Tom Cotton in front of GOP logo

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6 reasons why Tom Cotton should not be CIA Director

Tom Cotton is not qualified for CIA Director.


Brenden Gallagher


Posted on Dec 1, 2017   Updated on May 22, 2021, 9:24 am CDT

In the deluge of news that swarms our Twitter feeds on a daily basis, it is easy to overlook some of the shocking decisions coming out of the Trump White House. The administration continues to put incredibly unqualified people in some of the most important positions in the U.S. government. This week alone we got Mick Mulvaney heading up the CFPB, Kellyanne Conway named as opioid czar, and Tom Cotton being floated for head of the CIA.

Current CIA head Mike Pompeo is reportedly being readied to replace oil tycoon Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State. Tillerson often seems disinterested in his job and privately called the president a “moron” earlier this year, so his planned departure comes as no surprise. Freshman Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who has been a key advisor to President Trump on national security matters, is Pompeo’s likely successor.

Cotton was an early, vocal supporter of Trump. He has been rewarded for his loyal support with a consistent advisory role to the president, particularly on foreign policy. As such, Cotton’s Langley aspirations have been speculated on for some time; at the same time, current and former officials from all over the government have voiced their concerns that the senator would make a terrible choice for CIA head. Here’s why.

He supports waterboarding

Last year, Cotton publicly defended waterboarding, which he said “isn’t torture.” This does not sit well with some CIA officials, who had hoped that the era of using the technique was long past. Those who were around the intelligence agency in the post-9/11-era agree with the scientific consensus that the technique is ineffective and is no doubt torture.

“Tom Cotton at present remains clueless about torture. He seems to base his beliefs on the efficacy of torture on B-movies and dog-eared Tom Clancy novels,” Malcolm Nance, a Navy interrogation-resistance instructor told Spencer Ackerman for his assessment of Cotton’s foreign policy credentials at The Daily Beast.

He wants more people to go to Guantanamo Bay

Given that Cotton is pro-waterboarding, it shouldn’t surprise you to hear that he supports Guantanamo Bay. Back in 2015, before Megyn Kelly left Fox News for NBC, Cotton spoke with her on The Kelly File. He told her, “We should be proud for the way we treated these savages at Guantanamo Bay and the way our soldiers conduct themselves all around the world to include the people doing the very hard work at Guantanamo Bay.” During a Senate hearing earlier that year, Cotton said, “In my opinion, the only problem with Guantanamo Bay is that there are too many empty bed and cells there right now.”

This support of Gitmo could turn into an expansion of the detention center should Cotton get the CIA job. Trump has already expressed support for sending more people to Guantanamo Bay, including the suspect in the Oct. 31 terror attack in New York. Whether that would be legal is in doubt, a Cotton-led CIA could mean the expansion of the base, viewed by many as an international embarrassment.

He wants war with Iran

Cotton has been a long-time advocate of war with Iran. In 2015, when controversy around Iran’s nuclear ambitions was at a peak, Cotton offered a solution, “Set them back to year zero. There is no doubt that the United States has the capability to do that.” This year, following Trump’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia, Cotton released a statement in which he said, “This arms deal sends the right message to both friend and foe alike: we will not stand by while an imperialist Iran suffocates the region in an unwanted embrace.” In October, he called military strikes against Iran, “a credible option.”

Though Cotton has longstanding hostility with Iran, he also has never met a potential war he didn’t like. The Libertarian website Reason did a round-up of Cotton’s war-mongering comments shortly after Cotton took office, and they found he offered support for war with both ISIS and Syria. Cotton has also advocated keeping 10,000 troops in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future, and called the Iraq War “just and noble.”

While some may hold out hope that Cotton would appreciate the gravity of his office and reign in his most interventionist, Trumpian impulses, this is in doubt. Outgoing CIA director Mike Pompeo has been accused of turning the organization into a pro-Trump organ. Judging by Cotton’s relationship with Trump so far, we should expect more of the same from him should he be named as Pompeo’s replacement.

He is anti-journalist

In 2006, Cotton wrote a never published letter to the New York Times in which he wrote that he hoped reporters would go to prison for their publication of whistleblowers’ accounts of the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. He closed the letter by writing, “I hope that my colleagues at the Department of Justice match the courage of my soldiers here and prosecute you and your newspaper to the fullest extent of the law. By the time we return home, maybe you will be in your rightful place: not at the Pulitzer announcements, but behind bars.”

His views on criminal justice are retrograde

While Cotton’s foreign policy ideas deserve the bulk of the focus here, it is worth discussing just how bad his domestic views are as well. Last year, during a bipartisan effort to pass criminal justice reform, Cotton claimed that the United States has an “underincarceration problem.” He went on to compare incarcerated people in America to enemy combatants (Cotton is a veteran), saying, “Security has to come first, whether you’re in a war zone or whether you’re in the United States of America.”

He’s tremendously inexperienced

Cotton’s heinous politics should be disqualifying on their own, but even if your vision of United States foreign policy involves military entanglements around the globe, you shouldn’t want Cotton doing the job. He’s not even a very effective warmonger.

Veterans play well with Southern conservatives, and Tom Cotton has used that goodwill to catapult himself into the Senate despite his relative lack of political experience. At 40 years old, Cotton is America’s youngest senator. While youth can be a good thing, so far, Cotton has only demonstrated ineptitude. His single term in Congress was, as Salon put it, “unremarkable.” Once a senator, he embarrassed his colleagues with a hasty, botched letter undermining the Iran deal.

Cotton’s subsequent time in the Senate has been heavy on foreign policy bluster, attracting the attention and admiration of Trump, but showing little in terms of political growth and distinction.

While there is little doubt that the next three years will be a difficult time in this nation’s foreign policy, Cotton’s appointment would only serve to make things far worse.

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*First Published: Dec 1, 2017, 6:00 am CST