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Tom Cotton puts bad information to good use

Tom Cotton believes he's found proof that should derail Obama's foreign policy. There's just one problem: Cotton's proof is completely, demonstrably wrong.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., heads to the Senate subway following a vote in the Capitol on Jan. 8, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., heads to the Senate subway following a vote in the Capitol on Jan. 8, 2015.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) issued a press release yesterday afternoon with a provocative headline, no doubt intended to raise eyebrows: "Cotton Statement on the Revelation that Iran will be Permitted to Inspect its Own Nuclear Facilities." It quoted the far-right freshman saying:

"Allowing Iran to inspect its own nuclear facilities is reckless and illustrates yet again that this deal is little more than a dangerous list of concessions made by the United States.... This revelation should be the last straw for any undecided Members of Congress. [...] "Entrusting Iran to verify itself turns what is a bad deal into a farcical one. And the only ones laughing are the ayatollahs."

Well, not the only ones. Anyone who read Cotton's press release who's also aware of reality probably got a chuckle, too.
All of this stems from an Associated Press report from Wednesday that, at least initially, claimed Iran had struck a side deal with the IAEA about Iranians inspecting its own nuclear site. The problem is the AP article turned out to include several key errors -- an issue that became even more alarming when key paragraphs went missing from the AP piece without explanation.
Some news consumers may not remember this, but we saw similar dynamics unfold in 2002 and 2003 -- someone would leak misleading information related to national security to major news outlets; the news outlets would publish mistaken reports; and war proponents would exploit those reports to further an ideological cause.
Referencing the AP's flawed report this week, Borzou Daragahi, a reporter based in the Middle East, said the press is "starting dangerous fires."
And in Tom Cotton's case, politicians desperate to derail diplomatic solutions -- and a little too eager to start yet another war in the Middle East -- are only too glad to fan those flames.
Look again at the Arkansas Republican's press release. The senator states, simply as fact, that Iran "will be permitted to inspect its own nuclear facilities." That's demonstrably untrue. Cotton also says, again as if it were fact, that U.S. policy is "entrusting Iran to verify itself." This, too, is plainly false.
One could go out of their way to give the senator the benefit of the doubt. In the most generous interpretation of events possible, perhaps Cotton -- a member of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, who sits on the subcommittees that focus specifically on the Middle East and terrorism -- was simply confused by an Associated Press article that turned out to have important errors. The alternative explanation is that the Arkansan knew better, but exploited an AP report he recognized as wrong.
At issue is the long-dormant Parchin facility, and Iranian officials' request to take soil samples from the site. The Associated Press initially published a variety of striking claims -- including the assertion that Iran would get the samples without IAEA monitoring -- before deleting the offending paragraphs, later publishing the exact opposite, or both.
Vox's Max Fisher added yesterday, "The bottom line here is that this is all over a mild and widely anticipated compromise on a single set of inspections to a single, long-dormant site. The AP, deliberately or not, has distorted that into something that sounds much worse, but actually isn't. The whole incident is a fascinating, if disturbing, example of how misleading reporting on technical issues can play into the politics of foreign policy."
And even without these important details, the Huffington Post reported that the original Associated Press piece should have set off alarm bells since it included claims about IAEA operations that simply didn't make any sense.
Thankfully, the misleading claims don't appear to have changed any attitudes among congressional supporters of the international nuclear agreement. But among Republicans, a variety of notable GOP figures, including members of the House and Senate leadership, leveled serious accusations against U.S. officials, accusing the administration of dangerous negligence, all based on claims that turned out to be wrong.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), in particular, responded to the original AP article by saying, "The Obama administration has a lot of explaining to do."
We now know, however, that congressional Republicans pounced on misleading reporting, and so far, not one GOP official has acknowledged the flaws in their claims. It seems someone has a lot of explaining to do, but it's not the Obama administration.