Tucker Carlson on NATO and Ukraine: How would we feel if Mexico fell under China's military control?

I confess, I’d be alarmed to have a hostile expansionist authoritarian regime using our next-door neighbor as a military staging ground.

But what’s that got to do with Ukraine being threatened by a hostile expansionist authoritarian regime across its own border? Or does Tucker mean to equate Ukraine with the U.S. in his analogy?


I don’t think that’s what he means.

The reason his Russia apologetics manage to creep out even some righty populist fellow travelers is that his view of who the aggressors and victims are in these analogies is so obtuse that it has to be deliberate. Russia has nothing — zero — to fear by way of military action from Ukraine or any other democratic European country. The days of trying to take Moscow by force ended when Stalin got the bomb; even the Kremlin doesn’t believe it’s at risk of a preemptive strike from NATO. But it pushes that argument because expansionism is easier to justify morally when it can be framed in defensive terms.

The question is why Carlson is pushing it on their behalf. Sympathy for the nationalist devil Putin, I assume:

Let’s run through the fallacies. For starters, our leaders aren’t pushing Ukraine to join NATO. The White House knows that Americans are war-weary, which is why Biden was so adamant about drawing down in Afghanistan despite the obvious risk of instability. And NATO’s leadership understands that Ukraine is the one country that Russia really might be willing to confront the alliance over. Admit Ukraine to NATO and you’re at serious risk of being drawn into a hot war in Europe against the world’s biggest nuclear power. No one’s eager for that.


The analogy Carlson draws, of Mexico suddenly finding itself under China’s “direct military control,” also fails twice over. For one thing, admitting Ukraine into NATO wouldn’t place it under NATO’s “direct military control.” That’s not how the alliance works. For another, if Ukraine joined NATO it would do so voluntarily. It’s exceedingly hard to imagine Mexico voluntarily joining a military alliance with China. Ben Wallace, the UK’s defense secretary, highlighted that difference in this short but stellar assessment of the threat to Ukraine:

Second, former Soviet states have not been expanded ‘into’ by NATO, but joined at their own request. The Kremlin attempts to present NATO as a Western plot to encroach upon its territory, but in reality the growth in Alliance membership is the natural response of those states to its own malign activities and threats.

The reason Mexico has no interest in an alliance with China is that, unlike Ukraine, it’s not under perpetual threat of invasion from the neighboring superpower. It doesn’t need China’s protection. Ukraine does need the west’s. Which, again, should provide some clue as to who the real aggressor and victim are along the Russian/Ukraine border.

Continuing on, Carlson’s argument about NATO encroaching on Russia conveniently would allow for perpetual Russian expansion westward on “defensive” grounds. After all, once Russia conquers Ukraine, it’ll still find NATO countries on its new, expanded doorstep. The only solution, it would seem, would be to take eastern Europe in its entirety. But that wouldn’t solve the problem either since then western Europe’s NATO countries would be abutting Russia’s new border. What to do about them, now that they’re “encroaching” on Russia too?


If you take this logic seriously, it points to either dissolving NATO to end the “encroachment” or Russia continuing to roll west to eliminate each new threat to its “near abroad.” Or both, since the former would lead to the latter.

The obvious truth, and the reason Carlson’s value-neutral approach to this conflict is so clammy, is that Ukraine doesn’t threaten Russia militarily but it does threaten its fascist leadership politically. David French is characteristically clear-eyed about it:

What’s the true hostility? Former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul puts it well:

“Ukrainian democracy today, not Ukrainian membership in NATO in some distant future, is the real threat to Putin’s dictatorship. Ukrainian democracy is not a threat to the Russian people.”

To the extent that Ukraine is a threat, its democratic example is a threat to Russian authoritarianism. By contrast, a thriving democratic Mexico or Cuba isn’t remotely a threat to the United States. It would be a blessing, just as a thriving democratic Canada has been an asset to American peace and security for generations.

In short, there is no moral equivalence in the way that Russia and America view their respective “near abroads.”

If you support the western liberal democratic tradition, you’re likely to favor Ukraine in the hope that its example might be an inspiration to the Russian people. If you’re suspicious of that tradition, you’re likely to favor the illiberal nationalist regime that wants to snuff that hope out. “It is not the disposition of NATO forces but the appeal of its values that actually threatens the Kremlin,” wrote Wallace, succinctly. I recommend reading his full remarks since he delves into Putin’s commentary from last year, “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians.” Fear of encroachment by NATO played almost no part in his reasoning. Instead, he gave a sustained ethnonationalist argument to justify Russian irredentism. No wonder American nationalists tend to see things his way.


And yet, those same nationalists tend to line up with Taiwan against China despite the similar posture of that conflict. I continue not to understand that. If Putin rolling over Ukraine is none of our business, why is Xi Jinping rolling over Taiwan a problem? U.S. military allies like Japan, South Korea, and Australia are also “encroaching” on China’s sphere of influence, after all. Who are we to fault Beijing for worrying about an invasion by Taiwan or whatever?

Exit question via Philip Bump: Where does Trump stand on Russia versus Ukraine? That’s not a random “gotcha” question. At the moment, he’s probably the most likely person in the U.S. to be president in 2025. Would he favor Moscow or Kiev in that confrontation?

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