Tom Cotton, Twitter, and the Weird Future of Diplomacy

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. arrives to pose for photographers in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 11, 2015.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

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Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. arrives to pose for photographers in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 11, 2015.

The freshman senator challenges Iran’s foreign minister to a debate, gets slapped down.

On Wednesday, Tom Cotton was tweeting photos of his newborn son. On Thursday, he was tweeting criticism at the Iranian foreign minister.

The freshman Republican senator from Arkansas was responding to Javad Zarif’s recent comments on the emerging nuclear deal between the United States and Iran. A United Nations resolution would provide sanctions relief to Iran after negotiators reached an agreement in June, Zarif said, “whether Sen. Cotton likes it or not.”

Cotton’s reaction took on a “let’s settle this outside” kind of approach.

This morning, Zarif responded, with a single searing tweet:

Just a few months into his first term, Cotton has become one of the most visible critics of the Obama administration’s handling of Iran policy. In March, Cotton spearheaded a letter signed by himself and 46 other Republican senators to Iranian leaders warning them that even if the two nations reached an agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program, Congress—or a future president—could change or revoke the accord. Cotton’s decision to pen the letter and go around collecting his colleagues’ signatures was an unusual move—especially for a freshman senator, who are traditionally meant “to be seen, and not heard.” It triggered days of backlash from the administration, Democrats, and even a few Republicans.

Cotton’s tweets to Zarif are a rather unusual move for a senator, too. And they indicate that Cotton doesn’t plan to let go of the in-your-face strategy he has built in a few short months for being heard on and off the Hill about foreign policy. The fact that he’s a new senator doesn’t appear to faze him, either. “I think this question is not a matter of how long someone has been in the Senate or the Congress or how long [someone] has been serving in the government,” Cotton told reporters earlier this month, “but who is right and who is wrong about this matter.”

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