Senator Tom Cotton joined me this morning to discuss the growing protests in Iran:
HH: Joined by United States Senator Tom Cotton from the great state of Arkansas. Happy New Year, Senator Cotton, to you and yours, and all of Arkansas.
TC: Good morning, Hugh. Happy New Year to you and your family, and all your listeners. I know that your Ohio State Buckeyes gave you a nice present belatedly for Christmas last night.
HH: It was a crushing of the poor, hapless USC Trojans. They’re so sad, they’ve canceled classes for a month, but no one notices.
TC: It couldn’t have happened to a better team.
HH: Let me ask you, Senator Cotton, let’s go right to Iran. I just had Admiral Stavridis on, and we ran through the options available to the United States – assist the Saudis and the Arab States in providing wi-fi services, possibly a blockade if they become brutal and repressive, individual and trade sanctions, covert measures. Indeed, Haaretz and the Times of Israel reporting that the United States has provided the okay to Israel to assassinate Soleimani, and of course disintermediation of regime money. What do you make of all of these and more?
TC: Well, General, or Admiral Stavridis, I should say, is a very smart and experienced man, and many of those options are prudent options to have under consideration. I have to say that the first and most fundamental thing that the United States can do is what the President has done, what I’ve done, which a handful of other elected leaders have done, which is express our support for the Iranian people in their desire not just to protest, but the cause for which they protest, which is to live in a country that is stable and that provides them a decent standard of living, and doesn’t take their money and take their children’s lives in revolutionary violence around the Middle East. The President’s done that repeatedly over the weekend, and that makes a real difference. If you read the memoirs of people who were engaged in the Cold War, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, they will tell you that all of those Soviet dissidents and all those dissidents in Eastern Europe heard it when the Americans called out what the Soviet Union was doing.
HH: Indeed. I have pointed out to people Solzhenitsyn, Vladimir Bukovsky, Armando Valladares in Cuba, no dissident ever, ever advised the United States to remain quiet in the face of totalitarian repression. It was always the opposite, Tom Cotton.
TC: Yes. Yeah.
HH: So when the President tweeted out this morning, and I want to read it to people so that they understand what he said, he wrote that, oh doggone it, now I can’t find the doggone thing. He did it again just this morning, just as the Iranian people, there it is. The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime. All of the money that President Obama so foolishly gave them went into terrorism and into their pockets. The people have little food, big inflation, and no human rights. The U.S. is watching. That is what he should be doing.
TC: No doubt about it, Hugh. You know, I’ve put out a statement after the very first protest started last week. Some other elected leaders have done that as well. They should follow what the President has been saying on Twitter. Other senators, congressmen, you know, senior statesmen from both parties should be expressing our support for the Iranian people’s desire to live under a government of their own choosing, not a revolutionary government like the ayatollahs have put in place, and one that focuses on their interest, one that doesn’t export violence and revolution, spending all of their money and taking their lives in places like Syria and Lebanon and Yemen, which most Iranians could care less about.
HH: Does it make sense for the United States to, and let me put it this way. Is there any other legislative authority that the President needs to take any measure that he can in support of the Iranian protests?
TC: The President has a lot of legislative authority from past laws. Most recently, Congress passed, I think unanimously, a 2012 law that allowed the president in impose pretty broad and far-reaching sanctions against individuals associated with repression of human rights inside of Iran. Unfortunately, President Obama never used a lot of those authorities. But it’s one step we could take. Some other steps, as you mentioned, Admiral Stavridis laid it out – ensuring that social media channels are doing their best to remain open and accessible to the protesters inside of Iran, or providing internet access, taking other measures behind the scenes that’ll make the government of Iran realize what a careless situation they face, while also empowering the people, because this is really the Iranian people’s moment. It’s not an American moment. It’s not a moment for anywhere other than the Iranian people. It’s important that we stand in solidarity with them and provide them whatever support we can.
HH: The Admiral suggested that the 5th Fleet would be instrumental and may be necessary as an interdiction fleet if this goes Tiananmen, if this becomes a bloody repression. Your reaction, Senator Cotton?
TC: The 5th Fleet is always ready to take that kind of action, Hugh.
HH: And if that is the case, do you think we have adequate assets in the region? I don’t know the last time you visited the region, but do you think we have the 5th Fleet up at capability, because the readiness issue is real and ongoing?
TC: You’re right about the readiness issue, Hugh, and if it hadn’t been for six years of dramatic cuts through the Budget Control Act to our military, we wouldn’t have to be asking that question so seriously. But I am confident that given the pace of operations inside of the region, not only the 5th Fleet, but air and ground operations in Iraq and Syria, that the United States military stands ready to protect U.S. interests in the region.
HH: The last thing the Admiral suggested was that our allies in the region are presently engaged in battles with the IRGC in Yemen, in Lebanon, in Syria, and that we ought to hope they increase the pressure, because those units are kept abroad, they can’t go home to assist in repression. Your reaction?
TC: Oh, there’s no doubt about that, Hugh. That’s been an open secret for year now that the IRGC has been propping up the Assad regime and supplying and training the Houthi rebels in Yemen as well as Shiite militias in Iraq. And obviously, if the IRGC units are tied down in fights in those areas, to include some fights with U.S. allies and clients, they’re not going to be available for killing protesters in the streets of Iran.
HH: Senator Tom Cotton, Happy New Year. Look forward to many more conversations throughout the course of the year. And maybe Arkansas football can emerge from its dark years of turmoil and abuse and loneliness and winlessness in 2018. We will see. I can’t be an optimist about that. I’m an optimist about the Browns. I’m not an optimist about Razorback football. Senator Cotton, thank you.
End of interview.