How Deeply Is GOP Committed To Bringing Back the GWOT?

I didn’t write about this a whole lot in my own book on the 2014 midterms, but did discuss it: towards the end of that cycle Republican Senate candidates–led by Scott Brown, who ran a surprisingly strong race in NH–really started demagoguing about terrorists pouring into the country via “porous” borders or in response to the general surrender-money tendencies of the Obama administration. And since the elections, I think we are all aware that Republican pols and rank-and-file alike are increasingly more likely to favor a re-invasion of Iraq or a military confrontation with Iran.

This has made one of the big developments of the previous couple of years–the emergence of a bipartisan coalition in Congress aimed at curtailing Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) surveillance programs at NSA and elsewhere–very, very fragile. And now we see the military-industrial complex’s favorite 2014 candidate, Tom Cotton, leading the counter-offensive, per this report from Raju and Everett at Politico:

The Arkansas senator, who caused an international firestorm last month with his controversial letter to Iranian leaders, has spent many recent Fridays in Washington at FBI and National Security Agency headquarters, meeting with senior intelligence officials and administration lawyers to build his case for a clean extension of three expiring provisions of the Patriot Act. With the support of GOP leaders, he’s serving as an emissary on the issue to GOP freshmen who are weighing whether to extend the controversial law. And he is seeking to sell his views on surveillance to Republicans from libertarian-minded states through classified briefings conducted by senior intelligence officials.

The emergence of Cotton, an unbending hawk celebrated by neoconservatives as a next-generation party leader on national defense, shows how intent Republican leaders are to prevail over the Paul wing of the GOP. Libertarian-leaning Republicans want to scale back — if not repeal — the Patriot Act before key provisions are set to expire May 31.

And Cotton’s being very clear that GOP skepticism about GWOT policies is so, so 2013.

In an interview, Cotton warned that he’s determined not to allow views like Paul’s to take hold in today’s Republican party.

“Almost every Republican elected last year believes that America is strong and safe when America is leading the world,” Cotton said in an interview in his Senate office. “And I don’t think many Republicans will want to see critical programs expire that will reopen intelligence gaps from the 1990s.”

And so he’s managed to get Senate Leadership approval for forcing a congressional test of a reconfirmation of GWOT:

The latest fight concerns three expiring provisions of the Patriot Act. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who chairs the Select Committee on Intelligence, offered a bill this week that would extend the provisions for five-and-a-half years. The bill would cover the bulk collection of phone records under the Patriot Act’s 215 program, which generated enormous controversy when it was revealed by leaker Edward Snowden.

The bill also would prolong two other measures : A so-called “lone wolf” provision that allows the government to surveil potential terrorists who aren’t directly connected to terrorist cells; and a section that allows the feds to use roving wiretaps to monitor suspects who rapidly change location or communication device.

While earlier congressional battles over surveillance programs split Democrats, Cotton’s gambit may actually allow the Obama administration to join the reform side of at least this argument. It could also, of course, force Republican presidential candidates not named Rand Paul or Lindsey Graham take a position not just on surveillance programs, but on whether or not GWOT has run its course.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.