Senate candidate Rep. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) defended the National Security Agency’s surveillance program and U.S. drone operations against criticism from some members of his own party during a speech to the American Enterprise Institute on Tuesday.
“When an American drone unexpectedly brings justice to Anwar al-Awlaki, it is a powerful reminder to all terrorists their safe haven may not be so safe after all,” said Cotton. “Far from restraining the use of drones, then, through unwise and unconstitutional mechanisms, we should continue and probably expand their use in our war against radical Islam.”
Awlaki, who was killed during a 2011 drone strike in Yemen, was an American citizen and top al Qaeda leader. Senate Republicans participated in a filibuster last March demanding an answer on whether the military’s drone program could target American citizens inside the U.S.
Cotton, a U.S. army veteran, also criticized those who compare controversies involving the Internal Revenue Services and the National Security Agency.
“The IRS is full of political partisans like Lois Lerner, who violated their mandates by targeting American citizens for constitutional abuses,” Cotton said. “The NSA by contrast is full of career military officers who follow the law by targeting foreign terrorists to protect American citizens.
“As a Congress, we can exercise vigorous oversight of the [IRS] without undermining the [NSA],” he continued. “These and many other policies and programs have helped keep America safe. They don’t deserve the criticism and diffidence they have invoked."
Cotton had strong criticism for President Barack Obama, saying that it was not surprising the American public was war-weary under his leadership.
“The president often seems incapable of speaking the language of victory and defeat,” he said. “Instead, [President Obama] speaks of wars ending. Wars are not movies. They don’t merely end. They only end in victory or defeat.”
The freshman congressman has been a vocal advocate of intervention in Syria, and said the Obama administration’s muddled strategy reflects a “loss of will and confidence.”
The United States should have led the way two years ago when the Syrian people rose up against the tyranny of Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian patrons,” said Cotton. “Instead the president’s inaction has complicated the situation on the ground, and allowed al Qaeda to gain a foothold there. Now their presence is seen not as an error to correct, but yet another reason for continued inaction.”
Criticizing looming defense cuts, Cotton said the United States must reject a “weak horse mentality,” a reference to a comment by Osama bin Laden that people are more likely to favor a strong horse over a weak horse.
“In the end, the key trait of the ‘strong horse’ is the will to win,” said Cotton. “Our enemies still have the will to win. America had the will to win for a long time, and I believe most Americans still do have the will to win. I know that our troops and our intelligence professionals do. But I do worry that many of our elected leaders do not, and that is dangerous. Because in the end the strong horse does win.”
Cotton is running against Democratic incumbent Sen.Mark Pryor. A Washington Free Beacon poll conducted in August found the race in a dead heat.