Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) this week ripped into critics of President Donald Trump who predicted a world of “chaos” under the new administration, and defended his muscular foreign policy stance.
“Some people, especially in the media and the Democratic Party, are astonished that we’re 18 days into the Trump administration, yet the federal government is still functioning,” he said in a wide-ranging speech on foreign policy at the American Enterprise Institute.
“World War III hasn’t broken out. America is still standing,” he said. “Perhaps our Constitution is more resilient than some believe, our people built of sturdier stuff than sugar candy, to borrow from Churchill. So resilient and sturdy, in fact, that our system can withstand the shock of a Republican presidency—even if the media can’t.”
Cotton cited one senator as saying Trump’s penchant for tweeting is “going to lead to chaos in our international relations.”
“I hate to break this to you: The world already is in chaos. The world already is unsettled. And I have more bad news: Barack Obama was the president for the last eight years, and it’s his actions that unsettled the world and spread chaos, not Donald Trump’s words,” he said.
Cotton, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was a vocal critic of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, particularly in the middle east, where he served as a soldier in Iraq.
He listed a litany of what he characterized as Obama’s missteps:
Barack Obama quit Iraq, sacrificing the gains we’d fought so hard for and leaving that country to fend for itself against Iran and the Islamic State.
Barack Obama conciliated with Iran from the first days of his presidency, ignoring the Green Movement and tolerating Iran’s imperial aggression across the Middle East, all in pursuit of a fatally flawed nuclear deal.
Barack Obama reset relations with Russia and promised more flexibility after his reelection. In return, Russia invaded Ukraine, destroyed Aleppo, harbored Edward Snowden, teamed up with Iran in the Middle East, and shot a civilian airliner out of the sky .
Barack Obama said al Qaeda was on the run, handcuffed our military and intelligence officers, and refused to call the jihadist enemy by its name, resulting in more and more complex terror threats than anything our nation has ever faced.
Even when he used force, he did so half-heartedly. He surged troops into Afghanistan—but not as many as his commanders requested and only with an explicit withdrawal date. He toppled the Qaddaffi regime in Libya with neither a plan nor any interest to stabilize the country.
“I would challenge you to name one country where America enjoys a stronger position than we did eight years ago—or one country that’s better off because of American policy. President Obama’s legacy is a legacy of ashes from the smoking ruins of a world ablaze,” he said.
Cotton called for a rejection of the “Obama worldview” — laying out vast goals but refusing to employ the necessary means to achieve them; discomfort with a strong, confident America; and a concerted effort to “banish the Jacksonian spirit from American life.”
“Jacksonians are proud, confident, muscular patriots. … Our way of life is the best there is. In politics, Jacksonians are democratic and populist. They’re skeptical of elites and do-gooders,” he said.
“In foreign policy, they see the world as it is—a dangerous anarchy—not as we might wish it to be. For that reason, they speak the language of strength, respect, fear, and interests. They don’t think our job is to make the world safe for democracy, but rather, to make the world safe for American democracy,” he said.
Cotton characterized Trump as fitting this Jacksonian spirit.
“Jacksonians make commitments and draw red lines with caution but uphold and enforce them absolutely and ruthlessly,” he said. “‘Limited war’ for them is an oxymoron. Jacksonians have a simple war doctrine: hit them as hard as you can, as fast as you can, with as much as you can, until they surrender unconditionally.”
“If ever there were an antidote to this ideology, surely it’s Donald Trump. While Democrats are busy disinviting Andrew Jackson from their annual fundraising dinners and removing him from the $20 dollar bill, President Trump brought him back to the Oval Office,” he added.
Cotton called Trump’s call to make “America First” “plain common sense.”
The Jacksonian spirit is the fuel in the tank of our foreign policy. Jacksonians cash the checks that politicians write. Neither a statesman nor a strategy can succeed without the Jacksonian spirit, as President Obama learned the hard way. It would be nice if we could all just get along, but as it is for a boy named Sue, so it is for nations: this world is rough, and if a man’s gonna make it, he’s gotta be tough.
Cotton also argued that putting America first is “healthy nationalism.”
“You can be sure other nations, especially our adversaries, put their interests first. Why shouldn’t America?” he said. He also added that “America first” doesn’t mean “America only.”
“We’ve always needed allies and partners to protect our interests; we always will. We don’t have them because it’s in their interest, though it is; we have them because it’s in our interest,” he said.
Cotton laid out four recommendations for the Trump administration’s defense policy.
First, he said the U.S. military needs to be rebuilt, with more ships, soldiers, marines, and aircraft and recommended a $26 billion supplemental to the 2017 defense budget, as well as a $54 billion increase in the 2018 defense budget. He also suggested modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal and missile defenses. He said Trump has “wisely” ordered a nuclear-posture review, which has not happened since 2010.
“Since then, Russia has developed extended-range cruise missiles, violating its treaty agreements, and faced no consequences. And this is while Russia reportedly has a 10-to-1 advantage over us and our NATO allies in tactical nuclear warheads,” he said.
China and North Korea is also rapidly expanding its arsenal, he added.
“Given these provocations and threats, we must at a minimum study new nuclear capabilities, while we fully fund current modernization plans. Our nuclear forces are our ultimate deterrent; we use them every single day,” he said.
Third, he recommended developing the U.S.’s oil-and-gas sector to get the economy moving at full speed. That would include streamlining liquefied-natural-gas permitting, expediting Liquified Natural Gas export terminals, cutting red tape stopping fracking on federal lands, and selling more leases on federal lands and the Outer Continental Shelf.
Fourth, he said U.S. allies need to be assured but with “reciprocal commitments.”
“No alliance should be a one-way street. For example, our European NATO allies need to finally get their defense spending to two percent of GDP, and they need to do that by investing in capability—not pensions and healthcare,” he said, echoing Trump’s call for NATO members to pay more for their own defense.
He said the U.S., however, should commit more military resources to shore up Europe’s eastern flank against Russia.
“Finally, it’s high time we recognized our adversaries are engaged in global geopolitical competition, and we started competing ourselves. No more something for nothing. No more compartmentalizing issues. We don’t have to respond in kind to every provocation, but we do have to respond,” he said. “No more free lunches, anywhere, anytime.”
“These basic policies will strengthen our hand, allowing us to seize opportunities and overcome challenges. We will be able to protect our interests and honor our commitments—and yes, most important of all, we will keep our country safe,” he said.