Photographs by Jeff Mitchell
U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton answers questions posed Thursday by a panel of Arkansas Democrat-Gazette staff members. He spoke on a range of topics, including the proposed space force, tariffs, the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy, and the president’s tweets and relationship with the media.
Friday, August 10, 2018
U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, an Army veteran who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, raised doubts Thursday about the need for a sixth branch of the armed services to defend the country's interests in space.
While the final frontier must be a top priority, creation of a separate, independent Space Force could be inefficient, Cotton said during an interview with Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporters and editors at the newspaper's office in Little Rock.
Fielding questions for more than a half-hour, he addressed a variety of topics, including President Donald Trump's trade policies and tweeting habits, Iran, the 2018 elections and marijuana legalization.
Cotton's comments came shortly after Vice President Mike Pence announced plans for a new Space Force, to be set up by 2020.
"I have some reservations about a sixth service that would create a whole new military bureaucracy as opposed to either a subordinate service or a functional combatant command," the Republican from Dardanelle said.
The Space Force would be the first new military branch since the creation of the U.S. Air Force in 1947. Prior to that, the Air Force was a part of the Army.
Given the importance of satellites and the potential for space weaponry, the U.S. can't afford to cede control of the heavens to other military powers, Cotton said.
"Space is a contested domain, just like land, air and sea. And we need a better focus on what's happening in space. Right now it's a little too fractured across our military and across the intelligence community, in my opinion," he said.
A half-century after American astronauts first orbited the moon, the race for space supremacy has intensified.
"Space is a critical domain for the way we fight our wars today. We've seen that going back as far as the Persian Gulf War, the way we were able to mass forces, use precision-guided munitions and Global Positioning System for our troops," Cotton said.
Operation Desert Storm liberated Kuwait in 1991 after its occupation by Iraq. An international coalition, led by the U.S., defeated the forces of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
"If you look at China's military buildup over the last 30 years, it's designed almost entirely to prevent what happened to Saddam Hussein in 1991 from happening in China and to ultimately exclude American influence and power from the western Pacific. That includes anti-satellite technology and space weaponry," Cotton said.
As the U.S. military increases its focus on space, one option is to create "an entirely new service," Cotton said.
The Space Force could also be "a service within the Air Force, like the Marine Corps is nested within the Navy. It could be a new combatant command like the special operations command or the transportation command or cyber command. What they do is they draw forces from the five services to focus on special operations or transporting soldiers and their equipment and materiel or combating cyberattacks and launching our own cyber offenses. It could be some kind of hybrid of those," he added.
A subordinate service or combatant command might be better than an entirely new service branch, he added.
During Thursday's interview, Cotton addressed other issues.
Asked about Trump's offer to meet with Iran's leaders "anytime they want to," Cotton questioned the wisdom of such a meeting.
"With Iran, we're trying to stop them from getting nuclear weapons, and we've seen no indication whatsoever, publicly or privately, that they're willing to change their behavior yet. I would counsel the president against a meeting or summit of any kind with President [Hassan] Rouhani," Cotton said.
While hoping for regime change in Iran, Cotton said he isn't calling for the "forcible overthrow of a regime. That's not what Donald Trump has advocated or proposed. It's not what I've ever proposed either. What we want to see is a fundamental change in the regime's behavior."
"The most important lasting thing we'll accomplish [this year] is confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Those seats don't come open very often and I think Judge Kavanaugh understands that the role of a judge in our society is to interpret and apply the law and the Constitution as it was written, not as he might wish it had been written. And I think he's going to be a very distinguished jurist for many decades to come," Cotton said.
He predicted Kavanaugh would be confirmed "no later than the first week of October."
Asked whether government by tweet is a good idea, Cotton said, "It depends on what the tweets say. Twitter's just another means of communicating."
"Abraham Lincoln adopted the telegraph for effective purposes and Franklin Roosevelt adopted radio and Ronald Reagan was very effective on television. Twitter's just another form of communication. I think you can use it to good effect. But if you say the wrong thing on it, you can use it to bad effect," he said.
Asked whether he has spoken to Trump about his messaging, Cotton questioned whether his input would be effective.
"I will say that I know that the president's immediate family has spoken to him about his usage of Twitter over the last three years. They do not seem to have changed that pattern of usage, so I don't think a U.S. senator is going to change it either," he said.
Asked whether he agrees that the media are "enemies of the American people," Cotton said, "I would not say that, especially in a roomful of reporters."
While they may not be enemies of the people, many Washington-based journalists are opponents of Trump, Cotton said.
"There's no doubt that most of the media in Washington is on the left side of the aisle and are pretty implacably opposed to the president," he said.
"There are a lot of reporters, there are a lot of editors and producers who don't seem to have reconciled themself to the fact yet that Donald Trump was elected. They may not like it. They may want to campaign against him. They may want to use their editorial platform to do so. That's fine. We live in a democracy. They can do those things but they are not serving their viewers and their readers, in my opinion, by consistently distorting the facts about what the president is doing or what the administration is doing and turning everything into a five-alarm fire," Cotton said.
Cotton portrayed Trump as a supporter of free trade.
"The president doesn't necessarily want to start a trade war. He wants to end a trade war. A trade war that countries like China have been waging for a long time and which we've never really joined," Cotton said.
Trump would be happy with "zero tariffs, zero barriers, zero quotas. ... He's trying to get other countries to sit down at the negotiating table and change their trading practices," Cotton said.
Asked whether the president should meet with special counsel Robert Mueller and answer his questions, Cotton said: "I can't answer that question. I'm not his lawyer so that's a question that he and his lawyers have to decide along with Mr. Mueller. I don't know what's happening in those negotiations or what's happening behind the veil of grand jury secrecy and the investigation either, so I think it's a decision the president and his lawyers have to make."
Asked whether he foresees Congress codifying provisions protecting the medical marijuana industry, Cotton said: "Not in the near term. I'm doubtful. ... I think the science is pretty clear that marijuana can have substantial negative effects on the cognitive mental development of our youth, and that anything that makes it easier to get a hold of marijuana is therefore going to make it easier to get into the hands of our youth, no matter what safeguards you put on it."
Cotton said he is "very sympathetic" to those who want to use medical marijuana to ease the pain of terminally ill family members.
"I just worry ... that the negative side effects outweigh those understandable desires," he added.
David Barham, Eliza Gaines, John Moritz, Hunter Field and Alyson Hoge of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette contributed to this report.
A Section on 08/10/2018
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