When the news broke about the death of Qassem Soleimani in an American airstrike, it was inevitable that the Democrats and the media would denounce the action and once again declare President Trump unfit for office. More surprising was the opprobrium heaped on the raid and its underlying rationale by Tucker Carlson. The Fox News host is usually fairly sensible, if given to the hyperbole and simulated indignation required by the talking head genre. Moreover, he tends to be supportive of the President and his policies. Carlson’s response to the Soleimani killing, however, was uninformed, uncharacteristically hostile to Trump, and generally unhinged.
Friday evening, for example, Carlson brayed that the successful attack on Soleimani was somehow equivalent to killing the chairman of our Joint Chiefs of Staff and therefore an unnecessary provocation that could lead to a war with Iran comparable to the conflict with Iraq. Carlson’s hysteria pursuant to Soleimani’s very timely demise has evidently affected his grasp of reality. The chairman of our Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, hasn’t presided over a protracted reign of terror from which no one in the Middle East was safe. Nor is his boss trying to start a war. Carlson nonetheless was moved to deliver a tired isolationist sermon:
[B]efore we enter into a single new war, a criterion that ought to be met: Our leaders should be required to explain how the conflict will make the United States richer and more secure. There are a lot of bad people in this world. We can’t kill them all. It isn’t our job. Our government exists to defend and promote the interests of American citizens. Period. That’s why we have a government. Has the killing of Soleimani done that? Maybe. No one in Washington is explaining how.
That claim, as it happens, simply is not true. President Trump explained it in plain English several hours before Carlson delivered himself of the trite and ignorant effusion quoted above:
Soleimani was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel, but we caught him in the act and terminated him.… For years, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its ruthless Quds Force — under Soleimani’s leadership — has targeted, injured, and murdered hundreds of American civilians and servicemen.… Today we remember and honor the victims of Soleimani’s many atrocities, and we take comfort in knowing that his reign of terror is over.
That was evidently not good enough for Carlson. Ignoring the undeniable evidence that Soleimani was responsible for many American deaths and for the recent escalation of attacks against our interests in the Middle East, including the embassy in Baghdad, he issued portentous warnings about American militarism. Carlson even exhumed ridiculous leftwing talking points about dangerous “neocons” who allegedly seek to influence Trump and leavened these comments with cryptic warnings about the fell designs of former national security advisor John Bolton. He also ignored observations made by retired Gen. David Petraeus in a Foreign Policy interview:
It is impossible to overstate the importance of this particular action. It is more significant than the killing of Osama bin Laden.… Soleimani was the architect and operational commander of the Iranian effort to solidify control of the so-called Shia crescent, stretching from Iran to Iraq through Syria into southern Lebanon. He is responsible for providing explosives, projectiles, and arms and other munitions that killed well over 600 American soldiers and many more of our coalition.
Carlson would presumably respond to the effect that there should have been no American soldiers in the Middle East in the first place. Indeed, in response to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s reiteration of the President’s point that the raid was necessary to forestall planned attacks on Americans, Carlson responded: “Those attacks would have occurred in the Middle East, not here in America.” To say this point of view is hopelessly naïve would be too charitable. It’s one thing to abjure nation building, but the isolationist belief that the United States can safely retreat from all “foreign entanglements” is pure fantasy. Carlson clearly doesn’t get this.
First, it would not make us safe! It’s hard to believe that this isn’t obvious to anyone old enough to remember September 11, 2001. Unless one is naïve enough to accept Osama bin Laden’s propaganda — that it was the result of our presence in the Middle East — it should be clear that fighting our enemies abroad renders us safer at home. Moreover, the 9/11 attacks were hardly our first exposure to this reality. American isolationism in the 1930s led directly to Pearl Harbor. Even Thomas Jefferson, who coined the phrase “entangling alliances,” committed American forces to an international coalition to fight the Barbary Pirates. Yet Carlson berates Trump:
In 2016, Donald Trump ran on a promise of fewer foreign adventures considering the ones we embarked upon didn’t go very well.… Against the odds, he won that election probably because of that promise. But ever since, Washington, including some around the president, have been committed to ignoring the results of that election and its implications. Washington has wanted war with Iran for decades. They have been working toward it. They may have finally gotten it.
Not likely. The reason Iran’s leaders have pursued asymmetrical warfare against us is that they know any direct confrontation with our armed forces is exceptionally bad for their health. That the monster Soleimani is now just a stain on the tarmac in Baghdad will not be lost on the already rebellious Iranian people. As longtime student of Iranian politics Kenneth R. Timmerman writes, “I believe the Iranian people will draw the obvious conclusion that this once powerful regime has feet of clay.” He expects anti-regime protests inside Iran to increase in frequency and size. It isn’t clear that the already fragile regime will be able to resist them without their enforcer.
All they have left, really, is their skill at manipulating American media and the hope that the latter can dull the public’s appetite for foreign conflict. That’s the beauty of Trump’s strategy of lopping off the heads of snakes like Soleimani. The Democrats and the media will protest, while talking heads like Tucker Carlson kvetch, but the public knows these people are two-dimensional showbiz personalities sweating beneath their make-up. If Trump reduces the number of Americans coming home in body bags by cleaning out the pit of vipers that is Iran, they will support him. This isn’t Afganistan or Iraq. It’s a decrepit theocracy whose days are numbered.
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