off Iran’s pathways to an atomic bomb, but critics, including some non-proliferation experts, say it lays the groundwork for Iran to become a nuclear threshold state once key provisions expire, after 10-15 years.

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