It is both an easy and a difficult time to be a United States Senator. The easy part is the job itself, because the job at this point resolves more or less to making sure that nothing accidentally happens vis-a-vis governing stuff and talking to various kinds of local- and national-grade rich people on the phone about whatever those rich people have lately become upset about on account of cable news. The challenge, which actually is difficult, mostly applies to those Senators who want to appear to be doing something more than that, either because they feel that they really should be or because they are ambitious.
These Senators have to find a way to look busy in the ways that Senators are traditionally understood to be busy—by making speeches, or writing heated letters to each other, or by threatening to author legislation or actually authoring op-eds. Most of that can be delegated to staffers, but at some point it falls on the Senators themselves to go in front of the cameras and do the actual stuff. Tom Cotton may not necessarily be the person typing out requests for sending troops into America’s cities to stomp out protestors, but when the time comes to banter with the chittering ghouls on Fox & Friends, he must do it himself. What this resolves to, more often than not, is a very sour Ivy League man answering non-questions from the dog-eyed anchors with quips like, “[Bernie Sanders] had in an op-ed over the weekend that Republicans like me are trying to start a new Cold War with China. I guess he’s still smarting from his loss in the first Cold War, with Russia,” as Cotton himself did earlier this week. It’s not a dignified living, but there are harder jobs.
One thing you’ll notice about Cotton’s quote is that he doesn’t really deny that he’s angling for some kind of war—hot, cold, trade, whatever—with China. This is just Cotton doing his job as he understands it; when he wrote a letter to President Joe Biden last week asking that the United States “take all necessary steps to protect American athletes who travel to China” for the 2022 Winter Olympics, Cotton was not just banging his usual drum but playing a very specific rhythm on it. Beyond the familiar (and factual) throat-clearing about how oppressive and nasty China is, Cotton expressed concern that the DNA of American athletes would represent “an irresistible target” for the Chinese government. “Thus,” his letter continues, “we should expect that the Chinese government will attempt to collect genetic samples of Olympians at the Games, perhaps disguised as testing for illegal drugs or COVID-19.” The reason for this, Cotton writes, is that “the CCP has reportedly conducted tests to develop biologically-enhanced soldiers and intends to use DNA data to catapult Chinese biotechnology companies to global market dominance.”
There is a footnote on the China Is Developing Universal Soldiers statement, to a December 2020 Wall Street Journal column by John Ratcliffe, one of President Trump’s Directors of National Intelligence, asserting that China was “developing soldiers with biologically enhanced capabilities.” While Ratcliffe didn’t cite the specific intelligence there, it’s a claim that has been made in both starchier and more deliriously swirly-eyed terms by the hawkish think tank The Foundation For The Defense Of Democracies. In May, FDD Fellow Cleo Paskal wrote darkly of the threat presented by the 2022 Olympics, recycling Ratcliffe’s supersoldier claim and warning that China’s intentions were even more sinister than anyone could have suspected:
The Olympics define “olympism” as “a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of good examples and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles”. The goal of olympism to the CCP is to win medals. Lots of medals. In fact, if possible, all of them.
In a 2012 interview, Jeff Ruffolo, an American who was on the senior management team of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, said: “The intention of the Chinese is to win every medal, every single medal… The Chinese want to prove to the world that their system is the best system.”Foundation For Defense Of Democracies
“There are defensive and offensive aspects to [harvesting the precious DNA of strong American athletes],” Paskal told Talking Points Memo. “One is you could understand better the genetics of high performing individuals, lung capacity, heart, the other is that you could figure out how to attack people from a wide range of different genetic profile backgrounds.” Cotton’s letter lifts liberally from Paskal’s column, and cites it. Gordon Chang, who wrote a 2020 book called The Great U.S.-China Tech War, told TPM that weaponizing COVID tests wasn’t the only way the Chinese could lift American speed skater DNA. America’s athletes, he said, “are going to eat stuff, leave napkins around the place—they’re going to poop. They’re going to leave a lot of DNA.”
Cotton has an answer to prevent the theft of American athlete napkins and scat, which is for the United States not to send athletes to China in the first place. There’s no reason to believe that he has thought very hard or cares very much about this, really, but then that’s not really the gig. Someone has to at least pretend to be committed to being the guardian of America’s Olympic turds, or at least to pursue political advantage though appearing to be. Tom Cotton would at least rather do that than do nothing at all.