If you think the letter to Iran’s leaders written by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and co-signed by 46 of his Republican colleagues was merely intended to undermine President Obama, think again. The piece of correspondence is much more insidious than that. Bereft of any proposals vis-à-vis Iran’s nuclear program, the letter perfectly exemplifies the Republican Party’s unconscionably dangerous position on not only the current negotiations with Iran, but on all possible negotiations with Iran. That position is that there should be no negotiations with Iran. At least, not until there’s a new regime in that country.
Cotton gave away the game in January, when he told a conservative conference that he had no interest in seeing talks with Iran succeed because, “The goal of our policy must be clear: regime change in Iran,” and so, “The policy of the United States should therefore be to support regime opponents and promote a constitutional government at peace with the United States, Israel, and the world.”
That’s why Cotton is completely ignoring the significant progress the P5+1 countries (U.S., U.K., France, China, Russia, and Germany) and Iran have made in their ongoing talks. Most notably this includes the elimination of the latter’s stockpile of 20% enriched uranium last July in exchange for $2.8 billion in sanctions relief. As Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken testified before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in January, Iran “has diluted or converted every ounce, suspended all uranium enrichment above 5% and removed the connections among centrifuges…. that allowed them to produce 20% enriched uranium.” This is significant because 20% enriched uranium can be converted into weapons grade uranium (at least 90%) in much shorter order than uranium that’s been enriched to 5%.
The P5+1 countries also got Iran to agree to more stringent inspections, with Blinken reporting that inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency now “have daily access to Iran’s enrichment facilities and a far deeper understanding of Iran’s nuclear program.”
This is why Cotton and his fellow Republicans are in a tizzy over any hint of progress in the negotiations — not because talks are failing to gain substantial concessions from Iran, but because they’re succeeding toward that end. The more these talks succeed, the less plausible it becomes to advocate regime change, and that would bode terribly for the Cheney-style neoconservatism that Republicans and their stridently pro-Israel benefactors are so desperately trying to revive. According to this doctrine, the U.S. should challenge or even seek to change regimes that are hostile to its interests. It’s the same strategy that birthed the Iraq war, which the neocons who ran the now defunct Project for a New American Century had been advocating as early as 1998. In a letter to President Clinton, several prominent hawks made a case for regime change in Iraq that those advocating the same in Iran now are essentially recycling:
“The policy of ‘containment’ of Saddam Hussein has been steadily eroding over the past several months. As recent events have demonstrated, we can no longer depend on our partners in the Gulf War coalition to continue to uphold the sanctions or to punish Saddam when he blocks or evades UN inspections. Our ability to ensure that Saddam Hussein is not producing weapons of mass destruction, therefore, has substantially diminished.
“The only acceptable strategy is one that eliminates the possibility that Iraq will be able to use or threaten to use weapons of mass destruction. In the near term, this means a willingness to undertake military action as diplomacy is clearly failing. In the long term, it means removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power. That now needs to become the aim of American foreign policy.”
The most charitable thing that can be said of the neocons’ foolhardy advocacy of the Iraq war is that they didn’t have the 12 years of hindsight we have looking back on their disastrous policy prescription, which de-lidded a boiling cauldron of sectarianism that the U.S. was wholly unprepared to contain. Nor had they seen the once promising revolutions that toppled tyrants across the Middle East and North Africa yield to utter chaos. Bill Kristol, who co-signed the aforementioned letter to Clinton, cheered Obama’s bombing of Libya during the Arab Spring that helped oust Muammar Gaddafi. As a result of that “humanitarian” intervention, there are now two rival governments in the country with each claiming it’s the legitimate one. Mayhem abounds and ISIS now has a presence there. But that hasn’t stopped Kristol from advocating a hard line with Iran and supporting politicians who would as well. That includes Cotton, on whose behalf Kristol’s Emergency Committee for Israel spent nearly $1 million getting elected to the senate in 2014.
Yet, the stark failures of the neocons’ past foreign policy debacles don’t give them pause. Ironically, these hawks are forever saying it is they who truly understand the threat posed by radical Islam, yet they are the ones who’ve pushed and applauded those wars and revolutions that, however inadvertently, have given Islamists succor because more than anyone, it’s Islamists who thrive on anarchy, especially when it’s brought about by Western “infidels.”
Regime change in Iran is the Republicans’ endgame, and they’re motoring toward it on the same fuel that powered the drive toward the Iraq war and turned much of the country of 30 million into an Islamist thunderdome. Now they want to take the same brilliant idea that led to that state of affairs and apply it to the country next door where some 78 million people live.
Cotton’s letter, along with John Boehner’s invitation to Benjamin Netayahu to address Congress, are part of a concerted effort to not just to undermine the president, but more critically to destroy any chance of a diplomatic solution being achieved regarding Iran’s nuclear weapons. Republicans may think it’s prudent, but recent history and plain common sense indicate their plan is reckless beyond belief.