Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton is dangerous, intelligent — and a favorite of the pro-Israel, pro-war-with-Iran lobby. He’s just successfully played the New York Times editorial page for chumps, and he’s moving steadily forward with what will likely be a run for the presidency in 2024. He bears watching.
The 43-year-old Cotton is actually what Donald Trump in private moments probably would like to be. Cotton graduated from Harvard and Harvard Law School, then served 5 years in the U.S. army, including tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. After a stint in the House, he was elected to the Senate from Arkansas in 2014, and for a time was the youngest member of that body; this year he is running for reelection unopposed.
In The Nation, Jeet Heer did a quick, valuable report, saying that Cotton “is a master of trolling the media and could unite the Republican Party.” Heer warned, “That would make him much more dangerous than Trump.”
What’s insufficiently emphasized in Heer’s warning is Cotton’s connection to a key segment of the Israel lobby. This site, way back in March 2015, pointed out that “Cotton’s rise was fueled” by rightwing pro-Israel money. Bill Kristol’s Emergency Committee for Israel raised nearly $1 million in the closing days of Cotton’s 2014 campaign, and he also got significant donations from other big pro-Israel donors, including hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer and the gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson.
Cotton repaid those donors almost immediately. He drafted a letter trying to undermine the Obama administration’s pending Iran deal, and got 46 other Republican senators to sign it. The letter itself was shocking — it directly addressed Iran’s leaders, threatening them that the Obama deal would be invalid unless Congress also approved it. Critics said the Cotton letter may have violated the Logan Act, which prohibits private citizens from interfering in U.S. foreign policy.
A (rare) New York Times report on pro-Israel money in U.S. politics noted that “it is highly unusual for a freshman senator to take a bold step like his [Cotton’s] Iran letter, and then persuade dozens of colleagues to endorse it.” (That article included an amusing aside: “A spokesman for Mr. Cotton said the senator had written the letter himself, although Mr. [Bill] Kristol said he had had a conversation with him about it.”)
(For now, Bill Kristol may be mildly uncomfortable. He’s part of the Never Trump group, even though Cotton remains one of the president’s strongest Senate allies. But that difference didn’t prevent Cotton in June 2017 from picking Kristol’s son, Joseph, as his legislative director.)
Tom Cotton’s enthusiasm for Israel and hatred for Iran are no doubt genuine. But surely his financial ties to a wealthy segment of the Israel lobby are also relevant, especially if he starts his run for the presidency.