Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has distinguished himself by his eagerness to run interference for the administration on Russia (among other foreign policy topics). He jumped to praise the nomination of Rex Tillerson, who boasted of his chummy relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, before Tillerson could explain his views on Russia policy (transactional) and his outlook on human rights (indifferent). Cotton has played a dutiful defense lawyer for the White House in the Russia investigation. He comically interrogated former FBI director James B. Comey, desperately trying to deflect attention from Comey’s damning testimony.

Cotton fawned over President Trump’s decision to order missile strikes on Syria (“In one night, President Trump turned the tables. He showed the world that when the United States issues a warning, it will back up its words with action. There was no hand-wringing, no straw-man choice between doing nothing and launching a massive ground invasion, no dithering for consultations with others who do not have the power to act.”) When Trump later cut a deal with Russia on Syria, however, Cotton was oddly mute. Cotton has bizarrely insisted that it is a “myth” that Trump is weak on Russia. He has chosen to bash the Obama administration — but not Trump’s team — for being insufficiently tough on Russian espionage. In sum, he has been among the most egregious apologists and enablers of an administration that has recklessly ignored the threat from Russia.

Given that background, Cotton’s national security speech on Monday was a tour de force in hypocrisy. Cotton lectured the country on Russian violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty but remained silent on the conduct of the current administration:

By State Department accounts, Russia has been testing a new cruise missile that can strike Western Europe since at least 2008, at least 9 years. In fact, the Obama administration repeatedly warned the Kremlin to cease and desist. The State Department formally declared Russia in violation of the treaty in 2014—and every year thereafter. Yet, they never followed up in any meaningful way. So it’s no surprise that, according to media reports, Russia has deployed two battalions of road-mobile intermediate-range cruise missiles.
Vladimir Putin is therefore eating his cake and getting to have it, too. Russia remains secure in the European theater by the absence of U.S. cruise missiles, while Putin has developed a new missile that counteracts China, threatens the small countries on his periphery, and divides NATO politically.

Umm, the Trump administration hasn’t followed up either, now, has it? Indeed, one could say that Trump’s incessant fawning over Putin — about which Cotton does not complain — is a giant green light for Russia to continue its international aggression and skulduggery, including its cheating on arms deals. Cotton piously noted:

For we must remember, Russia’s violations of the INF Treaty aren’t isolated, but rather part of a pattern of provocative behavior, whether it’s annexing Crimea, or meddling in our elections, or assaulting our diplomats in Moscow, or harboring Edward Snowden, or buzzing American ships and aircraft, or giving aid to the Taliban, and providing the missiles that were used three years ago today to shoot down a civilian aircraft out of the sky. Russia is deliberately probing our defenses all around the globe. They’re looking for weak spots, which is why every provocation must be met with a firm and unyielding response.

But where then is Cotton’s criticism of the Trump administration’s pro-Russia bent, a warning about trying to “get along” with a regime set on undermining the West? Silence. Where is his condemnation of illicit meetings between Trump team members and Russians during the campaign? Nothing. To the contrary, when news of Jared Kushner’s previously undisclosed meeting with Russians surfaced in early June, Cotton insisted, “As a general matter, there’s nothing inappropriate about members of the transition meeting with representatives of a foreign government.” Where is his call for Kushner’s security clearance to be pulled? Zip, zero. Where was Cotton’s condemnation of the president giving Russian officials top-secret information obtained from Israel? Not a peep. Instead, he defended the White House while conceding that he did not know what occurred in the Oval Office.

Cotton’s simultaneous warnings of dangerous Russian behavior and stalwart support for the Trump administration on Russia cannot be reconciled. If he is serious about stopping Russian misconduct, he needs to stop defending the White House’s indefensible utterances and spinelessness. He must take seriously evidence of Russian collusion — and call for removal of those willing to collaborate with a hostile power. He should strongly challenge the White House’s effort to partner with Russia on Syria, a stance that benefits only Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian patrons.

Conversely, if Cotton is bent on defending the administration in order to curry favor with the 25 percent of Trumpkin cultists in the electorate, he might forget about sounding tough on Russia. Trump’s base — obediently following the lead of Trump and Fox News propaganda — is learning to love the Russians.

We would like to think the ambitious junior senator from Arkansas will stop putting obedience to the Trump team over defense of the United States’ national security. So far he has only eroded his own credibility and enabled a thoroughly unfit president.