Senator Cotton on the Need to Buy Greenland

Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton has published an op-ed in the New York Times entitled “We Should Buy Greenland,” confirming the fact that Trump’s spurned bid was indeed dead-serious. In it Cotton reflects the imperialist mentality of his “crazy like a fox” president.

Cotton: “The acquisition of Greenland would secure vital strategic interests for the United States, economically benefit both us and Greenlanders, and would be in keeping with American —and Danish —diplomatic traditions.”

What imperialist jibberish. What are these “vital strategic interests” other than the exploitation (at somebody else’s expense, in the competitive capitalist world) of Greenland’s zinc, lead, gold, iron ore, heavy and light rare earth elements, copper and oil increasingly accessible with global warming? And the continued operation of Thule Air Force Base of course.

“Economic benefit” = capitalist profit for 10% of the 1% of “Americans” who already own everything, and dollar wages for Greenlanders working the mines like the happy dwarves of Norse mythology.

Cotton: “Strategically positioned in the Arctic Circle, Greenland has long attracted the attention of American policymakers.”

What does “strategically positioned” mean? What region of the globe is not “strategic”—for some strategist nearby or far? This is shorthand for the insinuation that securing Greenland in the U.S. imperialist camp is essential for U.S. “national security”—another hopelessly vague category.

And who cares if it has long attracted the attention of “American policymakers”? Korea and China long attracted the attention of Japanese policymakers. Does that precedent justify a new Japanese offer to buy Taiwan or Manchuria? And diplomatic sulking when a dumb offer’s repulsed?

Greenland’s next door, anyway, Cotton can observe. Sort of. Closer to Canada. Geographers consider it part of North America. Is it part of “Manifest Destiny”?

(In quaint 19th century U.S. religious mythology, God gave North America to Anglo-Saxons as He had given the Promised Land to the Israelites in the Bible. It was their clear, plain fate to suppress or annihilate the indigenous people as Joshua had wiped out the Canaanites.) Methodist Cotton still seems to adhere to this religious delusion and it colors his mytho-historical understanding.

Cotton: “America is not the only nation to recognize Greenland’s strategic significance. Intent on securing a foothold in the Arctic and North America, China attempted in 2016 to purchase an old American naval base in Greenland, a move the Danish government prevented. Two years later, China was back at it, attempting to build three airports on the island, which failed only after intense lobbying of the Danes by the Trump administration.”

Wow! The world’s number two economic power pursuing its ambitious Belt and Road initiative has tried to buy airports in Greenland, and was so nearly successful the U.S. had to pressure Copenhagen to turn down proposals the self-governing Greenlanders would have accepted. Cotton wants you to imagine China, not the U.S., buying Greenland. (Thus a preemptive purchase might be necessary.) But this is not how things happen in the world today.

Cotton: “Despite the historical ignorance of the president’s critics, the negotiated acquisition of sovereignty is a longstanding and perfectly legitimate tool of statecraft, particularly in the American tradition. More than one-third of America’s territory was purchased from Spain (Florida), France (the Louisiana Purchase), Mexico (the Gadsden Purchase) and Russia (Alaska).”

Cotton lauds the transfer of colonized territories between imperialist countries in the nineteenth century as models for a 21st century purchase of a self-governing state inhabited by a people seeking independence in a postcolonial world, in order to stave off its (irresponsible, Inuit) government’s plans to cozy up with America’s biggest rival. Talk about historical ignorance.

Cotton on a Danish precedent: “In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson — the great champion of self-determination — paid $25 million to purchase the Danish West Indies, which have ever since been known as the U.S. Virgin Islands.” Wilson was a racist, opportunistic hypocrite posing as a liberator who took advantage of Danish difficulties to expand the U.S. Caribbean empire, ultimately providing Jeffrey Epstein an ideal haven. Not necessarily the best comparison.

Withal, Cotton’s NYT piece indicates the persistence of colonialist mentality among the U.S. ruling class, and the failure to realize that the era of buying and selling peoples is over. When Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederisksen learned of Trump’s interest in a purchase, she responded with amused disbelief. Surely, she must have thought, the U.S. president realizes that this is not Wilson’s world, when most of the world was part of the British, French, Dutch, and U.S. empires; pieces of China were bought and sold; Africa was occupied by Europe; and world leaders rejected Japan’s proposal for a global ban on racial discrimination. Surely, she must have thought, Trump understands that what he’s proposing not only insults the Danish state (by implying it could or would wheel and deal 19th-century style with a people and their land), but insults Greenlanders as a nation.

But no. Trump is indeed a racist. The U.S. is an imperialist country. The world’s nightmare is not over. Idiots dominate U.S. politics. The Harvard-educated Cotton is a racist reactionary with fascist inclinations, a key Trump supporter in this case lending invaluable support by prettifying and dignifying an unbalanced mind’s preposterous thought.

Gary Leupp is Emeritus Professor of History at Tufts University, and is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: