The aftermath of the Soleimani strike is filled with unhappy subplots but a rare enjoyable one will be watching Fox’s 8 p.m. guy tussle with, well, pretty much everyone else on the network over whether aggression towards Iran is a good or bad thing.
Tucker is clear and consistent. He doesn’t trust America’s hawkish national security establishment, be it in the context of Saddam’s WMDs, the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia, or the supposedly “imminent” threat posed by Qassem Soleimani. Especially the latter, as he’s been an outspoken critic of belligerence towards Iran throughout Trump’s presidency. He was the guy, remember, who allegedly helped persuade the president not to hit back at Iran last summer after they downed a U.S. drone. His criticism of the natsec bureaucracy ranges from forceful to vicious, once describing John Bolton as a sort of insect that’s burrowed into the bowels of the body politic. He routinely asserts on his show that hawks in the intel community care nothing for the welfare of Americans or their children. It’s full Ron Paul, at least on foreign policy. But, as I say, it’s consistent.
The rest of Fox’s anchor team takes a more … nuanced position about the virtues and vices of the intelligence community.
Ainsley Earhardt finds it "so interesting" that people criticize "our intelligence community's decisions," because "everything can't be made public … you just have to trust [them]." pic.twitter.com/DC50DHWgJ2
— Bobby Lewis (@revrrlewis) January 6, 2020
You need to trust them, except when you don’t. How to tell the difference? Seems pretty simple: When they’re at odds with Trump we shouldn’t trust them and when they’re in agreement with Trump we should. Rarely will we see a clearer picture of what I described last week as the basic divide within MAGA-era populism. Some, like Tucker, are principled paleocon skeptics about military action; the vast majority are “In Trump We Trust” Republicans who are willing to see war, and the intelligence bureaucracy, as more or less virtuous as Trump’s political needs require. (Ironically, the person who wrote a book titled “In Trump We Trust” is more of a principled paleocon these days.)
Here’s Hannity last night speaking less than an hour after Tucker’s comments in the clip below. He and Lou Dobbs are charter members of the “In Trump We Trust” camp.
In a segment he called “How to Deal With the World’s Most Evil Terrorists for Dummies,” Hannity hyped up the need for military action against Iran by stating its “aggression must be checked or it will get worse. And it has gotten worse and worse and worse. They must know their hostile actions have consequences.”
“Despite the whining and the complaining, predictably, among Democrats and the stupid commentators on TV in the media mob, top military experts agree the president’s strategy is effective,” he added, noting he didn’t want to see U.S. boots on the ground.
“Stupid commentators on TV”? Watching Tucker and Hannity take barely veiled shots at each other will be even more fun than watching Tucker and Shep Smith do so last year was.
It’s nice to see Hannity return to his roots as an ardent hawk, though, which he was from 1996 until, oh, June 2015 or so. In theory it actually shouldn’t be that hard to reconcile his position on targeting Soleimani with Tucker’s, as neither one wants wider war with Iran and both surely agree that Soleimani was a sinister character without whom the world is a better place. Targeting him was, in fact, true to the Jacksonian spirit of Trumpism, which calls for avoiding foreign adventures whenever possible but also teaching your enemy a harsh lesson whenever he crosses the line. The problem in this case, writes Ross Douthat in a column today, is that the U.S. is sufficiently entangled in the Middle East that it can’t simply get out having now delivered a heavy blow to Iran. It’s ripe for reprisal, and then counter-reprisal, and then counter-counter-reprisal, and suddenly we’re in Tucker’s nightmare scenario of de facto war, albeit absent a massive ground invasion. I’d add that even if we were less tangled up in Iraq and Syria, Trump’s fixation on “strength” would force him into a cycle of reprisals anyway. He’s not gaming out strikes on Iranian cultural sites because he’s worried about Iran damaging America’s strategic position in Iraq, he’s gaming them out because he’s afraid of looking weak if Iran blows up a New York City subway car to settle the score and the White House does nothing. He’s going to insist on having the last word, which is Jacksonian right up until the moment when both sides are shooting at each other regularly.
As for Tucker, this is his third monologue since the news about Soleimani’s death broke and as far as I know he has yet to harshly criticize the president himself for ordering the strike. He’ll chatter all day about the deep state and Bolton, who left government months ago, and he’s happy to tell you just how much blame a marginal Senate backbencher like Ben Sasse bears for cheerleading the strike. But he’s been conspicuously shy about calling out his friend Donald even though according to the Times it was Trump who chose the option of targeting Soleimani from a menu provided by the Pentagon that included much less aggressive action. Why Carlson is so intent on whitewashing the commander-in-chief’s singular role in this is known only to him. Maybe he thinks the Fox faithful will tolerate anti-war rhetoric but not anti-Trump rhetoric. Maybe he’s afraid of losing influence with Trump, knowing how poorly the president reacts to personal criticism. Or maybe this is just how Carlson’s paleocon worldview operates, preferring to blame a faceless cabal of establishment bureaucrats for all bad developments abroad because that’s more politically convenient than blaming nationalism’s champion, the president. We’ll see what he says if/when Iran hits the U.S. and then the U.S. hits back and suddenly a sustained conflict is in the offing. He can’t give Trump a free pass forever. I think.