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Tucker Carlson’s Flip-Flops on Russia Mask a Deep Militarism

As Putin’s invasion of Ukraine rages on, long-deepening foreign policy divisions in the GOP have been brought into sharp relief. As expected, the conservative establishment has been pushing President Joe Biden toward more aggressive, escalatory, and interventionist responses. They are joined in this by hawkish voices in the liberal establishment.

More surprising, however, have been those voices across the Republican far right that have taken the opposite tack: opposing intervention and calling on the Biden administration to do more to de-escalate tensions with Russia. Led by influential figures such as Tucker Carlson, who hosts the most widely viewed show on cable news, and politicians such as Josh Hawley, Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar, and Marjorie Taylor Greene—many of whom have embraced outright white nationalists—this MAGA wing of the conservative movement is on the rise, and is determined to remake the GOP in its own image, including around foreign policy.

If you squint hard enough, it might look like this MAGA foreign policy aligns with critics of militarism on the left. Indeed, there may be cases where temporary left-right alliances make sense on particular legislative proposals. However, it would be a grave mistake to treat the MAGA right as principled anti-interventionists who might join progressive efforts to reduce funding for the military and oppose the rise of militarism in US society overall. Their goal is not to end US militarism but to seize control of it.

From Neoconservativism to Anti-China Nationalism

The nationalist far right rejects the neoconservative foreign policy vision long favored by the Republican (and Democratic) establishment, which holds that the United States can and should use military force to remake the world in its own image. Like their forerunners in the paleoconservative movement, today’s far right is suspicious of multinational bodies such as the UN or NATO, and tends to also be skeptical about current uses of US military power—not because they are critical of militarism as such, but rather because they don’t believe the US has any responsibility toward the rest of the world at all.

The far right sees neocon interventionism as one face of what some of them call the “globohomo agenda”: Western elites’ supposed use of institutions like NATO and the European Union to export open-borders ideology, LGBTQ rights, consumerism—and all the other supposed ills of liberal modernity around the world. “Fight to the death to defend what you love,” Carlson advised viewers on March 7. “That’s the American position. That’s why we call it the Defense Department, not the Department of Nation Building, or the Bureau of Trans Evangelism.”

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