Congressman Tom Cotton

Representing the 4th District of Arkansas
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The Sentinel-Record: Cotton: US Must Take Action in Syria

Aug 30, 2013
Articles & Op-Eds
The Sentinel-Record
By: Don Thomason 
U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-District 4, said Thursday that America’s credibility is on the line and it needs to take decisive action now against Syria.
Cotton, who is seeking the U.S. Senate seat held by Sen. Mark Pryor, a Democrat, was the keynote speaker at The Greater Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce’s inaugural Good Morning Hot Springs breakfast at the Embassy Suites Hot Springs — Hotel & Spa.
Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the use of chemical weapons in attacks on civilians in Syria last week was undeniable and the Obama administration would hold the Syrian government accountable for a “moral obscenity” that has shocked the world’s conscience.
“President Obama last year — exactly one year before Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons ­— said (the use of) chemical weapons would be a red line in Syria, a game changer, and would change the calculations,” Cotton said.
“The president put his credibility on the line, which means the United States’ credibility is on the line and that is one of the few assets you have when it comes to national security. You can have the world’s greatest military, which we do, but if no one believes you’re willing to deploy it to defend your core national interest, what’s the use of having it?”, he said.
Cotton said the decisive action would not look like what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan involving a major deployment of ground troops and vehicles, or the actions taken after American embassies were bombed in 1998.
It would more likely resemble what happened in Kosovo in 1999 when former President Bill Clinton, with NATO assistance, conducted a sustained campaign against the pillars of Kosovo and the Serbian regimes, he said.
Not only would action against Syria likely involve the use of cruise missiles, it would require a sustained aerial bombardment targeting al-Assad’s airfields, he said.
“If you take away the other guy’s runways, they don’t have an air force anymore and they would not have the means to be resupplied from Iran or Russia, who is fighting on the side of Hezbollah today in Syria,” he said.
If the U.S. commits to a sustained attack on Syria’s airfields, it has to commit to it fully, but such action can be done humanely, “because you don’t have people living on runways,” Cotton said.
In addition, the U.S. would need to initiate a sustained action against al-Assad’s chemical weapons maintenance depots and deployment systems, not the actual weapons due to the risk of dispersion, Cotton said.
“If you take out the support system, the weapons are ineffective. Especially chemical weapons which tend to degrade and need constant maintenance,” he said.
Cotton said if the United States doesn’t act when weapons of mass destruction have been used, countries such as Iran will think the government will only pass more sanctions against them.
He said he’d like to see Iran, especially, renounce pursuit of nuclear weapons short of military action, but that is not what is going to influence Iran.
“What’s going to influence Iran is the threat of credible military force. They’re not just a threat to our allies in the region, as important as that is, but they are a threat to us here in the United States,” he said.
During a recent visit to Israel, Cotton said he and other members of Congress were told that Iran is “just a few months away from having nuclear weapons.”
He said Iran is also about two years away from possibly having intercontinental missiles, which would probably be aimed at the United States.
“They are designed to strike the U.S. And what do you put on an intercontinental missile? You don’t put dynamite, or TNT, or C4 on it. You put a nuclear warhead on it. That’s why it’s in our core national interest today to preserve our credibility.”
Cotton said taking action is not only to maintain credibility, but to protect and strengthen America’s allies, especially Israel and Jordan.
“Jordan is a key ally and one of the Middle East states that has a peace treaty with Israel. If they were to fall, Israel would have Iran along its entire eastern border. We have to take action to protect and strengthen our allies — Israel and Jordan in particular,” Cotton said.
He said if the United States doesn’t draw a line and say it will enforce the international, decades-long taboo against using chemical weapons, more people could be expected to use them because “governments around the world would know there was no one who would stand up and stop the world’s worst regime from possessing and using the world’s worst weapon.”
“So for all those reasons, I think it’s in our critical and correct national security interest that we take decisive action against Syria to maintain our credibility, protect our allies, weaken our enemies, and enforce the taboo against the use of chemical and biological weapons,” he said.
“I can assure you that based on what I’ve heard in Israel and in the foreign affairs committee in Washington, the world is looking to America to lead in Syria. They are crying out for the U.S. to lead in Syria and whatever they might say in public, privately they will all be happy that America is leading in Syria. And more importantly, America will be safer if we lead in Syria,” he said.