Oh, it was glorious fun, yielding the kind of satisfaction that us anti-interventionists
rarely get to enjoy: not one but two prominent neoconservatives who have been
wrong about everything for the past decade – yet never held accountable – getting
taken down on national television. Tucker Carlson, whose show is a shining light
of reason in a fast-darkening world, has performed a public service by demolishing
both Ralph Peters and Max Boot on successive shows. But these two encounters
with evil weren’t just fun to watch, they’re also highly instructive for what
they tell us about the essential weakness of the War Party and its failing strategy
for winning over the American people.
first victim was Ralph Peters, an alleged “military expert” who’s been a
fixture on Fox News since before the Iraq war, of which he was a rabid proponent.
Tucker starts out the program by noting that ISIS “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
may have been killed in a Russian airstrike and that the talk in Washington
is now moving away from defeating ISIS and focusing on Iran as the principal
enemy. He asks why is this? Why not take a moment to celebrate the death of
Baghdadi and acknowledge that we have certain common interests with the Russians?
Peters leaps into overstatement, as is his wont: “We can’t have an alliance
with terrorists, and the Russians are terrorists. They’re not Islamists, but
they are terrorists.” He then alleges that the Russians aren’t really fighting
ISIS, but instead are bombing hospitals, children, and “our allies” (i.e. the
radical Islamist Syrian rebels trained and funded by the CIA and allied with
al-Qaeda and al-Nusra). The Russians “hate the United States,” and “we have
nothing in common with the Russians” –nothing!” The Russians, says Peters, are
paving the way for the Iranians – the real evil in the region – to “build up
an empire from Afghanistan to the Mediterranean.” Ah yes, the “Shia
crescent” which the Israelis and their amen corner in the US have been warning
against since before the Iraq war. Yet Tucker points out that over 3,000 Americans
have been killed by terrorists in the US, and “none of them are Shi’ites: all
of [these terrorists] have been Sunni extremists who are supported by the Saudis
who are supposed to be our allies.” And while we’re on the subject: “Why,” asks
Tucker, “if we’re so afraid of Iran did we kill Saddam Hussein, thereby empowering
“Because we were stupid,” says Peters.
Oh boy! Peters was one
of the most militant advocates of the Iraq war: we were “stupid,” I suppose,
to listen to him. Yet Tucker lets this ride momentarily, saving his big guns
for the moment when he takes out Peters completely. And Peters walks right into
it when Tucker wonders why we can’t cooperate with Russia, since both countries
are under assault from Sunni terrorists:
“PETERS: You sound like Charles Lindbergh in 1938 saying Hitler hasn’t attacked
“TUCKER: I beg your pardon? You cannot compare me to somebody who makes
apologies for Hitler. And I don’t think Putin is comparable.
“PETERS: I think Putin is.
“TUCKER: I think it is a grotesque overstatement actually. I think it’s
“PETERS: Fine, you can think it’s insane all you want.”
For the neocons, it’s always 1938. The enemy is always the reincarnation of
Hitler, and anyone who questions the wisdom of war is denounced as an “appeaser”
in the fashion of Neville Chamberlain or Lindbergh. Yet no one ever examines
and challenges the assumption behind this rhetorical trope, which is that war
with the enemy of the moment – whether it be Saddam Hussein, the Iranian ayatollahs,
or Vladimir Putin – is inevitable and imminent. If Putin is Hitler, and Russia
is Nazi Germany, then we must take the analogy all the way and assume that we’ll
be at war with the Kremlin shortly.
After all, Charles Lindbergh’s opponents in the great debate of the 1940s openly
said that Hitler, who posed an existential threat to the West, had to be destroyed,
and that this goal could not be achieved short of war. Of course, Franklin Roosevelt
pretended that this wasn’t so, and pledged repeatedly that we weren’t going
to war, but secretly he manipulated events so that war was practically inevitable.
Meanwhile, the more honest elements of the War Party openly proclaimed that
we had to aid Britain and get into the war.
Is this what Peters and his gaggle of neocons are advocating – that we go to
war with nuclear-armed Russia and annihilate much of the world in a radioactive
Armageddon? It certainly seems that way. The Hitler-Lindbergh trope certainly
does more than merely imply that.
Clearly riled by the attempt to smear him, Tucker, the neocon slayer, then
moves in for the kill:
“I would hate to go back and read your columns assuring America that taking
out Saddam Hussein will make the region calmer, more peaceful, and America safer,
when in fact it has been the opposite and it has empowered Russia and Iran,
the two countries you say you fear most – let’s be totally honest, we don’t
always know the outcomes.
”They are not entirely predictable so maybe
we should lower that a little bit rather than calling people accommodationist.”
This is what the neocons hate: reminding them of their record is like showing
a vampire a crucifix. Why should we listen to Peters, who’s been wrong about
everything for decades? Peters’ response is the typical neocon riposte to all
honest questions about their policies and record: you’re a traitor, you’re “cheering
on Vladimir Putin!” To which Tucker has the perfect America Firster answer:
“I’m cheering for America as always. Our interests ought to come first and
to the extent that making temporary alliances with other countries serves our
interests, I’m in favor of that. Making sweeping moral claims – grotesque ones
– comparing people to Hitler advances the ball not one inch and blinds us to
Peters has no real argument, and so he resorts to the method that’s become
routine in American politics: accuse your opponent of being a foreign agent.
Tucker, says Peters, is an “apologist” not only for Putin but also for Syrian
President Bashar al-Assad. Again, Tucker answers smears with cold logic:
“So because I’m asking rational questions about what’s best for America
I’m a friend to strongmen and dictators? That is a conversation stopper, not
a beginning of a rational conversation. My only point is when Syria was run
by Assad 10% of the population was Christian and they lived in relative peace.”
And that’s really the whole point: the War Party wants to stop the conversation.
They don’t want a debate – when, really, have we ever had a fair debate in this
country over foreign policy? They depend on fear, innuendo, and ad hominem
“arguments” to drag us into war after war – and Tucker is having none of it.
So why is any of this important? After all, it’s just a TV show, and as amusing
as it is to watch a prominent neocon get creamed, what doe it all mean in the
end? Well, it matters because Tucker didn’t start out talking sense on foreign
policy. He started out, in short, as a conventional conservative, but then something
happened. As he put it to Peters at the end of the segment:
“I want to act in America’s interest and stop making shallow, sweeping claims
about countries we don’t fully understand and hope everything will be fine in
the end. I saw that happen and it didn’t work.”
What’s true isn’t self-evident, at least to those of us who aren’t omniscient.
Many conservatives, as well as the country as a whole, learned something as
they saw the disasters in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria unfold. On the
right, many have rejected the neoconservative “idealism” that destroyed the
Middle East and unleashed ISIS. When Donald Trump stood before the South Carolina
GOP debate and told the assembled mandarins that we were lied into the Iraq
war, the chattering classes declared that he was finished – yet he won that
primary, and went on to win the nomination, precisely because Republican voters
were ready to hear that message.
Indeed, Trump’s “America First” skepticism when it comes to foreign wars made
the crucial difference in the election, as a recent study
shows: communities hard hit by our endless wars put him over the top in
the key states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. This, and not “Russian
meddling,” handed him the White House.
Tucker Carlson’s ideological evolution limns the transformation of the American
right in the age of Trump: while Trump is not, by a long shot, a consistent
anti-interventionist, Tucker comes pretty close. He is, at least, a realist
with a pronounced antipathy for foreign adventurism, and that is a big step
forward from the neoconservative orthodoxy that has bathed much of the world
If the demolition of Ralph Peters was the cake, then the
meltdown of neoconservative ideologue Max Boot the next evening was the
frosting, with ice cream on the side.
Perhaps the neocons, having been trounced in round one, thought Boot could
do better: they were mistaken. Tucker took him apart simply by letting him talk:
Boot didn’t answer a single question put to him, and, in the course of it all,
as Boot resorted to the typical ad hominems, Tucker made a cogent point:
“[T]o dismiss people who
disagree with you as immoral – which is your habit – isn’t a useful form of
debate, it’s a kind of moral preening, and it’s little odd coming from you,
who really has been consistently wrong in the most flagrant and flamboyant way
for over a decade. And so, you have to sort of wonder, like –
”BOOT: What have I been wrong about, Tucker?
What have I been wrong about?
”CARLSON: Well, having watch you carefully
and known you for a long time, I recall vividly when you said that if we were
to topple the governments of Afghanistan and Iraq, the region will be much safer
and the people who took their place would help us in the global war on terror.
Of course it didn’t happen –“
Boot starts to completely melt
down at this point, screeching “You supported the Iraq war!” To which Tucker
“I’ve been wrong about a ton of things,
you try to learn your lesson. But when you get out there in the New
York Times and say, we really should have done more to depose Qaddafi, because
you know, Libya is going to be better when that happens. And then to hear you
say we need to knock off the Assad regime and things will be better in Syria,
he sort of wonder like, well, maybe we should choose another professions. Selling
insurance, something you’re good at. I guess that’s kind of the point. Are there
no sanctions for being as wrong as you have?”
Why oh why should we listen to Peters and Boot and their fellow neocons, who
have been – literally – dead wrong about everything: their crackbrained ideology
has led to untold thousands of deaths since September 11, 2001 alone. And for
In the end, Boot falls back on the usual non-arguments: Tucker is “immoral”
because he denies that Trump is a Russian agent, and persists in asking questions
about our foreign policy of endless intervention in the Middle East. Tucker
keeps asking why Boot thinks Russia is the main threat to the United States,
and Boot finally answers: “Because they are the only country that can destroy
us with a nuclear strike.”
To a rational person, the implications of this are obvious: in that case, shouldn’t
we be trying to reach some sort of détente, or even achieve a degree of cooperation
with Moscow? Oh, but no, because you see the Russians are inherently evil, we
have “nothing” in common with them – in which case, war is inevitable.
At which point, Tucker avers: “Okay. I am beginning to think that your judgment has been
clouded by ideology, I don’t fully understand where it’s coming from but I will
let our viewers decide.”
I know where it’s coming from. Tucker’s
viewers may not know that Boot is a Russian immigrant, who – like so many of
our Russophobic warmongers – arrived on our shores with his hatred of the motherland
packed in his suitcase. There’s a whole platoon of them: Cathy Young, who recently
released her polemic
arguing for a new cold war with Russia in the pages of Reason magazine;
Atlantic writer and tweeter
of anti-Trump obscenities Julia Ioffe, whose visceral hatred for her homeland
is a veritable monomania; Gary Kasparov, the former chess champion who spends
most of his energy plotting revenge against Vladimir Putin and a Russian electorate
that has consistently rejected his hopeless presidential campaigns, and I could
go on but you get the picture.
As the new cold war envelopes the country, wrapping us in its icy embrace and
freezing all rational discussion of foreign policy, a few people stand out as
brave exceptions to the groupthinking mass of the chattering classes: among
the most visible and articulate are Tucker Carlson, Glenn Greenwald, journalist
Michael Tracey, Prof. Stephen Cohen, and of course our own Ron Paul. I tip my
hat to them, in gratitude and admiration, for they represent the one thing we
need right now: hope. The hope that this madness will pass, that we’ll beat
back this latest War Party offensive, and enjoy a return to what passes these
days for normalcy.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets
are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist
of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here
is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming
the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with
an Introduction by Prof. George
W. Carey, a Foreword
by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott
Richert and David
You can buy An
Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus
Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.
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