NPR logo Tom Cotton: Military Action Against Iran Would Take Only 'Several Days'

Tom Cotton: Military Action Against Iran Would Take Only 'Several Days'

Sen. Tom Cotton, who orchestrated a letter to Iran's leaders disapproving of any potential deal with their country, called the president's underlying assumptions in making a deal "wishful thinking." Carolyn Kaster/AP hide caption

toggle caption Carolyn Kaster/AP

Sen. Tom Cotton, who orchestrated a letter to Iran's leaders disapproving of any potential deal with their country, called the president's underlying assumptions in making a deal "wishful thinking."

Carolyn Kaster/AP

This story was updated April 9 at 4 p.m. ET.

Sen. Tom Cotton accused President Obama of holding up a "false choice" between his framework deal on Iran's nuclear program and war. He also seemed to diminish what military action against Iran would entail.

"Even if military action were required, the president is trying to make you think it would be 150,000 heavy mechanized troops on the ground in the Middle East again as we saw in Iraq," the freshman Arkansas Republican senator said on a radio show Tuesday hosted by the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins. "That's simply not the case.

"It would be something more along the lines of what President Clinton did in December 1998 during Operation Desert Fox. Several days of air and naval bombing against Iraq's weapons of mass destruction facilities for exactly the same kind of behavior. For interfering with weapons inspectors and for disobeying Security Council resolutions. All we're asking is that the president simply be as tough in the protection of America's national security interest as Bill Clinton was."

The comments were first picked up by BuzzFeed.

That bombing operation lasted four days and hit nearly 100 Iraqi targets after U.N. inspectors said Iraq had not fully cooperated with inspections.

Of course, military analysts point out that Iran is a larger country than Iraq with a more sophisticated military.

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"The only thing worse than an Iran with nuclear weapons would be an Iran with nuclear weapons that one or more countries attempted to prevent them from obtaining by military strikes — and failed," said Ryan Crocker, the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan, in 2013.

Jim Walsh, a researcher at MIT who has studied Iran's nuclear program, told NPR, "Any time the U.S. military uses force, we need to consider this soberly. You'd think the last couple of things [the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan] would point to potential unintended consequences."

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He added, "You don't just sort of say, 'We should go bomb' someone. I think that's sort of reckless."

He also disputed Cotton's analogy, noting that Iraq was a hobbled country in 1998. Following a nearly decade-long war with Iran, being forced out of Kuwait in 1991, and "basically under constant U.N. Oil for Food embargo," Iraq was essentially "hollowed out."

"That is not the situation in Iran," Walsh said. "They're a functioning state."

Cotton — who orchestrated a letter to Iran's leaders, which 46 other GOP senators signed, disapproving of any potential deal with their country — also called the president's underlying assumptions in making a deal "wishful thinking."

"It's thinking that's characterized by a child's wish for a pony," he said.

It's not the first time bombing Iran has come up around political campaigns. It was almost exactly five years when John McCain joked in New Hampshire about bombing Iran, singing "that old Beach Boys song, 'Bomb Iran.' "

"Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, anyway, ah ...." he sang to the tune of "Barbara Ann."

McCain, though, has also long noted that military action should be a last resort.

Hillary Clinton even said during that election cycle that if Iran attacked Israel with a nuclear weapon, "We would be able to totally obliterate them."

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