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Though the word was actually never uttered, Fox News primetime host Tucker Carlson cemented himself this week as the Right’s most prominent critic of neoconservatism.
To be sure, Carlson rejects the term “neoconservatism,” and implicitly, its corollary on the Democratic side—liberal internationalism. In 2016, “the reigning Republican foreign-policy view—you can call it neoconservatism, or interventionism, or whatever you want to call it” was rejected, he explained in a wide-ranging interview with the National Interest Friday.
“But I don’t like the term ‘neoconservatism,’” he says, “because I don’t even know what it means. I think it describes the people rather than their ideas, which is what I’m interested in. And to be perfectly honest . . . I have a lot of friends who have been described as neocons, people I really love, sincerely. And they are offended by it. So I don’t use it,” Carlson said.
But Carlson’s recent segments on foreign policy conducted with Lt. Col. Ralph Peters and the prominent neoconservative journalist and author Max Boot were acrimonious even by Carlsonian standards. In a discussion on Syria, Russia and Iran, a visibly upset Boot accused Carlson of being “immoral” and taking foreign-policy positions to curry favor with the White House, keep up his ratings, and by proxy, benefit financially. Boot says that Carlson “basically parrots whatever the pro-Trump line is that Fox viewers want to see. If Trump came out strongly against Putin tomorrow, I imagine Tucker would echo this as faithfully as the pro-Russia arguments he echoes today.” But is this assessment fair?
Carlson’s record suggests that he has been in the camp skeptical of U.S. foreign-policy intervention for some time now and, indeed, that it predates Donald Trump’s rise to power. (Carlson has commented publicly that he was humiliated by his own public support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.) According to Carlson, “This is not about Trump. This is not about Trump. It’s the one thing in American life that has nothing to do with Trump. My views on this are totally unrelated to my views on Donald Trump. This has been going since September 11, 2001. And it’s a debate that we’ve never really had. And we need to have it.” He adds, “I don’t think the public has ever been for the ideas that undergird our policies.”
This week’s primetime knife fights with Max Boot and Ralph Peters are emblematic of the battle for the soul of the American Right.