Fox faces additional litigation related its role in propping up the illusion of a “stolen” 2020 election, and Carlson’s show, in particular, has come under a suit for discriminatory personnel practices.
We will know more in the near future, but it appears that in the face of this legally dangerous situation, the Murdoch family decided to cut bait and dispose of Fox’s most popular host.
Here we consider his approach to foreign policy, which has played an essential role in his career.
Tucker Carlson and His Foreign Policy Idea
Tucker Carlson first broke from GOP foreign policy orthodoxy in 2004, when he declared that he had been mistaken about supporting the Iraq War.
Prior to that point, Carlson had accepted the Bush administration’s weak case for war hook, line, and sinker, and used his media platform to lead attacks against anyone who doubted the wisdom of an invasion.
From that point, Tucker Carlson maintained a studied distance from the war, supporting the troops but maintaining that the decision to invade was an error.
Even then, Carlson’s record was mixed; he often took pains to distinguish his own skepticism about the war from anything that could plausibly be described as “leftist.”
It’s certainly worth wondering how sincere Carlson’s anti-war sentiments were in 2004. While it was still difficult to make one’s way in conservative media circles by striking an anti-war pose in 2004, Carlson was not at the time part of the right-wing media ecosystem.
Tucker Carlson was employed by CNN and PBS until 2005, and by MSNBC from 2005 until 2008. His shift on the Iraq War certainly made him more attractive to centrist and left-leaning news outlets, especially as Iraq descended into chaos and the case for war collapsed.
Still, whether sincere or savvy, the decision to pivot on the Iraq War left Carlson well-positioned to ascend through conservative media circles as the war wound down and Barack Obama assumed responsibility for executing the nation’s foreign policy.
Here Comes Donald Trump and So-Called Restraint
With the rise of Donald Trump, Carlson found himself in a place primed to take advantage of a significant shift in GOP foreign policy thinking, becoming one of the premier voices for a certain kind of “restraint” in foreign affairs.
Since the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine War, Carlson has harshly criticized the Biden and Zelenskyy administrations while creeping up to the very edge of outright support for Moscow, a pose that has made him a media darling in Russia. Carlson has expressed ambivalence about military spending, generally focusing his criticism on prioritization (too much money for Ukraine and “woke” social policies, too little for the border), but has consistently taken a hawkish position on China.
Still, it’s an open question whether the terms “restraint” or “anti-imperialist” can effectively describe Carlson’s view of the world. Kurtz’s “exterminate all the brutes” sentiment is a certain kind of anti-imperialism, after all, but not one that we typically find worthy of praise.
Tucker’s vision includes a fondness for authoritarianism (Carlson rarely found a foreign dictator he wouldn’t apologize for, including Vladimir Putin, Bashar Al Assad, and Kim John Eun), enthusiastic racism (Carlson referred to Iraqis as “semi-literate primitive monkeys” and “lunatic Muslims,” unworthy of the blessings of American civilization), anti-immigrant tirades (Carlson fiercely opposed immigration from Mexico and from Islamic countries), and fear-mongering towards Mexico and China.
Not to put too fine of a point on the situation, Carlson expressed a fondness for British imperialism and expressed open worry about the plight of white farmers in South Africa. Carlson supported the Patriot Act and most of the other legislation that made domestic aspects of the War on Terror possible. Carlson expressed regret for this support after the tools of the national security state turned on the right-wing agitators who invaded the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Generally speaking, over his career Carlson has been entirely comfortable aiming the pointy-end of the US national security state at people he doesn’t care for, expressing concern only when tools of state security shifted their attention to people who looked like him.
The Legacy of Tucker Carlson
What we definitely know is this: Tucker Carlson is an American of immense privilege who fought hard to position himself as a leader of the faction of the American elite that hates foreigners, dislikes democracy, and sees little if any value in racial or ethnic diversity. Carlson parleyed that position into a successful career as a populist demagogue, earning mountains of cash while preying upon the weak and stoking the fears of Fox News’s aged, primarily white demographic.
We most certainly have not heard the last of Tucker Carlson. He will quite likely find huge reservoirs of financial support from the right-wing billionaire class, and will detach himself from the limitations of the traditional cable television format. Previous terminations have had little impact on his upward career mobility. Fox may find itself increasingly at war with the conservative grassroots, but Tucker will be fine. He is the very worst of what America has to offer, an exemplar of a broken system of elite privilege that masquerades as “populism” even as it wages war on the most vulnerable, at home and abroad. But as Fox News has demonstrated over its long history, there’s a market for that kind of thing.
A 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, Dr. Robert Farley has taught security and diplomacy courses at the Patterson School since 2005. He received his BS from the University of Oregon in 1997, and his Ph. D. from the University of Washington in 2004. Dr. Farley is the author of Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force (University Press of Kentucky, 2014), the Battleship Book (Wildside, 2016), Patents for Power: Intellectual Property Law and the Diffusion of Military Technology (University of Chicago, 2020), and most recently Waging War with Gold: National Security and the Finance Domain Across the Ages (Lynne Rienner, 2023). He has contributed extensively to a number of journals and magazines, including the National Interest, the Diplomat: APAC, World Politics Review, and the American Prospect. Dr. Farley is also a founder and senior editor of Lawyers, Guns and Money.