I watch Tucker Carlson every night, so I was rather unsurprised to see his screed against Max Boot and Bill Kristol. In typical fashion he sneers at their decisions, lobs insults like “war peddlers” and “neo-cons,” while implying that they are “warmongers.” There have been numerous missteps in the War on Terror over the last 15 years. In many cases I agree that we should not be involved in never-ending conflicts during a time of increasing debt. But attacking people like Max Boot is relying on hindsight and ignoring important strategic considerations.
I specialize in Chinese military history and my research was on the early insurgency of Mao Zedong. He was a rather lackluster leader with limited military insights that somehow became the face of the revolution and founding father of revolutionary warfare. That “somehow” includes his manipulating several factors in his favor. He benefited from geography, a history of rebellion in that area, and the military skill of his close associate Zhe De. But the biggest benefit was being removed from power during the time of the Communist’s greatest defeat right before and during the Long March. Since he wasn’t in a position of command or responsibility he escaped blame and was able to make arguments after the fact, throw previous leaders under the bus, and offer his hypothetical solutions that weren’t seriously challenged. What Tucker has done in throwing people like Max Boot, Bill Kristol, and President Bush under the bus is little different than what Mao did in taking the lazy comfort of hindsight, mixed with anti- establishment fervor, to suddenly sound like a sage commander.
The most trenchant rebuttal to Carlson has to do with the so-called Axis of Evil. This comment was roundly mocked over 15 years ago and the term largely forgotten after the war in Iraq and the persistent insurgency. Just a few months after 9/11 in the 2002 State of the Union Address, President George W. Bush described North Korea as “a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens.” In regards to Iran he said that they “aggressively pursue these weapons and export terror.” Liberals blasted this concept as a ridiculous comparison to the Axis powers in World War II, and as an attempt by the war-like cowboy to argue for the Iraq War.
The first attempt to fight this axis ended up being the most controversial and the biggest part of Carlson’s case. Despite a stunning collapse of the Hussein’s regime, the conflict gave way to a long insurgency. The many years of bad news, the collapse of the Iraqi government after American withdrawal, the rise of ISIS, and then returning to fight combined to make the conflict seem like a tragic mistake. The discussion of the axis faded away, but 15 years later it is time to revisit it.
North Korea now has a new dictator that is more insecure than his father and willing to hold on to power using violent means. Most dangerously, military analysts, or those people with access to classified information that Tucker scoffs as a “talentless mediocrity,” continue to suggest caution despite highly-publicized summits. The U.S. is left with little good military options because the South Korean capital, Seoul, is only 30 miles from the border and millions of people are within conventional artillery range. Any attack might bring a costly reprisal that North Korea has had 15 years to prepare since Bush’s speech.
Iran is also boosting its cred as part of the axis. After the troubled and flawed treaty, Iran remains perilously close to having nuclear weapons and Vice President Pence recently called them the greatest threat to Middle East security, which is hardly coming from the warmongering crowd.
Despite the mockery that George W. Bush received for his statement about the Axis of Evil, two thirds of the axis continued the march towards nuclear weapons while Iraq is in a relatively stable position after many missteps, including the kind of precipitous withdraw that Carlson is now calling for in Syria.
Reflecting after 15 years and the “war peddling” from President Bush and advisers like Max Boot, they should receive more credit for trying to nip the dangers in the bud before they became harder to solve. Most politicians want quick and easy solutions and are unwilling to take political heat for making tough choices that preemptively address problems when they are smaller and easier to handle, instead of when they (sometimes literally) blow up in America’s face. America is arguably safer before the actions of these so-called war peddlers, but people like Carlson take advantage of that safety to second-guess and throw insults to further their book sales.
The benefit of hindsight and reassessing history should force thoughtful analysis, especially from those that claim to be the sworn enemy of lying, pomposity, and group think. Thoughtful individuals not taking the lazy way of arguing duplicitously from hindsight should move away from the ideas that the sponsors in the war on terror were foolish, warmongering, war peddlers that involved America in needless wars. I agree that the implementation at times was rather awful, but people like Bush, Boot, and Kristol are not war peddlers for advocating that course. To answer his question, they are still around because America faces foreign-policy challenges that require thoughtful assessment of vast amounts of data with no less than lives of millions of people depending on every decision. As Sunzi (Sun-Tzu), a theorist that even poseurs like Carlson should have read, warfare is the way to life or death, the path to survival or extinction and should be thoughtfully examined…unless you have a talk show and don’t like certain people and then you just insult them and laugh.