Tucker Carlson Wonders What War is Good For
The conflict between Russia and Ukraine is not necessarily an opportunity to stick it to China
When I interviewed Glenn Greenwald for my podcast, he made reference to a right-wing anti-war position which he saw running from Charles Lindbergh to Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson. I dissented by noting that many of these figure weren’t really anti-war but rather selectively opposed to escalating certain conflicts in order to shore up resources and alliances needed to fight other wars. Lindbergh’s willingness to crown Adolf Hitler as overlord of Europe was motivated in part by sympathy for Nazi policies and desire for Germany to fight the USSR. Other so-called anti-war right-wingers, ranging from the John Birch Society to Pat Buchanan, have historically supported all sorts of military interventions, typically in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia. The putative isolationism of a Lindbergh or a Buchanan usually meant a reluctance to get involved in European affairs coupled with militarism. The two attitudes go together naturally: European intervention is seen as restricting the ability of the USA to operate as a unilateral power in other regions.
My arguments were clearly not persuasive to Greenwald since he continues to tout Carlson as anti-war (or at least “more anti-war”).
My skepticism towards the anti-war right has been shaped by the historian John Lukacs. In Outgrowing Democracy (first published in 1984), he wrote:
[T]he isolationism of the twenties, too, was inconsistent as well as incomplete. The demand and the desire for isolation from Europe was often strongest among the same Americans who were in favor of American expansion—at least of American missionary and business expansion—in the Pacific and in the Far East. (But, then, for some Americans Asia has always been the Farthest West, not the Far East.)
Elsewhere Lukacs notes that during World War II, Franklin Roosevelt was bedevilled by former isolationists who wanted him to follow an “Asia First” policy (i.e. focus war efforts on fighting Japan rather than Germany).
On January 24, Tucker Carlson discussed the Russia/Ukraine imbroglio on his nightly show. I was struck by how close Carlson’s argument was to the right-wing perspective of the early 20th century, which Lukacs analyzed. Carlson argued that American intervention on behalf of Ukraine was not in the USA’s national interest but in fact counter-productive, since it would strengthen the real foe that needs addressing, China. “But what's not at all complicated is who benefits from our conflict with Russia,” Carlson argued. “China benefits. Period. The Chinese government is the only certain winner here.”
Elbridge Colby, a former Trump administration official and guest on Carlson’s show, made the point even more explicitly, saying:
China is by far the biggest challenge to American interests in the way that you're talking about it at home, which is really going to affect our economy, our lives, our prosperity, and our freedoms.
And look, the future of the world is going to be settled in Asia. It is going to be over 50 percent of global GDP. Europe is moving down to 10 percent and so, I think you're right. I mean, the Ukraine situation may concern us to some degree, but it's far, far from the most significant thing and the fundamental reality is we have to make choices.
Greenwald argues that there is an overlap in anti-war policy between Tucker Carlson and the Democratic Socialists of America. But that overlap is an optical illusion. The DSA is call for a diplomatic solution to the border dispute between Russia and Ukraine. Carlson is hinting at a policy close to what Steve Bannon argues for: an alliance between the United States and Russia against China. This is not an anti-war position but simply one group of militarists who want to aim the guns in particular direction. There’s no strengthening of actual anti-war politics, which would necessarily involve a push for diplomatic solutions rather than letting Russia get its way so it can be won over as an ally.
(Edited by Emily M. Keeler)
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Note the racialized subtext behind the "isolationist" arguments during WWII and regarding Russia/Ukraine now. Buchanan, Carlson, etc. are more than willing to intervene in "non-white" countries (China, Japan, Latin America, etc.) but mostly reserve their skepticism for military conflict when it occurs in Europe (Russia, Germany).
This is a great piece Jeet! Keep up the critiques of Greenwald. He can't handle them emotionally which tells us all something...