GOP senator says war with Iran would be just ‘two strikes’

Isn't this how the Iraq War was described in 2003?

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) makes an announcement on the introduction of the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act in the Roosevelt Room at the White House on August 2, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson - Pool/Getty Images)
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) makes an announcement on the introduction of the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act in the Roosevelt Room at the White House on August 2, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson - Pool/Getty Images)

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) is confident that the United States would swiftly win a war with Iran, which he says will just be “two strikes, the first strike and the last strike.” That argument — that war would end quickly and decisively in American favor — is eerily similar to claims made by top officials advocating for the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Cotton made the comments on PBS’ Firing Line with Margaret Hoover. In a clip of the interview, released Wednesday, Hoover asked Cotton about the “conditions or the circumstances that would justify going to war with Iran.”

“Well if Iran struck out militarily against the United States or against our allies in the region, then I would certainly expect a devastating response against Iran,” Cotton replied.

Cotton stressed later in the interview that he isn’t advocating for military action against Iran, but he goes on to say:

I’m simply delivering the message that if Iran were to attack the United States, it would be a grave miscalculation on their part, and there would be a furious response.

Cotton’s argument that it would just take two strikes to win a war in Iran has echos of the arguments touted by proponents of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. At that time, many U.S. lawmakers and officials stressed that the war would end quickly, and democracy would be easy to install in the country.


“We will be greeted as liberators,” Vice President Dick Cheney said on the eve of the invasion. It would be a “short war,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said. Several other officials said that the war would pay for itself. And in May 2003, just six weeks after the invasion, President George W. Bush also confidently declared the U.S. had already won the war. In a speech in front of a giant “Mission Accomplished” banner, Bush declared that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended.” The U.S.-led coalition said the same thing again 15 years later.

Cotton’s office did not respond to ThinkProgress’ request for comment clarifying his remarks.

Cotton is a notable hawk on Iran. While he didn’t say it in this interview, he has repeatedly called for regime change in the past. “The policy of the United States should be regime change in Iran,” he told Politico in 2017, while the White House was still creating its official policy on Iran. In this recent interview, he called the Iranian government “an outlaw regime” that he wished would “rejoin the civilized world.”

He strongly opposed the 2015 nuclear deal, which limited Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief. While negotiations for the Iran deal were still taking place in 2015, he penned an “open letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” effectively asking the Iranian government to disregard then-President Barack Obama’s foreign policy and his negotiating team. The letter warned Iranian leaders that Obama would leave office in 2017, making the future of any agreement uncertain. “The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

Cotton called for more sanctions throughout the negotiations, hoping that it would scuttle them entirely, and said any deal reached would be similar to the “appeasement” of Nazi Germany. He celebrated when Trump withdrew from the nuclear agreement in 2018, saying it was “terribly flawed from the beginning.”


The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nation’s nuclear watchdog, has repeatedly confirmed that Iran is complying with the terms of the nuclear deal.

Cotton’s comments come as the Trump administration has notably escalated its approach towards Iran. On Tuesday, Trump refuted a New York Times report that the White House had updated its military plan on Iran, claiming that it was fake news and that he would send “a hell of a lot” more than 120,000 troops to the Middle East to counter Iran. In comparison, the United States sent 130,000 troops to Iraq during the initial invasion phase in 2003.

Over the last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has held last-minute meetings in Iraq and Belgium to discuss the threat posed by Iran. The United States also accused Iran of attacking four tankers in the Persian Gulf this week. Iran has denied the accusation and said that Trump officials are simply trying to pull the country into a war.

When asked on Monday whether Trump is seeking war with or regime change in Iran, he replied, “We’ll see what happens with Iran. If they do anything, it would be a very bad mistake. If they do anything. I’m hearing little stories about Iran. If they do anything, they will suffer greatly. We’ll see what happens with Iran.”