U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., didn't mince words when addressing The American Legion Feb. 24 during the organization's Washington Conference. The freshman Republican from Arkansas – a Harvard law graduate and five-year U.S. Army veteran with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan – was critical of President Obama's war policies and handling of the budget, as well as Chuck Hagel's nomination for Department of Defense secretary.
"Chuck Hagel is not qualified to be secretary of Defense," Cotton said. "Like us, Mr. Hagel is a veteran, and his service in Vietnam is valiant and admirable. But his views, which are presumably acceptable to President Obama, portend a fearful retreat from the world.
"Mr. Hagel apparently supports even more cuts to defense spending. He has called the military ‘bloated' and says it needs to be pared down. Contrast that with the current Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, who has said the sequester cuts will be devastating. This cavalier attitude, if shared by the president, is deeply irresponsible and dangerous."
Cotton said that both Obama and Hagel have "worrisome" views on America's nuclear deterrent and that Hagel has signed a report advocating nuclear disarmament.
"Reports suggest that the president may unilaterally reduce our nuclear arsenal by more than a third, to barely 1,000 weapons," Cotton said. "This comes as North Korea just tested another nuclear weapon and Iran is racing to obtain nuclear-weapons capability. This view is foolhardy, because it's not the nature of the weapon that is a problem –, it's the nature of the regime that wields the weapon. The United States is the greatest force for freedom in the world, and our nuclear weapons are an essential part of the arsenal of freedom."
Cotton also criticized the pair for their policies in regards to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying Obama withdrew troops from Iraq in 2011 "against the wishes of commanders in country." He also said Obama has shortchanged troop deployments, announced arbitrary withdrawal timelines and refused to speak of victory, instead speaking of ending both wars.
"Wars are not movies," Cotton said. "They do not end. They are won or they are lost. The quickest way to end a war is to lose it. I worry deeply that the president's war-weariness will lead to precisely that outcome."
But America's enemies aren't weary of war, Cotton said, and pointed to the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi as an example.
"Before the attack, our officials in Libya requested additional security, but it fell on deaf ears, leaving the consulate vulnerable to the attack," he said. "After the attack, the president and his political spinners seemed more interested in falsely blaming an obscure YouTube video rather than capturing or killing the terrorist. To this day, we have virtually no active leads in the investigation. Indeed, the lead suspect was recently released from custody and his affiliates openly taunt American investigators.
"Perhaps most outrageous, we now know the president took no active leadership role during the eight hours when sovereign U.S. territory was under attack. The Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs mentioned the attacks to the president during a pre-planned meeting. In response, the president said, and these are his words, ‘I issued a directive to take whatever steps are necessary to protect our troops and our assets.' Then he left the meeting and never again spoke to them, never inquired whether or how his directive was being implemented. He didn't convene a Situation Room meeting. He didn't follow-up with his commanders to probe for the creativity and audacity needed in crisis. Would you accept this failure of leadership from a brand-new lieutenant? No, you wouldn't. Could there be a clearer failure of leadership?"