The Neoconservatives’ Latest Purge

When a small group of “America First” House Republicans fought to block Congress from approving a $95 billion package of foreign aid, none of them questioned the aid marked for Israel. The point of disagreement was rather the additional funding for Ukraine, which these dissenters viewed, correctly in my opinion, as a waste of money on a corrupt country in a doomed, faraway struggle that has little to do with American interests.

None of the Republicans questioned the aid to Israel because they know that even the mildest criticism of American support for Israel violates a taboo in American conservative politics and invites one’s blacklisting as an “anti-Semite.” 

If any confirmation is needed that this is the unspoken rule on the American right, one may consider the attacks directed over the last few weeks at the online media stars Tucker Carlson and Candace Owens, both of whom have challenged the conservative establishment’s stridently held party line. Carlson is now under fire from the both the Republican Party establishment and neoconservative commentators like Ben Shapiro, while Owens was fired from the media company Shapiro founded, The Daily Wire.

“My crime is that I do not believe that American taxpayers should have to pay for Israel’s wars or the wars of any other country,” Owens wrote on X after her firing.

Israel is by far the largest recipient of American foreign aid—particularly military aid. After this latest package, Israel will have received $323 billion in aid since its founding, according to the Council for Foreign Relations. Israel has received double the amount provided to the second-largest aid recipient (Egypt), and two-thirds of the aid to Israel is military aid. Given America’s $35 trillion national debt and its growing struggle to pay even the interest on such an enormous amount, Owens’ concerns warrant discussion.

Tucker also may have a point that we should avoid pushing ourselves unnecessarily into a Middle Eastern war. As Tucker told Russell Brand in February 2024:

I’ve got four draft-age children. So if you are playing recklessly, fast and loose with their lives, then I have a right to despise you. And I do. So, if you’re Nikki Haley who’s running for president, or Ben Shapiro, or half the people I see on television casually mentioning the possibility of nuclear war, or sending Americans to fight in the Middle East, or in any way involving us in a war that has nothing to do with prosperity and peace at home—nothing, in other words, that has to do with us, as Americans—then I have a right to call you out and be really offended because it’s my family. They live here. It’s not a joke to me; there is nothing abstract about it. 

After the foreign aid bill was passed, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell absurdly blamed Carlson for the delay in its passage. Carlson “had an enormous audience which convinced a lot of rank-and-file Republicans that maybe this is a mistake,” McConnell said.

For his part, Shapiro has characterized Tucker and others like him as “isolationists” who, by questioning the wisdom of America’s past military interventions, believe “that there is something deeply wrong with the United States.” Tucker is “pushing a pacifist line” that has “never been a conservative position so far as I’m aware,” Shapiro said.

Peace through strength has been a conservative position for as long as I’ve been alive, certainly. This idea that you are heightening the chances of a world war if America actually flexes its muscles sometimes, it’s a bizarre one when what we know is precisely the opposite.

Here Shapiro is reading from the same playbook that neoconservatives have been using since they took over the American right in the 1980s. As my colleague Paul Gottfried writes in this issue about the career of William F. Buckley, the neoconservatives purged everyone from the mainstream right who they felt was insufficiently anti-Communist by questioning the wisdom getting America embroiled in the Vietnam War. In 2003, when Chronicles and many of its paleoconservative contributors including Pat Buchanan, Joe Sobran, Thomas Fleming, and Taki Theodoracopulos opposed the Iraq War over the dubious claims about weapons of mass destruction, Buckley’s National Review published a hit piece denouncing them as “Unpatriotic Conservatives.”

In reality, there is a long tradition of American conservatism going back to the country’s founding which has been, as President George Washington put it in his 1796 Farewell Address, “against the insidious wiles of foreign influence … since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government.”

In that speech, Washington went on to predict that future promoters of America’s involvement in foreign conflicts would attempt to smear the country’s “real patriots.”

Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.

Shapiro has not looked good in the public eye since his back-to-back conflicts with Owens and Carlson, particularly with Carlson, who has amassed a large and devoted conservative following from his time at Fox News. Shapiro went on Dave Rubin’s podcast The Rubin Report in early April to complain that Tucker was attributing “bad motives” to their disagreement over foreign policy.

“He wishes to question my motives… So, if we disagree with Israel, then he immediately goes to questioning [my motives.],” Shapiro said. “Unless you have evidence of motivation that is corrupt or wrong, you should not attribute motivation to people.”

Yet Shapiro revealed evidence about his motives about the question of Israel less than two years ago, at a CPAC conference in Israel in July 2022. “The existence of the state of Israel is the single greatest guarantor of my loyalty to the United States, frankly,” he said. “Because Israel exists, that means the United States is going to be a more welcoming place for me.” 

Israel is clearly the favorite foreign cause of Shapiro and many in the American mainstream conservative movement, while Owens and Carlson may be in Washington’s formulation, the “real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite.” They, as well as others who have long been smeared as “suspected and odious” by the neoconservatives for putting America first, deserve a fair hearing.

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