A Friday foreign policy discussion at Johns Hopkins' Washington, D.C. campus did not go as intended for Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), one of the U.S. Senate's most outspoken war hawks and belligerent advocates of bombing Iran and sending American ground forces to fight Islamic State.
Cotton, architect of the disastrous letter 47 Senate Republicans wrote to Iran in an attempt to undermine ongoing negotiations regarding its nuclear program, was caught completely off guard after he asked a man wearing pins on his jacket what they represented. That man happened to be Pennsylvania radio host Fred Boenig. Boenig, Politico reports, has three sons currently serving in the military and lost a fourth in Afghanistan in 2010.
Boenig first asked Cotton to confirm that he was a "hawk," which Cotton agreed was accurate. Then he told a flummoxed Cotton that "When I hear you speak, all I hear is somebody knocking on my door again."
"I only have one question to ask," Boenig continued. "Can you tell me how long it's been since the last U.S. military combat death? Because that's really what it's all about. That's about keeping us safe. Can you tell me how long it's been?"
A flummoxed Cotton said he was aware of recent fatalities in Afghanistan, but couldn't provide an "exact timeframe."
"Fifty-eight days," Boenig shot back. "All I ever ask is the second question, since that's not an important number to you. When do we get to hang up the 'mission accomplished' banner, and when do I get to get my kids to come home safe again? That's the only thing that matters to me."
Cotton's response — that our enemies determine how long our wars must be waged — didn't satisfy Boenig, who pressed him on the fact that American troops and pilots have been fighting in Iraq for 24 years.
"But in the end the best way to honor our veterans ..." Cotton tried to continue, before Boenig interrupted with "... is to have more killed?"
He trashed Cotton's assertion that the Iraq war was won until President Barack Obama pulled out U.S. ground forces in 2011, pointing out that 2010 was a bloodier year for Iraq.
When Cotton said that he had served in two theaters of war, Boenig countered by telling him that "The difference between going yourself and sending your child is a much greater thing, sir. I just think that when you speak of sending our kids again, let's make it worth it."
After the event, Boenig told Politico, "He handled it the way I expected him to handle it. He's a hawk. I'm a tree-hugging, peace-loving, gay wedding, you know, whatever. I was a conservative my whole life, but it all changed."
Cotton is no stranger to surprise embarrassment, but this one must have stung.
The remarks were aired shortly after by C-SPAN. Watch the full exchange below: