The military industrial complex has declared war on Fox Nation, as evidenced by their recent attacks on Tucker Carlson. It’s another needless quagmire.
By now, you’ve probably heard about Carlson’s criticism of the military’s “new hairstyles and maternity flight suits,” and the Department of Defense’s clapback. “Press secretary smites Fox Host That Dissed Diversity in U.S. Military” was the headline, not from an opinionated news site like this one, but from an official DoD statement as military leaders in uniform filmed videos and sent tweets from official accounts condemning the TV talker. What the heck?
It’s problematic to see military leaders getting involved in public policy debates and publicly attacking a prominent media figure. Among other things, taking sides in a political debate risks undermining the institution’s hard-earned reputation for being politically neutral. Meanwhile, liberals have been too busy hating on Carlson, who certainly invites their hatred, to have even noticed this fundamental breach in how our democracy is supposed to function—or to object to the atrocious idea that only military veterans (whether active duty or retired) are qualified to opine on military matters.
That seems to be exactly what U.S. Space Command’s Sergeant Scott Stalker was suggesting when he tweeted: “I’ll remind everyone that [Carlson’s] opinion…is based off of actually zero days of service in the armed forces.”
But it wasn’t just current military leaders making this argument. “Hey @TuckerCarlson,” tweeted Amy McGrath, a former Marine fighter pilot who ran for Senate against Mitch McConnell, “I’ve logged 20 years in the Corps, 2000 flight hours, 3 combat tours, 3 kids delivered on active duty. How about you?”
I get it. Because Carlson hasn’t personally served in the military, he doesn’t have a right to an opinion. Does Joe Biden (you know, our commander in chief) have this same problem?
My point is, if military service is the magic sauce for knowing the right answers to questions about “social engineering,” “unit cohesion,” and “military readiness,” then what are we to make of the fact that then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin Powell had reservations about gays serving openly in the military, or that Naval Academy graduate and combat veteran (not to mention future Navy Secretary and Democratic U.S. Senator) Jim Webb wrote a 1979 piece titled, “Women Can’t Fight”?
Could it be that military experience does not automatically bestow public policy correctness upon those who served?
Simultaneously, when we call the Carlsons of the world “chickenhawks,” we are shutting down debate and discussion and sounding like Jack Nicholson’s Nathan Jessup in A Few Good Men:
“You ever served in an infantry unit son?”
“You ever served in a forward area unit?”
“You ever put your life in another man’s hands, and in return, asked him to put his life in yours?”
“We follow orders, son. We follow orders or people die. It’s that simple. Are we clear?”
Spoiler: Jessup thinks he’s the hero but he’s the villain.
Just as I would never say that only immigrants or people who live on the border have a right to weigh in on immigration reform, I think it’s stupid and wrong to suggest that only veterans can have an opinion about the military. (I should disclose that I worked for Carlson at The Daily Caller, that I like him personally, and that I have also publicly criticized his past on-air comments—which, I suppose, uniquely qualifies me to write this column. Indeed, unless you personally know Tucker, you probably shouldn’t be weighing in on this topic. See? Now I’m being absurd.)
The notion that only veterans can weigh in on military matters is a strange new standard for progressives to embrace (and a very convenient one for the Pentagon to advance). It’s dangerous, inasmuch as civilian control of the military is a fundamental tenet of our nation. And it’s a stupid rule for progressives to establish, since sooner or later, a less progressive administration might manipulate this same narrative to spread a different sort of agenda.
Still, many progressives have been cheering on the response for several reasons. One is simply the reflexive desire to attack Carlson—and defend women. A more strategic motive might be to peel away the GOP’s military support—something that began during Trump’s tenure as he attacked Gold Star families and mocked prisoners of war. It may very well be that Carlson’s comments will cost him some viewers who are sensitive to this issue, just as the military’s attack on Carlson might drive a wedge between the military and its base.
In an all-volunteer military, it’s especially dangerous for the military to surrender its apolitical image. Because we have self-sorted politically, the attack on Carlson risks alienating a geographic section of the country that is the most likely to sign up to fight our wars. The military is one of the few institutions that still enjoys fairly broad public confidence. That won’t last if it wades into pissing matches with tv pundits.
Institutions don’t decline because TV commentators criticize them. They choose decline when the so-called adults lower their standards of excellence and squander their credibility. Rather than staying above the fray and preserving their reputation, our military leaders have just walked down from their moral high ground in exchange for getting to be, what, political pundits?
In case you are worried about what this all means regarding our military’s preparedness, the good news is that the U.S. spends more on defense than China, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, Germany, the UK, Japan, South Korea, and Brazil, combined. This may not be enough to keep the Russians out of Ukraine, keep the Chinese from building those phony islands in the South China Sea, or help secure the U.S. Capitol. But at least our military brass can smite cable news pundits with snarky tweets.
If they can’t win the war on terror, maybe they can win the War on Tucker?