Here’s a sure sign U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton is running for president: A closer inspection of his resume has begun:


The headline in this Salon article:

Sen. Tom Cotton campaigned on his “experience as an Army Ranger” — but he didn’t have any



The long and short of it:

In his first run for Congress, Cotton leaned heavily on his military service, claiming to have been “a U.S. Army Ranger in Iraq and Afghanistan,” and, in a campaign ad, to have “volunteered to be an Army Ranger.” In reality, Cotton was never part of the 75th Ranger Regiment, the elite unit that plans and conducts joint special military operations as part of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command.


Rather, Cotton attended the Ranger School, a two-month-long, small-unit tactical infantry course that literally anyone in the military is eligible attend. Soldiers who complete the course earn the right to wear the Ranger tab — a small arch that reads “Ranger” — but in the eyes of the military, that does not make them an actual Army Ranger.

Cotton’s spokesperson, Caroline Tabler, responded tartly to a request for comment:


“Senator Cotton graduated from Ranger school and is more of a Ranger than a Salon reporter like you will ever be.”

Well. Cotton did volunteer to serve. His duty included tours in Iran and Afghanistan. That’s good enough for me. But it doesn’t prohibit closer inspection of the truthfulness of his characterization of that time. Remember the Swift Boating of John Kerry?

In Cotton’s case, critics have often wondered about the specifics of Cotton’s service in Iran and Afghanistan. He will likely characterize further questions as Tabler essentially did: An unfair query by an unpatriotic hack. But there is a precedent, as the Salon article notes, for drawing the Ranger school v. Ranger battalion distinction.

Last summer, Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler addressed it during New Hampshire’s Republican Senate primary, which featured two Ranger School alums: Colorado lawyer Bryant “Corky” Messner, and retired Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc. Messner claimed repeatedly that he was a Ranger; Bolduc did not make such claims, and called out his opponent over it.

“Unless you served in a Ranger battalion, I think you’re overstretching your claim,” Bolduc told Messner last spring. “I’m Ranger-qualified, and I always stipulate that. I never served in a Ranger battalion.”

Cotton inevitably will be asked to release the detailed record of his military service as other presidential candidates have been asked.

I can’t help but think of my parents. Both volunteered for service in the Army in World War II. Neither knew where enlisting would take them. As luck had it, both were stationed in India, where they met. They were in rear echelon jobs far removed from military action. They never claimed to be more than a radio unit sergeant and a hospital dietitian lieutenant. A grateful son still appreciates their service. Tom Cotton’s, too. Other aspects of his record? That’s another matter.



PS: Readers say I was too kind because 1) the service doesn’t excuse exaggeration and 2) they remember Cotton’s pride at driving potential Democratic opponent Josh Mahony out of the Senate race last year in part by savaging him for a resume exaggeration on his business history.