BRANDON J. WEICHERT | THE WEICHERT REPORT
Tucker Carlson is one of the most recognizable figures on the American Right. Starting his career as a cutting-edge writer on conservative issues, the bow-tie-wearing Tucker combined a degree of Southern charm with the fiery personality of a Yankee from Connecticut, with the original–and high-brow–opinions that were reminiscent of a young William F. Buckley, Jr. Tucker cut such a unique figure on the American Right that, very early on in his career, he captured the attention of the serial contrarian (and disenfranchised Trotskyist-Luxembourgist), Christopher Hitchens.
Tucker Carlson ultimately catapulted himself to the top of television punditry, landing a coveted spot as co-host of the famous CNN program, Crossfire. After years of being the last redoubt for the Right at CNN, Tucker’s meteoric rise was ultimately shot down by the (childish) insults of comedian-turned-activist, Jon Stewart (of The Daily Show fame).
Finally, after having been in the conservative wilderness–bouncing between MSNBC, CNN, and various gigs at Fox News–over the last year, Tucker has reinvigorated his flagging television career. In the aftermath of the primetime shakeup at Fox last year, Tucker’s show first moved to the 9pm slot and then, ultimately, replaced Bill O’Reilly–the “papa bear” of Fox News primetime television. Gone was the Tucker of the early 2000s, who (like almost every other Right-winger) supported the George W. Bush Administration’s invasion of Iraq (and likely continued supporting far longer than he should have). Tucker had also conspicuously nixed his fixation with the Collared Greens-style bowtie. Though, he kept his thick hair (for those of us losing our once-mighty manes, it’s quite an envious mop).
Tucker has not only rehabilitated his career (and risen to greater fame than he previously had–good for him, by the way), but he has also moved closer to the nationalist-populist elements on the American Right (doubly good for him). Tucker has abandoned his previous support for regime change through preemptive military strikes (the so-called Bush Doctrine). In its place, Tucker now espouses a more traditional Rightist line of restraint, coupled with healthy doubts about the power to remake foreign societies–whether it be with force or through more humanitarian needs. Tucker Carlson has clearly embraced Donald Trump’s “America First” ethos.
All of this is generally good. The kids today would say that Tucker is “woke.” And, to be sure, his show is definitely a much-needed elixir to the Progressive clap-trap that most Americans are subjected to on all of the other channels. At the very least, one should appreciate Tucker’s skilled skepticism when faced with the conventional bromides of our time–especially when he applies it as fiercely to the Right as he does the Left (see the epic interview between Tucker Carlson and the fedora-loving Max Boot):
But, unfortunately, in his zeal (as with most Rightists in America today) to understandably distance himself from the failed policies of the George W. Bush Administration, Tucker’s “wokeness” can, at times, go too far.
This is especially true when talking foreign policy. He simply misses too much nuance.
For instance, in the 4 April 2018 episode of his show, Tucker interviewed (or, rather, yelled at) former Obama campaign adviser and State Department official, David Tafuri over his opposition over President Trump’s public calls to begin withdrawing American combat forces (on the order of 2,000 troops presently) from Syria. As you probably know, I completely agree with President Trump’s public rumination on pulling out of Syria now that the mission has basically been ended (with the physical destruction of the caliphate of the Islamic State of Iraq and Al Sham). Unfortunately, though, I found myself cringing throughout most of the interview (this isn’t the first time in recent months that I’ve become incensed with Tucker’s wokeness).
For example, Tucker set up the false argument that the democratic globalists who populate our idiotic political class in Washington, D.C. wanted to “keep fighting in Syria but refused to protect our border with Mexico.” Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand what Tucker was doing: for the audience’s sake, he was pointing out the asininity of how the elite’s obsession with foreign interventions is so strong but their desire to literally protect the continental United States from a foreign colonization of our southern states is so weak. Thematically, this is a good argument and it shows why Tucker’s ratings have remained solid in Bill O’Reilly’s old time slot. But, technically, this is a terrible argument to make.
For starters, the Trump Administration has authorized the deployment of the National Guard to the border in a similar operation to the one that former President George W. Bush initiated in 2006, and similar to one that former President Barack Obama engaged in also. In other words, Trump is using mostly domestic forces to conduct an extremely limited–almost worthless, in my view–operation to turn back one of the largest mass migrations experienced in the 21st century. Tucker should have been asking why the Hell regular U.S. forces weren’t being deployed en masse to the border, and why they weren’t being given greater authority to roll back this incoming invasion. He should have been insisting that Posse Comitatus does not apply here, because the act was never envisioned to have been used to prevent the U.S. military from defending the country from an actual invasion–armed or otherwise.
Just ask U.S. Northern Command: in the event of a state of national emergency, NORTHCOM takes over most operations in the continental United States (CONUS). In 2009, on the subject of United States Northern Command, the American Civil Liberties Union complained:
“Congress has weakened Posse Comitatus over the years to involve the military in drug enforcement, border control and all sorts of other ‘domestic support’ operations. Today, the number of domestic missions the military is accepting and the number of troops it is deploying inside the U.S. is drastically increasing, making future tragedies like Junior’s only more likely.”
Did Tucker argue this? No. It was probably too-in-the-weeds. But, he should have focused more on this issue rather than sniping at the buggered David Tafuri.
Meanwhile, the 2,000 American troops fighting in Syria are mostly Special Forces and regular infantry troops. They are not National Guardsmen. It’s a bad argument to make. Yelling at clueless Tafuri isn’t going to move the discussion forward, it’s just going to lead to a lot of bewildered looks from Tafuri and exasperated sighs from Tucker. Again, good television, but hardly informative (I know, I know, it’s called “infotainment” for a reason, but bear with me here).
And, Tafuri was right to point out the understandable fear that pulling prematurely out of Syria could replicate the exact same conditions that precipitated the rise of ISIS in Iraq initially: a power vacuum created by a precipitous American draw down. What Tucker should have argued (which he didn’t) was that, unlike in Iraq, there is another major power on the ground in Syria that has far more invested in Bashar al-Assad’s future than we do: Russia. Of course, Tafuri would have likely become dyspeptic over the thought of positively mentioning Putin’s intervention in this regard (and this is not meant to condone the Russian jog into Syria). However, the situation in Syria is what it is. One lesson that we, outside of the hallowed Beltway, learned after Iraq was that it is often better to take the world as it is, rather than as our utopian, democratic globalist elite would prefer it to be.
The Russians, along with their Iranian–and now Turkish–allies have a significant stake in what happens in Syria. What’s more, the Russians have played their proverbial hand relatively well compared to the former Obama Administration (of which Tafuri was a part of). Further, President Trump’s ability to affect the situation on the ground in Syria was relatively limited by the time he took office. And, Mr. Trump rightly understood that very little could be gained by forcing a standoff with Russia over Syria (when the president campaigned on ending the current spate of conflicts we’re presently mired in throughout the Middle East).
Besides, the Russians have had a considerable stake in Syria since the 1970s, and the Iranians have been heavily involved with the Assad regime since the 1980s. Unless the United States is willing to risk an actual war with either Russia or Iran (or even, potentially, Turkey) over Bashar al-Assad’s fate, it’s best to leave it to the Russians to stabilize the situation. While that will, unfortunately, complicate Israeli security as well as the Arab Sunni state’s geostrategic position in the region, again, it is what it is. That’s actually a much easier-to-handle situation for the overstretched United States than opening yet another front in the Middle East, while we’re trying to stand firm against Russia in Europe, stand up to China in Asia, whilst increasing our operational tempo in both Africa and Latin America.
Another thing that keeps bothering me with Tucker’s “wokeness” level is that he very often flirts with sounding like either a Bashar al-Assad or Vladimir Putin apologist. I don’t think that Tucker is either of these things but he, like many on the Right, seem more and more unwilling to acknowledge that, with both regimes, the United States is between a rock and hard place. Just because Assad is butchering his own people in a mad quest to crush any semblance of jihadists in Syria today, does not mean that he will be a dependable counterterrorist tomorrow…or that he ever was.
In his interview with Tafuri, Tucker claimed that the 2,000 American troops that Trump introduced (with the reduced rules of engagement that Trump ordered upon his swearing in) to the Syrian fight has done little–compared to that which Assad’s forces (and, therefore, that which both Iranian and Russian forces) have done.
He couldn’t be more wrong.
Yes, Assad and his Russo-Iranian partners have been fighting ISIS and other jihadist elements. No, they have not put the hurt on them the way that the United States has. And, let’s be clear, the only ones who have truly hurt the jihadists consistently in Syria has been the Kurds–who we’ve stupidly abandoned…again.
As for Assad, keep in mind just where ISIS derived from: the detritus of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Al Qaeda in Iraq was the organization that was commanded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, which operated mostly in the Sunni Triangle of Iraq from 2003-2008 (with its progenitor being Zarqawi’s Ansar al-Islam, which was based in the Zagros Mountains before the American-led invasion of Iraq). During the Iraq War, AQI’s ranks swelled with scores of foreign fighters who flocked to the Iraqi war zone from places like Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and throughout the region.
Most of these foreign fighters were moved into Iraq by transiting through Syria–a situation that Bashar al-Assad willingly facilitated, as a means of getting back at his family’s long-time American foe (the Shiite Iran also copiously supported the Sunni AQI). For Assad’s part, the calculation was one-part revenge and two-parts self-preservation: Assad knew that the George W. Bush Administration was looking at both his regime and Iran’s as possible targets for their next merry jaunt through the Mideast desert. Therefore, Assad resolved to partner with al Qaeda in Iraq, so as to complicate America’s efforts to rapidly resolve the Iraq War, and transition to Syria. Bogging America down in neighboring Iraq likely saved Assad’s regime in 2004, when then-Ambassador John Bolton is believed to have been agitating for airstrikes against Damascus.
Elements of AQI would routinely take refuge just across the border in Syria, knowing full well that American forces were disallowed from crossing over from Iraq into Syria to hunt AQI down like the rabid dogs they were.
According to Richard Engel of NBC:
“The Syrian border town of Qa’im was the main gateway Islamic radicals used to go to Iraq. Syria became the passageway for extremists from Egypt, Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and other Muslim nations to fight a jihad against American forces in Iraq.”
Assad has American blood on his hands. Tafuri is right to seem uncomfortable with Tucker’s assertions that Assad is a staunch resister of ISIS. Having said that, however, things since 2007 have changed. It was former Army General David Petraeus, commander of the famous troop surge in Iraq, who told reporters that, the “Syrians were our greatest friends [in 2008].” Apparently, the Syrians were rabidly rounding up the ISIS elements that were fleeing the Petraeus-led surge (as well as the more pivotal Anbar Awakening) in Iraq. Essentially, the Americans and their newfound Iraqi-Sunni allies would capture or kill AQI fighters en masse, and whoever managed to flee into Syria would be ruthlessly hunted down by Syrian security forces, and arrested or killed. In this regard, Tucker is not entirely incorrect about Assad’s counterterrorism bona fides, but the way he presents it makes it sound as though he’s apologizing for Assad and Russia’s behavior in the course of the conflict. It makes those of us on the Right who do support the Trump foreign policy look bad.
Fact is, Assad has been butchering his own people in order to remain in power. The Russians have facilitated this, and Iran is also giddily piling on, so as to expand their arc of control across the Shia Crescent, and to therefore be able to threaten their existential rival in Israel (since Syria is so much closer to Israel). While I agree with Tucker’s assertion that American forces should start to draw down from the conflict, the presentation needs to be slightly less over-the-top. And, Tucker should acknowledge Tafuri’s point: ISIS is broken, but it is not entirely gone. But, the response to that from Tucker should be, “groups like ISIS will persist because it’s the Middle East.”
Meanwhile, Syria, Russia, Turkey, and Iran are all acting according to their perceived national interests–and their strategy, in my opinion, is working out far better than anything that the United States has done in the region over the last 17 years.
Yes, there are areas of overlap when it comes to counterterrorism with Russia, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. No, these countries cannot be entirely relied upon to roll back the jihadist scourge. However, they will help us, if they believe it is in their best interest, and that, I believe, is what Tucker was trying to say. Unfortunately, though, his wokeness on foreign policy does lend itself to criticism, as former Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters exhibited last year:
For the record, also: Ralph Peters is a patriot and a great man, irrespective of his eccentric behavior when it comes to the current administration (or his bizarre resignation rant against Fox News Channel via email).
And, as incoming Trump Administration national security adviser, John Bolton also exhibited recently:
All in all, Tucker’s show is enjoyable. But, at times, he seems to be oppositional on foreign policy issues just to be disagreeable, leaving me with mixed feelings about his “wokeness” level. It’s unfortunate, because unless we acknowledge the reality of the situation that we’re facing globally, we as an informed (kind of) citizenry, cannot move forward in any meaningful way.
Fact is, in the particular case of Russia, we do have overlapping areas of interest. But, those areas are strictly limited–and if we do not act boldly and decisively on the diplomatic front to make a deal with Putin on these areas, he will effectively become a conduit for Chinese power projection throughout Eurasia (which, we might already be too late). Time will tell whether we can avert a true catastrophe in Eurasia or whether we get sucked into the mother of all wars with these authoritarian states. So far, it’s not looking good. And, our national discourse isn’t really helping.