Short Cuts

Christian Lorentzen

Into the doldrums of Obama’s second term, freshman Senator Tom Cotton has trotted forward as the GOP’s new mascot of ostentatious warmongering. He’s the author of the letter signed by 46 Republican senators and sent to Iran’s leaders warning them that any nuclear deal they negotiate with Obama will be overturned when he leaves office. Cotton’s letter was characteristically pedantic (‘the president may serve only two four-year terms, whereas senators may serve an unlimited number of six-year terms’) and condescending (‘we hope this letter enriches your knowledge of our constitutional system’). The response of Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, was openly mocking: ‘I wish to enlighten the authors that if the next administration revokes any agreement with the stroke of a pen, as they boast, it will have simply committed a blatant violation of international law.’ The Cotton letter undermined another Republican’s attempt to pass a bill requiring the Senate’s consent to any nuclear deal with Iran. Headlines called the signatories ‘traitors’, and 300,000 people signed a petition to have them prosecuted under the Logan Act, a 1799 law that bars unauthorised citizens from negotiating with foreign governments. ‘I’m embarrassed for them,’ Obama said, not wrongly. But by the time Cotton delivered his first speech on the Senate floor – a crude mix of Cold War nostalgia and paranoia that cast its author and his buddy Netanyahu as a lonely pair of Churchills in a world beset by Iranian, North Korean, Russian and even Chinese Hitlers – the letter had already made him famous, even, in the eyes of the New Republic, a ‘dark horse’ contender for the presidency in 2016.

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