Note from the Editors: The following is an excerpt from the recent Tucker Carlson biography by Chadwick Moore “Tucker“, published by All Seasons Press.
From Iraq to Ukraine: How Tucker Carlson turned against Neoconservatism
By the turn of the new century, Tucker Carlson was a contributor to a host of mainstream publications and fast becoming a regular face on TV. Three weeks after the September 11, 2001 attacks, with a red-hot America set to intervene in the region, New York Magazine — which had just named him the journalist “Most Likely to Succeed in the Bush Years” — sent him to Pakistan, from where he planned to cross into Afghanistan. Even for a veteran adventure seeker it was a dangerous assignment, and it nearly cost him his life, though not in the way he expected. Before he even made it into Afghanistan, he had to head back to the States to appear on CNN’s Crossfire, and as his plane flew over the Arabian Sea en route to Dubai, there was a terrific noise as something ripped off the undercarriage. Shaking violently, the plane dropped, then continued flying sideways, before finally skidding onto the runway, bouncing into a sand dune, coming to rest on its side, and catching fire. It should have exploded into a fireball, but somehow it didn’t.
In 2003, Carlson was nominated for a National Magazine Award for an Esquire piece about traveling to Africa with Al Sharpton. Sharpton’s stated goal was to negotiate a peace among the rival factions in war-torn Liberia, and among the others accompanying him on the quixotic quest were the academic Cornel West and assorted other black activists. Disorganization and chaos reigned throughout, and in parts Carlson’s account is hilarious. On the Air Ghana flight over, some in the party rage against the in-flight entertainment: a vintage I Love Lucy episode, with the sound coming over the PA system. With their plans changing moment to moment, the peacemakers never even make it to Liberia, while Tucker himself ends up hanging around with a pair of black Muslims, both named James Muhammad. “From their point of view, I was an irredeemable White Devil, cursed by Allah and marked for destruction,” but the three get along famously, and the Muhammads affectionately dubbed him ‘Tucker X’.
Yet along the way, Carlson also found there was more to the notorious Reverend Sharpton than he’d expected. “We talked for hours over the course of the week, about everything from marriage to the Iowa caucuses,” he wrote. “By the end, I’d settled at least one question: Sharpton doesn’t hate whites after all. He just hates white liberals. “You’ve dealt with inoffensive Negroes,” Sharpton roared, imagining that he was talking to Terry McAuliffe or some other Democratic-party official. “Now you’ve got to deal with Al Sharpton.” Sharpton knows that many white Democrats are embarrassed that he exists. The street-hustler wardrobe, Tawana Brawley, the hair — he is a public-relations disaster for the Democratic party, a living explanation of why suburbanites vote Republican. The thought fills him with pleasure, because it means that he has the power to make white Democrats uncomfortable every time he speaks. ”The only people who don’t respect me are white liberals,” he said one night at dinner. Some have dismissed him outright as a buffoon (he became furious just thinking about it); others have merely patted him on the head and tried to send him on his way. That’s how it felt, anyway. He saw it happen to Jesse Jackson, who started out as an independent man of the left and wound up a party hack, summoned to the Clinton White House periodically like a servant to perform.
It is a measure of the lamentable state of today’s journalism that in pretty much every print or online piece that pretends an interest in Carlson’s origin story, this sharply observed and carefully considered piece of reporting is taken to be racist.
Later in 2003, Esquire sent him to Iraq. Already thirteen journalists had died in Iraq that year, and before embarking on the trip, Carlson wrote letters to his wife and kids and composed a will. Arriving, he found flights into Baghdad had just been suspended following a string of surface-to-air missile strikes on commercial planes. He’d later write in his book The Long Slide that the Iraq trip changed his views more profoundly than anything else he ever wrote. “I arrived a tepid supporter of the war, and of neoconservatism more generally. I returned home a determined opponent of both. The reality of Iraq bore no resemblance to the debates we were having back in Washington. The occupation was so clearly a disaster, even early on.”
Entitled “Hired Guns: Inside the Not-So-Secret Armies of Operation Iraqi Freedom,” the piece described Carlson’s experience embedded with civilian contractors, among them heavily armed ex-Marines with whom he crossed the border from Kuwait. One night, the compound where he was staying came under attack by gunfire. It was a jittery, gloomy week in Baghdad’s Green Zone, where he stayed — a marooned outpost of huddled interlopers engulfed in shapeless, ethereal peril, reminiscent of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness or J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians. No one was ever quite sure where the threat came from, or who was shooting at them — Al Qaeda, Baath Party disciples, cartels of random street criminals, or even trigger-happy, improperly vetted fellow Western contractors.
The experience precipitated Carlson’s first, notable public break from Beltway conservatism; and it permanently revised his thinking about the limits of American power and, even more so, the titanic risks of overreach. “The Americans occupying Iraq couldn’t even admit to themselves they were colonialists,” he later wrote. “Instead, the State Department dressed up the whole operation like it was a kind of armed sensitivity training seminar, designed to liberate Iraqi women from their traditional gender roles. The result was failure, accompanied by chaos on every level. Watching it, I realized that there was nothing conservative about neoconservatism. The neocons were just liberals with guns, the most destructive kind.”
Nearly two decades later, opposition to ill-considered American interventionism would be a staple on his primetime Fox show — one that following Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, would bring down on him new levels of character assassination. As the singular voice in cable news pointedly questioning America’s growing involvement in the conflict, he found himself at odds with not just much of the Fox News lineup, but also with the editorial (and often the news) pages of other Murdoch properties like The Wall Street Journal and especially the New York Post, which daily featured a Ukrainian flag on its front page masthead. The rising tension with his fellow Fox primetime star Sean Hannity soon became apparent to even casual viewers when the two anchors ceased the brief chummy chat that had accompanied the handoff from one’s program to the other’s.
On his show, Carlson taunted and castigated with mounting vehemence pro-war senators such as Lindsey Graham, a once-frequent guest who now refused to appear on his show, before materializing the next hour for a softball turn with Hannity aimed at selling Republican voters on increased funding for the war effort.
“The uniparty is alive and well despite the best efforts of voters,” Carlson told his audience, with undisguised scorn, in December 2022. “And if you doubt that it’s alive and well, here’s a picture of Zelenskyy that he had taken with a group of elderly Republican senators in Kiev back in May. They stand grinning next to him in their orthopedic shoes. Seventy-year-old Susan Collins, John Barrasso, John Cornyn, led by their eighty-year-old ringleader, Mitch McConnell. Forty-four-year-old Zelenskyy poses between them in a skintight polo shirt, flexing like a weightlifter and trying to look ferocious. They seem awestruck. Not since a young Fidel Castro showed up in New York wearing battle fatigues has this country’s aging leadership class tittered more loudly in delight. They love a man in uniform. What a hunk. So strong and decisive. Look at the expression on Mitch McConnell’s face, you could almost hear the giggles of pleasure.”
It was a dangerous stance to take, but Carlson stepped into the minefield without hesitation. It would later be widely speculated that his stance on Ukraine was a major factor in Fox’s taking him off the air. Carlson himself is unsure — the network gave him no explanation — but he certainly doesn’t discount the possibility.