But what if they are inextricably intertwined? That’s the message of the decade-old, previously unheard recordings of Carlson that Media Matters released on Monday. They expose the core reason that he evolved from hawk to dove: He decided Iraqis and Afghans were too barbaric to be worth conquering.
Conor Friedersdorf: Tucker Carlson and the court of public opinion
The timing of the recordings is significant. They span from 2006 to 2009, as Carlson was reconsidering the interventionism he had imbibed at The Weekly Standard. That hawkishness had led him to back the Iraq War, which in 2004 Carlson said he was “ashamed” to have endorsed.
Carlson’s remorse was hardly unique. As the war turned sour, many commentators came to feel regret, and even shame, for having supported it. I’m one of them. What’s striking is the lessons Carlson drew from the war’s failure. In the recordings, he never suggests that the Bush administration should have listened to the United Nations, which refused to authorize the invasion of Iraq. He never acknowledges a problem with “preventive war” against regimes that don’t pose an imminent threat. He expresses no concern for the Iraqis America killed. In fact, he doesn’t question America’s right to conquer and occupy other countries at all. What he concludes is that the war was a mistake because Iraq is too uncivilized to subjugate.
In one 2006 recording, Carlson says that although “I hate the war … I just have zero sympathy for them [Iraqis] or their culture. A culture where people just don’t use toilet paper or forks.” When his interlocutor says it’s understandable that Iraqis want Americans “off their soil,” Carlson responds, “They can just shut the fuck up and obey, is my view. And, you know, the second we leave, they’re going to be calling for us to return, because they can’t govern themselves.”
Carlson’s point is clear: As barbarians, Iraqis have no individual or national rights. Ideally, America could conquer their country, and they would simply obey. But, unfortunately, they won’t accept the tutelage of their Western superiors.
Asked in March 2008, “How you could you salvage Iraq at this point?” Carlson replies, “If, somehow, the Iraqis decided to behave like human beings.” But he doesn’t see that as possible. “Iraq is a crappy place filled with a bunch of, you know, semiliterate primitive monkeys,” he declares in August 2008. “That’s why it wasn’t worth invading.” In 2009, he extends the logic to Afghanistan, which is “never going to be a civilized country, because the people aren’t civilized.”
Read: The awkward, all-American marriage of anti-interventionism and racism
Carlson’s views of Iraqis and Afghans are classically imperialist. They’re straight out of Rudyard Kipling’s “The White Man’s Burden.” He just thinks that America’s “new-caught, sullen peoples / Half-devil and half-child” aren’t worth the bother.