Cotton-Picking Minds

When I first heard Tom Cotton talk, I knew he was a dangerous man. He was not only ambitious—he spent only one term in the House of Representatives before deciding he could defeat Democrat Mark Pryor in Arkansas’ 2014 U.S. Senate race—but he was a Harvard lawyer and an Army veteran who knew how to politically exploit his military exploits and take warmongering to new heights.

 The 37-year-old senator isn’t shy about his I-ain’t-waitin’ ambition:

Some people say I’m a young man in a hurry. They’re right.

That quote is from a New Republic article published in January in which the author, David Ramsey, offered this description of Cotton given by Ed Kilgore, a progressive writer:

“[H]e manages to be a True Believer in the most important tenets of all the crucial Republican factions. He’s adored by Neocons, the Republican Establishment, the Tea Folk, the Christian Right, and most of all by the Con-Con cognoscenti that draw from both these last two categories.”

If that isn’t bad enough, Ramsey offered more:

Cotton…has been called the “party’s most aggressive next-generation advocate for military action overseas.” For Cotton, the Iraq War was a “just and noble war”; on foreign policy, he has said, “George Bush largely did have it right.” Cotton argues for an aggressive, interventionist military posture abroad, more defense spending, and an executive branch empowered on matters of national security. Pick a topicSyria, Iran, Russia, ISIS, drones, NSA snoopingand Cotton can be found at the hawkish outer edge of the debate, demanding a continuation or escalation of the Cheney line more consistently and vociferously than nearly any of his peers.

That was written in January. This same Tom Cotton is now the leader of saboteurs in the U.S. Senate who are trying like hell to get the United States into a real war with Iran. By now you have heard all about Cotton’s “Open roy blunt signature on tom cotton letterLetter,” signed by 47 Republican senators (including Missouri’s Roy Blunt) and addressed to “the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The letter, as far as I can tell, is completely unprecedented in American history. For all of its posturing about educating the Iranians on how our constitutional system works, it was obviously designed to make right-wingers here in the United States aware that Republicans are doing all they can to blow up the negotiations between the Obama administration and the leaders of Iran over how best to prevent the Iranians from developing a nuclear weapon—without spilling the blood of American soldiers.

President Obama responded to all the reactionary bluster this way:

I think it’s somewhat ironic to see some members of Congress wanting to make common cause with the hard-liners in Iran. It’s an unusual coalition.

The President is wrong, of course. The coalition between American hard-liners and Iranian hard-liners is not “unusual,” especially given the pathological hatred for Obama among conservative Republicans. Nor is it “ironic” for right-wingers to want “to make common cause” with other right-wingers in Iran.

Irony is defined as “a situation that is strange or funny because things happen in a way that seems to be the opposite of what you expected.” Republican reactionaries, led by a warmonger like Tom Cotton, appealing to Iranian reactionaries in a theocratic state is exactly what I expected.

So, Senator Cotton’s letter and its Roy Blunt-endorsed message is not ironic, Mr. President. It’s par for the very sad and strange course of contemporary Republican politics.



  1. Troy

     /  March 9, 2015

    That Cotton is a dangerous man! I’ve heard him say some really way out things. He’ll be one of the right wingers Presidential candidates in the near future. And the beat goes on…..


  2. ansonburlingame

     /  March 10, 2015

    Some considered Winston Chruchhill a dangerous man. Some considered Ronald Reagan a dangerous man. Certainly there are a whole bunch of Americans that believe President Obama has made a huge mess in foreign policy.

    So what to do to actually establish a foreign policy that is not considered “dangerous” by both sides and can be sustained regardless of party in power. Our Constitution created a path forward in just such cases. Why not follow that path for a truely critical decision of vital national and world interests in another attempt to restrict and constrol the spread of nuclear weapons.



  3. The right-wingnuts of the Republican party are doing serious damage to the ability of the executive to conduct international relations. They did an end-around with Netanyahu, upsetting protocol of more than two centuries, and now are undercutting America’s credibility at the negotiating table over something that threatens global security. It’s embarrassing, but more than that, it is setting a precedent for malfunctioning government. It could come back to haunt them, and probably will.


    • This has set a dangerous precedent. Democrats cannot allow this to stand unchallenged and most aren’t. However, if this gambit works electorally for Republicans, Democrats will have to fight Republican presidents in the future with the same tactics. We simply cannot allow them to profit politically from this kind of behavior, especially if it threatens to involve us in an unnecessary war with Iran. In other words, we will have to stop flashing peace signs at Republicans with bazookas aimed at us. These right-wingers are ruthless and if such ruthlessness is rewarded with more political power, including war power, then our side has to adopt the same ruthless tactics. Otherwise the bullies will always win and we will always be at war.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. ansonburlingame

     /  March 11, 2015


    I detested the “letter” published by 47 GOPers. Congress cannot actually negotiate with foreign countries. Only the Executive Branch can do so, period.

    BUT, Congress can and must “approve” any really actions to be taken (or not taken) based upon such negotiations. Quibbling over whether or not any agreement with Iran is a “treaty” , or not, is crazy. It will be (if the State Department agrees with the negotiations) a long term commitment of the American government to take or not take certain actions related to the possession, control and/or (God forbid) USE of nuclear weapons by a foreign power.

    We the people MUST have political agreement on such an issue and the only way we can get it is through our elected representatives.

    Elections matter, a lot. A typical and well know long term product of such Presidential elections is SCOTUS. But this “deal” with Iran is equally of such long term consequences. We must get this “deal” right and be a united country once it is approved.

    Like it or not, right now over half the voting public in America dont’ “trust Obama”, on health care solutions, SCOTUS appointmennts, the details of what he MIGHT agree to with Iran and for sure his handling of foreign policy over the last six plus years.

    IF a “deal” is reached with Iran, I will read it, think about it and be very careful in MAYBE calling for a rejection of any such “deal”. But if there is room in that document for Iran to gain a nuclear weapons capability, well I will publicly oppose it. Like the opportunity to speak or not, I thought Netenyahu had a lot of good points to make to ensure any “deal” reached is one in America’s best interest. I certainly believe it is both Israeli and American interests that Iran never have a nuclear weapon in their possession in today’s world at least.

    I would be very interested in any objections Duane might have with what the Israeli Prime Minister said should be included in any “deal” and why he, Duane would object to including such points. Let’s debate the substance of what Netenyahu suggested, not the opportunity for him to express such views to all Americans.

    Look at the message sent and don’t complain about who the messenger might be. If the Allah high Ayatolla himself wants to speak before Congress, well go ahead is my call!!! I’ll listen to him for sure.



    • Well, Anson, you seem to understand the treaty process and the respective functions of the executive and legislative, so I can’t understand why you aren’t outraged by Congress trying in two public instances to usurp the president’s role. Advise and Consent, absolutely, but to intervene before there’s anything final to advise and consent on is unprecedented and outrageous. It stands to damage our relationships with the other nations negotiating with us and undercuts credibility with our adversary. Netanyahu could have made his speech just as well from Israel, but he insisted on grandstanding, abetted by our right-wing extremists to whom anything Obama wants is poison.

      As to the substance of Bibi’s speech, I don’t speak for Duane of course, but it had one huge, glaring void in it, and that is that he offered no alternative to the negotiation. The alternative is there all right, he just didn’t want to articulate it: war. Look, the negotiations may come to nothing enforceable, but if there’s time to try, and there is, it just might work. Why? Because, for once we’ve got allies helping put the economic screws to Iran. That’s the only reason they’re negotiating: the sanctions are working.


  5. ansonburlingame

     /  March 12, 2015

    Again I say, Jim, the GOP letter to Iran was wrong, dead wrong, stupid, etc., etic. The NEVER should have done so. Any idiot knows that only the State Department can actually negotiate with a foreing power, under the guidance, leadership, of a President, period.

    Of course if I read of how negotiations are “going” I can write anyone, anywhere at anytime to complain, all I want. If 47 Senators want to write a LTTE, well go ahead as well, dumb as that would be. But a letter to a foreign power, no way, from a group of Senators. Logan Act or not it is just dumb to do so. United we stand, divided we fall!! Diplomacy stops at the water’s edge. Quote’em all if you like, the platitudes of how to conduct foreign affairs.

    But any foreign policy issue of importance must have consensus within Congress as well, bipartisan consensus. We are still in a turmoil ove ACA because partisan majority power drove it down our throats. Now do that with foreign governs an something a “vital” as nuclear weapons!! Surely you get my point on that subject.

    That is exactly why the Founders established a 2/3rds vote just in the Senate to advise and CONSENT on just such things. Simple in my view, but hard to do for sure, today.



    • I’m glad you clarified your position on the letter, Anson. I even heard, today, NBC’s Chuck Todd calling it “just plain dumb” as well. As far as the ACA being “driven down our throats”, I would argue that isn’t so, if by “our” you mean everyone. It was passed by a Democratic majority against the votes of all Republicans, as you note, but it was done according to the rules, so I think the throat hyperbole is uncalled for. Lots of legislation gets approved by slim margins (or at least it used to).

      Now to your nuclear weapons topic. If by some chance the U.S. and the other 5 countries do effect an executive agreement that delays Iran’s development of nukes, wouldn’t that be better than war? The GOP will have plenty of time to mull that over and comment in the proper forums and if so, it’s my prediction that they will not annul it. Surely you get point on that subject.


  6. Kevin Beck

     /  March 13, 2015

    Jim and Anson, I read where Iowa Senator Joni Ernst is still an officer in the reserves. She has signed this letter. Any thoughts on that since I believe you both served as officers? Do you think she will be or should be disciplined? Is there a UCMJ violation?

    Kevin Beck


    • @ Kevin Beck,

      In my opinion, and contrary to some on the left, Ms. Ernst would only have a legal problem because of her military rank if she acted politically as an officer. An example would be signing the letter as an officer (indicating rank), thereby implying an endorsement by the Iowa National Guard, or by demonstrating or conducting politics in uniform.

      Article 88 of the UCMJ (federal) makes it a crime to use “contemptuous” words against high officials and the Iowa National Guard has a similar provision, but it would be very hard to prove that the letter amounted to that. It is not overtly contemptuous in wording but only in its unprecedented use in the Constitutional context of separation of powers. I’m confident that the Army will go nowhere near this one.


  7. ansonburlingame

     /  March 13, 2015


    I am not at all sure if she remains “in the reserves”. There are various categories of participation in such, including “retired”, just as Jim and I are retired from the Navy. But it raises an interesting point.

    Suppose I ran for Congress and won a seat. Could I vote on a bill that would raise my own retirement pay or maybe fund a new submarine. Would it be a conflict of interest???? Never thought ot that before, a dilemma perhaps.

    But of course to some of those on the left, any service in the military is considered “dangerous” for elected reps. I suppose the “learned left” believes such service just brainwashes people and thus they cannot be trusted to govern. I note that Duane was very quick to tell us of Tom Cotton’s service when Duane condemned his letter to Iran. I have heard the same complaint against Ernst, her time in military service.



    • Kevin Beck

       /  March 13, 2015

      According to an article in the National Review she is an active drilling member of the guard, the article is about how she served her drill time the day following her election. So there is that. Another article in the Daily Kos makes the case that she violated the Iowa UCMJ, art 29b.85, I will let those interested look it up.

      Kevin Beck


  8. ansonburlingame

     /  March 14, 2015

    Kevin again,

    I am sure dirt can be dug up on anything related to her military service. But be careful. I for example am only aware of ONE UCMJ. It is the “law book” (almost like the Constitution) for military legal matters. To have a separate “Iowa UCMJ” sounds rather strange to me, and probably not accurate.

    Frankly, I can think of all kinds of reasons why she as a member of the “active military” could have a ton of “conflicts of interest” as a Senator. Just for example one cannot criticize decisions by the Commander in Chief, or any other member of the chain of command, publicly while on “active duty”. At least that is what I was taught long ago. I suppose one could draw a rather questionable line that she could not do so only when actually serving on active duty, in uniform for a weekend meeting for example.

    But I would also hope such issues were decided, legally, or at least with good and independent legal advice, that her service in the Senate in no way would conflict with honorable service in the Reserves. Makes sense to me, but then very little in dirty politics makes much sense to me. Hillary emailgate is a perfect example. It is a grain pf sand on the “beach” encompassing Hillary’s public career.



    • Perhaps the below will clarify the discussion. Emphasis is mine.

      Soldiers and airmen in the National Guard of the United States are subject to the UCMJ only if activated in a Federal capacity under Title 10 by an executive order issued by the President or during their Annual Training periods, which are orders issued under Title 10. Otherwise, members of the National Guard of the United States are exempt from the UCMJ. However, under Title 32 orders, National Guard soldiers are still subject to their respective state codes of Military Justice.

      FYI, “Title 10” refers to National Guard personnel being called to active duty under federal command. “Title 32” is for state command.

      The clear conclusion: Joni Ernst is exempt from the UCMJ except when on active duty.


    • Kevin Beck

       /  March 14, 2015

      My search has lead me directly to the Iowa legislative website under the Iowa State Code of Military Justice. It seems legit.

      Kevin Beck


    • Beyond the issue involving that Cotton nonsense, that article nicely sums up what I have been saying for over six years now. Thanks for sending it my way and it is good to see you back in the Internet saddle.



  9. ansonburlingame

     /  March 16, 2015

    Just as I suspected Jim. Makes sense to me. But certainly no “active duty” member of the military such as you and I did long ago, for years on end, could run for public office at least at the national level, I suppose.

    As for McKnight, I don’t disgree that the letter was a bad move, terrible move. But basing part of the disagreement because Cotton was a former military man is inane in my view. That alone does not make him wrong.



  10. ansonburlingame

     /  March 17, 2015


    The political cartoon you linked tells it all in terms of trying to link Cotton’s ideas to his military service. You cannot do so with one cartoon, one letter, etc. You must look, carefully, at the “whole man” if you will. You at least know what I mean by that phrase.

    That is probably the biggest reason I am “excited” about James Webb MAYBE getting into Presidential politics, particularly as a Democrat. He has written ten books, some of then nationally acclaimed as “brillant”, etc. In “Fields of Fire” he described the Vietnam War, on the ground, in an iconic manner, according to many, many reviewers. In his most recent book he described many details of his early life that contributed to who he became as an adult.

    When you read, in depth, about such a man, there are few surprises by his political actions, in my view. That again is why I like his candidacy. I “know” him (to a degree) and thus “trust” him. Would I agree with every vote he makes, etc.? No way. But I have a good idea how he will proceed, politically, in general if you will. In my view he ain’t a “lefty or a righty”. He is instead a good and honorable man with only his country’s improvement as his goal.

    Does that sound naive? Sure it does. But read some of his books, not his campaign sound bites, and form your own opinion.

    As for Cotton, I know him not at all, yet.



    • I believe you misinterpret the Cotton cartoon, Anson. The artist isn’t trying to say the scene depicted actually happened, nor that Cotton’s performance as an officer would have encouraged it. He’s saying that Cotton, having been a military man, ought to have known that what he did with the letter to the Ayatollah was tantamount to what is depicted, something anyone would recognize as virtual treason. But you have already condemned the Senate letter, and properly so.

      As for Webb, I too am interested to see what becomes of his political ambition, but at this point I remain skeptical. What makes a man a good combat officer, which he undeniably was, does not necessarily make for a good president, one with gravitas and foresight. John McCain is the most recent example. Such men, I think, are not only impetuous (Sarah Palin for VP?), but tend to view every disagreement as a battle and compromise for the future good as anathema. I will say that if the election were today, I would choose Webb over HC. My main concern with her candidacy is that her personality and political baggage would probably make her term as divisive as have been the past one and a half.


      • I don’t think it is possible these days to govern America from the top without being seen as a divisive figure. Jim Webb cannot win a Democratic primary without progressives. And he can’t win progressives without championing at least some of their issues. The minute he does that, he has lost the Burlingames, and thus the division will continue. The American electorate is divided on a domestic vision for the country and nothing, absent another attack on our soil, will unite us until white people are no longer a majority of the voting public and evangelicals no longer dominate GOP primaries.


        • ansonburlingame

           /  March 19, 2015


          I think you just stepped into it, made a mistake judging Webb. But you must read his last book to understand why.

          Based on the background of his family, and his own as well, he speaks quite loudly of the need for “fairness”. Yes, on the surface that would “drive all the Burlingames away” but not this one, yet. You see he just does not shout about “unfairness” he speaks quite eloquently, and at some length, about the types of “fairness” he would promote.

          As well, like me, he has a pragmatic concern about money and how we spend it. He is not a typical “tax and spend” Dem by any measure, that I have read at least..

          I will free admit that it will take a lot to get me on the left side of a Dem ballot. But for a man like Webb, I am at least looking very hard and giving it careful thought. And I have yet to see a GOPer equal his brainpower at least, as demonstrated by Webb in his writing over the last 4 decades, or so.



  11. ansonburlingame

     /  March 18, 2015

    So there we see a remarkable and probably momentary agreement between Wheeler and Burlingame. “If the election was today” we both would (or just might) vote for the same candidate!!

    Who knows what will happen up until Nov 2016. But even a short consensus, for the time being over political candidates is rather strange, and thus remarkable to me at least.

    I only caution any following this exchange to be careful over how you might react to Webb. I can almost guarantee you will not find answers in a sound bite or two that reflect him as a Man, a whole man with all the complexity of such. He is, in my view, FAR MORE than “just” a good combat officer. He instead is a very deep and careful “thinker” and knows how to express his views remarkably well over his entire adult lifetime.

    To get to know Webb, I know of no way to do so than to “read his books”. Even in “Fields of Fire”, a book reflecting combat experience, he went very deep into ideas over that war and how things were poorly handled to be sure. Those views as well have been part of his thinking about national security and social justice matters for the last 40 years as well.



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