In the wake of yesterday's string of insults delivered from the White House podium, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton -- a decorated US Army combat veteran who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan -- responded to Obama administration critics on Hugh Hewitt's national radio program this morning. Asked about Ben Rhodes' refusal to testify before Congress regarding his misleading propaganda campaign in support of the Iranian nuclear agreement, and Josh Earnest's "liar" attacks, Cotton did not mince words about either critic. Here's the full segment, with a few key bits highlighted below:
Early in the interview, Cotton lays down a marker by pointedly reminding Rhodes and Earnest that as someone who has volunteered to put himself in harm's way for the country, he has little use for the sneering of men who spend their days penned up in well-appointed, air conditioned briefing rooms:
"I became public enemy number one at the White House, Hugh, because I’m telling the truth about the Iran deal. Look, what you just played, and some of the coverage of Ben Rhodes is what happens when you put van drivers and campaign flaks and failed novelists in charge of foreign policy and national security. And that chump may think that subsidizing Iran’s nuclear program with millions of dollars is a laughing matter. I don’t think it’s that funny. And if he or anyone else over there had ever been man enough to put on the uniform and pick up the rifle, and have to lead men in dodging Iranian-made bombs, they might not be laughing, either."
Shots fired. Moments later, Cotton defends his use of the disputed $150 billion figure in describing the scope of sanctions relief Iran receives as a result of the deal. He also flatly states that he believes neither Rhodes nor Earnest has any fundamental understanding of Iran as an enemy of the United States:
TC: Let me speak specifically to the point about the amount of relief that Iran will get from this deal. Now President Obama has put the estimate at times well north of $100 billion dollars. But Hugh, now you’ve got flaks in the White House and John Kerry and other senior administration officials running around saying oh, it’s only $3 billion, it’s only $5 billion. This administration has a pattern of telling the truth in classified settings, and then misleading or misinforming the American people in public settings. I sit on the Intelligence Committee and the Armed Services Committee. I have had repeated briefings about the Iran nuclear deal, some just a few weeks old. They come from non-partisan, professional intelligence analysts. And I can’t tell you the number that they have briefed us recently, but I can tell you it’s a hell of a lot closer to $150 billion dollars than it is to $3 billion dollars. And sitting in that briefing was a political appointee named Andrew Exum at the Department of Defense, and any reporter who wants to know should go listen to him, because I gave him a piece of my mind, not because it’s his fault, but he is the political appointee who is there as the representative of administration policy. And it’s time that the administration came clean and told the American people exactly what they tell Congress in a classified setting. And the fact of the matter is the amount of sanctions relief is a lot closer to $150 billion dollars than it is to $3 billion dollars...
HH: Now Senator Cotton, do you think Josh Earnest has a clue about what is, I mean, honestly, this isn’t a personal thing. But do you think Josh Earnest and Ben Rhodes have a clue about who the Iranians are, about the revolutionary government there, about Khomeini and Khamenei and what is really going on?
TC: No, I don’t, Hugh. You know, most of who’s left in the administration now are all these yes men and fan boys who were van drivers or press flaks for Barack Obama in Iowa and New Hampshire in 2008. This reminds me of the time back during the big fight over Obamacare and the government spending bill in the fall of 2013. And one of the guys over there accused the House Republicans of being suicide bombers, if you recall that?...As if any of them had ever seen anything more dangerous than a shoving match when they were playing beer pong in the back of a bar in Georgetown.
Cotton does not address the substance of his other supposed "lie," which may have been a waste of time, given that Obama has more or less confirmed the exact same point. Quote: "What is a more relevant fear would be that in Year 13, 14, 15, they have advanced centrifuges that enrich uranium fairly rapidly, and at that point, the breakout times would have shrunk almost down to zero." Finally, Cotton explains why this issue isn't "closed," lamenting Iran's continued parade of deliberate hostile acts, which appear to be probing the boundaries of just how poorly the Obama administration will allow them to behave in the name of preserving the president's terribly misguided foreign policy legacy project: "Unfortunately, the issue is not closed, because Iran is still continuing its reign of terror throughout the Middle East, and continuing its industrial-sized nuclear program. They’re continuing to launch ballistic missiles, and fund terrorist groups, and threaten U.S. interests throughout the region. The American people have decided on this. We saw yet again last week in a vote on my amendment to ban further subsidies to Iran’s nuclear program, we got 57 Senators. You don’t get to 57 Senators unless there’s a broad, bipartisan agreement around the country among the American people. Now the President may not change course for the next eight months, but I suspect the next president will."
Perhaps so. Despite their flaws, and Mrs. Clinton's inevitable endorsement and defense of the deal, it's not a stretch to assume that Trump (who is fiercely critical of the terrible accord, even as he never demonstrates any mastery of specifics) and even Clinton would be less accommodating and deferential toward Iran's terrorist regime than this president -- who is uniquely deluded and self-absorbed on this front. Given Rhodes' unwillingness to defend himself under oath and Earnest's chest-thumping rhetoric, would Rhodes agree to a nationally-televised debate against Cotton on these questions? Or would he prefer to shelter in place amid his haze of dubious talking points, insulated by his choreographed echo chamber? Let the White House's genius truth-teller defend his actions, opposite someone with deep knowledge of the issues at play, and who's had serious skin in the game.