Throughout the Introduction and into the first chapter of Ship of Fools you seem to be seated before a television screen listening to, and watching, Tucker Carlson in his nightly broadcast. The voice is the same, the tone is the same; so is the manner. Then, almost imperceptibly, you find yourself slipping—or rather being slipped—from one medium to another until you realize you are reading a formally developed and exceedingly well-researched book whose thesis is succinctly and memorably stated on the first page of Chapter Three, entitled “Foolish Wars.”
One thing that every late-stage ruling class has in common is a high tolerance for mediocrity. Standards decline, the edges fray, but nobody in charge seems to notice. They’re happy in their sinecures and getting richer. In a culture like this, there’s no penalty for being wrong. The talentless prosper, rising inexorably toward positions of greater power, and breaking things along the way. It happened to the Ottomans. Max Boot is living proof that it’s happening in America.
I should not have begun this review by discussing what Carlson has to say about the American establishment’s fatal proclivities for military adventurism had the author not placed the succinct passage quoted above where he did in the book. So continue with Boot who, Carlson informs us, has been described by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London as being among the “world’s leading authorities on armed conflict.” At which point Carlson comments,
None of this, it turns out, means anything. The professional requirements for being one of the world’s Leading Authorities on Armed Conflict do not include relevant experience with armed conflict. Leading authorities on the subject don’t need a track record of wise assessments or accurate predictions. All that’s required are the circular recommendations of fellow credential holders. If other Leading Authorities on Armed Conflict induct you into their ranks, you’re in.
Of course, your chances of induction are greatly enhanced by a track record of having advocated, since September 9, 2001, the creation of an American empire; a series of American-inspired revolutions around the world beginning in Afghanistan and Iraq; the targeting of Syria and Iran as objects of American military action; the imposition of democracy on Saudi Arabia; the dispatch of American troops to occupy Pakistan and Somalia; the deposition of Qaddafi in Libya; and more aggressive confrontation with Russia (sending larger shipments of weapons to Ukraine and expelling Russia from the global financial system, etc.). In each case, Boot expected no response from the targeted parties that Washington need fear. For instance, in the case of Russia Boot wrote that it was “hard to imagine” that Putin would react badly to such provocations. And so on. As it is, with or without the strategic wisdom and foresight of Max Boot, the history of the past two decades has been the history of the unrelieved catastrophic failure of American adventurism. No matter. “The signature characteristic,” Mr. Carlson writes, “of America’s foreign policy establishment, apart from their foolishness, is the resiliency of their self-esteem.”
Carlson observes that while he was growing up in southern California in the 1970’s Democrats were the peace party and the Republicans the party of war. Since then, a Great Convergence on military policy has occurred between the two parties: Both of them want war, and more of it. (Barack Obama, we are reminded, was the first President to have presided over a war on every single day of his eight years in office.) The same phenomenon of convergence can be observed in immigration policy over the same decades as Democrats have abandoned their defense of the American working class against the mass arrival of low-skilled Third World immigrants willing to take jobs “Americans won’t do,” and millions of others they would do had they not been given to immigrants first, and more recently extended their support for accepting a limitless number of legal immigrants to an unlimited number of illegal ones. The shift in sentiment and in policy began in the 1990’s and was confirmed inside a single presidential electoral cycle, that of 2000-04, thanks in part to the rise of identity politics but also—and far more significantly—to the Democratic Party’s desperate and determined need for the votes of expanded minority groups invited from around the world. Had Donald Trump not been elected President in 2016, the last two years would probably have witnessed a mass amnesty coupled with a massive increase in immigration quotas passed by the Democratic Party with the support of the Republican establishment.
“The most dangerous force of all,” says Tucker Carlson, “turns out to be an activist establishment that believes its heart is in the right place.” This wise observation, while it applies chiefly to the Democrats and to liberals generally, has reference also to those liberal Republicans who refuse to condemn but rather choose to overlook, condone, or support reverse racism, speech codes and the criminalization of “hate speech,” political correctness, feminism, the concept of sexuality as “fluid,” gay marriage, and abortion as a sacrament: indeed, postmodern morality taken as a whole, including its massive but logically unavoidable hypocrisy. (“When [Ted] Kennedy [the absolutist defender of abortion] died in 2009, feminists celebrated his life. The Huffington Post ran a piece asking, ‘What would Mary Jo Kopechne have thought of Ted’s career?’ Its conclusion: ‘maybe she’d feel it was worth it.’”)
The Democrats, which until the 1990’s were the anti-establishment party, are today as establishmentarian as, or more so than, the Grand Old Party. Save for the Trump Republicans, America is governed by two competing establishments both of which are united in opposing the ideas, the interests, and the wishes of a very large part of the American people. Tucker Carlson’s conclusion (“Left untended, democracies self-destruct”) is followed by a warning. “There’s no transitioning from democracy in America without civil war.”
[Ship of Fools: How a Selfish Ruling Class Is Bringing America to the Brink of Revolution, by Tucker Carlson (New York: Free Press) 256 pp., $28.00]