National Security

Cotton Says Cabinet Secretaries Should Back Trump On Iran Or Resign

REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
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As President Donald Trump prepares to de-certify Iran’s compliance with a 2015 pact to limit its nuclear program, a like-minded Republican senator is telling cabinet members to get on board with the decision, or get out.

Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas has been a key outside adviser to the White House on a range of foreign policy issues, particularly on how to approach the Iran nuclear deal it inherited from the Obama administration. One of the leading Iran hawks in Congress, Cotton has urged Trump to de-certify Tehran’s compliance so lawmakers can revisit the terms of the deal and possibly renegotiate for tougher nuclear restrictions.

That counsel is at odds with what Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have publicly said about the agreement. Both men, who have themselves been sharply critical of the Iranian regime, say it is in the national security interests of the U.S. to keep the deal in place. (RELATED: Mattis Says US Should Stay In Iran Nuclear Deal)

But Cotton says Mattis and Tillerson will have to find a way to support and execute Trump’s decision to de-certify, which the president appears likely to do later this week. If they can’t, he says, they should step aside for others who can.

“When you’re a cabinet member, when you’re a senior advisor in the White House, and the president is right, you should help him achieve his objectives and run with his thinking,” Cotton told Susan Glasser on her Global POLITICO podcast. “When you think the president is wrong, you have a duty to try to present to him the best facts and the best thinking to help him see it in a different light. Maybe you can, but if he doesn’t, and he says, ‘No, I want to do it my way,’ then your job is to move out and execute. And if you feel strongly enough, then you have to resign.”

Cotton’s remarks neatly capture the longstanding rift within the administration over the fate of the Iran deal, with Trump and some national security council advisers on one side and the Pentagon and Foggy Bottom on the other. Though he has reluctantly certified Iran’s compliance on two previous occasions, Trump appears ready to make good on his threat to ask Congress modify or terminate an agreement he considers to be fatally flawed. (RELATED: Trump’s About To Put The Fate Of The Iran Deal In Congress’s Hands)

Mattis and Tillerson, on the other hand, have advocated keeping the deal’s framework in place while taking separate steps to counter Iran’s ballistic missile testing and other destabilizing actions in the Middle East. That guidance has not swayed Trump, who will likely overrule his top two foreign policy advisors in the cabinet and adopt Cotton’s preferred approach of “coercive diplomacy.”

Cotton, a former Army officer who served in Afghanistan, believes Mattis will have no problem remaining in the cabinet if Trump rejects his advice the Iran deal.

“Military officers are very well trained in the chain of command, so they understand that they’re not the president. Donald Trump is the president.” Cotton said. “Their job is to make sure he has the best facts, the best thinking, presented to him in an orderly fashion and ready for decision. But he decides and they move out and execute.”

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