Delivering his maiden speech on the Senate floor, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) appealed for a defense budget that reflects “the threats we face.”
Opening with a quote from Winston Churchill warning of Western disarming and weakness even as the Nazis were rising in the 1930s, Cotton said the U.S. was today “again engaged in something of a grand experiment of the kind we saw in the 1930s.”
“As then, military strength is seen in many quarters as the cause of military adventurism. Strength and confidence in the defense of our interests, alliances, and liberty is not seen to deter aggression, but to provoke it,” he said.
“Rather than confront our adversaries, our president apologizes for our supposed transgressions. The administration is harsh and unyielding to our friends, soothing and supplicating to our enemies. The president minimizes the threats we confront, in the face of territory seized, weapons of mass destruction used and proliferated, and innocents murdered.”
Cotton went on to speak about the administration’s response to the threat posed by radical Islamists, primarily al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), whose precursor was al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq.
“During his last campaign, the president was fond of saying al-Qaeda was ‘on the run,’” he said. “In a fashion, I suppose this was true: al-Qaeda was and is running wild around the world, now in control of more territory than ever before.”
After Obama disregarded military advice and withdrew all U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011, Cotton charged, “al-Qaeda in Iraq was let off the mat.”
“Given a chance to regroup, it morphed into the Islamic State, which now controls much of Syria and Iraq.”
Cotton said Obama’s suggestions “that the war on terror is over or ending are far from true,” and cited recent testimony by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper that once the final accounting is complete, “2014 will have been the most lethal year for global terrorism in the 45 years such data has been compiled.”
“Yet the president won’t even speak our enemy’s name.”
(Outgoing Attorney-General Eric Holder argued recently there was little to be gained by using terms like “radical Islam” or “Islamic extremism.”)
Cotton’s speech also touched on the nuclear negotiations with Iran; the administration’s failed “reset” with Russia and its response – a weak one, he said – to President Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine; and a rising China, whose military spending has increased by 600 percent over the last 15 years, as it seeks to deny the U.S. access and extend its hegemony in the region.
“While America has retreated, not only have our enemies been on the march. Our allies, anxious for years about American resolve, now worry increasingly about American capabilities,” he said. “With the enemy on their borders, many have begun to conclude they have no choice but to take matters into their own hands, sometimes in ways unhelpful to our interests.”
Cotton did not go into detail about his objections to a proposed Iran nuclear deal, saying they were “well-known.”
But he listed the Iranian regime’s conduct in the region, including the killing of Americans from Lebanon to Saudi Arabia to Iraq; its support for the Assad regime; its domination of Lebanon and Yemen; and its ballistic missile buildup.
“Iran does all these things without the bomb. Just imagine what it will do with the bomb,” he said. “And imagine a United States, further down the road of appeasement, largely defenseless against this tyranny.”
Cotton has come under fire from the administration, Democratic lawmakers and other critics for spearheading an open letter, signed by 47 GOP senators, informing the Iranian regime that they will consider any nuclear agreement resulting from negotiations now underway which is not approved by Congress to be “nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and [supreme leader] Ayatollah Khamenei.”
The administration has called the initiative “ill-informed and ill-advised,” and a “distraction” in the talks now underway in Switzerland. Secretary of State John Kerry on CBS’ Face the Nation this week took a dig at the 37 year-old senator’s rank, calling the letter “an unconstitutional and unthought out action by somebody who has been in the United States Senate for 60 some days.”
Cotton, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 2013-2015, is a U.S. Army veteran, with combat service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Wrapping up his hawkish speech, he declared, “I will now yield the floor, but I will never yield in the defense of America’s national security – on any front, or at any time.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said afterwards that Cotton had given an “extraordinary” speech on America’s national security requirements, “and as someone who’s served in the military himself in recent conflicts, speaks with extra authority.”