It's been a fiery couple of days on the set of "Tucker Carlson Tonight." The famously combative Fox News host, who also happens to be my former boss, has been engaged in something of a foreign policy royal rumble with Republican foreign policy analysts Ralph Peters and Max Boot.
The fireworks started when Peters compared Carlson to Charles Lindbergh because Tucker questioned whether Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian leader Bashar Assad were really serious threats to the United States. Shockingly, being compared to a Nazi apologist didn't sit well with Tucker and the segment quickly became, shall we say, more lively? The next night, Tucker brought on Boot (who had praised Peters on Twitter) for another entertaining, if not always illuminating, display of verbal fisticuffs.
Who you think won these rather nasty battles likely depends on what your foreign policy worldview is. But whether or not you agree with Carlson's foreign policy worldview — which is close to, if not exactly the same as, Rand Paul's non-interventionism — he is asking legitimate questions that deserve to be answered and debated.
Why is it in America's interest to stand up to Russia? As vile as Assad is, are we sure he is really worse both morally and for U.S. interests than many of those vying to replace him? Is Iran really a serious threat to the U.S.?
It is the last question I want to attempt to reply to here, because I actually think it is the most important of the three questions, as well as the one with the clearest answer. At one point during Tucker's debate with Boot, Tucker asked: "Tell me how many Americans in the United States have been murdered by terrorists backed by Iran since 9/11? You say Iran is a primary threat to us."
After some name-calling, Boot gave a partial answer to Tucker's question by noting that Iran has killed U.S. troops in Iraq and, through its terror proxy Hezbollah, hundreds of U.S. Marines in Beirut in 1983.
But as compelling an answer as this may be for some, it won't satisfy people with Tucker's foreign policy worldview — not because they don't care about U.S. soldiers as Boot suggested, but because, as they would be quick to point out, the U.S. would never have been in Iraq and Lebanon if their foreign policy ruled the day.
But there is an answer that could appeal to even those with Tucker's foreign policy orientation. If I were on his show, I would have answered his question this way:
You make a fair point, Tucker, by pointing out that neither Iran nor its terrorist proxies have killed Americans on U.S. soil, like Sunni terror organizations have, though we probably should not forget the Iranian-sponsored plot to kill the Saudi Ambassador at Café Milano in Georgetown that surely would have also killed Americans if it wasn't foiled. (That one should hit close to home since you occasionally eat there, or at least you once ate there with me.)
But, again, I take your point. Nonetheless, I would still maintain that Iran is an even greater threat to America than Sunni terrorist groups, which is saying something because I believe Sunni terrorist groups pose a serious threat. The difference between Sunni terror groups like al Qaeda and the Islamic State and an Iranian-sponsored Shia terror group like Hezbollah is that there is an actual modern state supporting the latter and states are most capable of producing weapons of mass destruction.
As you know, Iran has a rather sophisticated nuclear weapons program going, even if it may – and I emphasize may – have been temporarily suspended. Neither al Qaeda nor ISIS can say the same. If Iran were to develop a nuclear bomb, it would be the first theocratic state in history to have such a weapon.
Just take a look at the havoc North Korea is causing in Asia. Imagine a North Korea in the Middle East, but a North Korea with leaders who believe — at least they say they believe — that cataclysmic war is necessary in order to usher in a heavenly age. That strikes me as a very scary prospect, especially considering Iranian leaders are fond of leading their people in chants of "Death to America."
Even if Iran's mullahs are more rational than we sometimes give them credit for being — a risky bet — they would still be a serious threat to us. If Iran gets nuclear weapons, many other countries in its region will try to get nuclear weapons to counter it. That doesn't strike me as a stupendous outcome for the stability of the region. Beyond the potential cost to human life in the region if war broke out, as you know as well as anyone, the Middle East has lots of oil, which is kind of important to our economy. I don't think double-digit per gallon gas is a key ingredient in MAGAnomics.
Perhaps most importantly, let's not forget that Iran's terror proxy Hezbollah reportedly has terror cells in the U.S. And as the State Department once noted, Hezbollah is the A-Team of international terror, al-Qaida's just the B-Team. I can't imagine a graver threat than a theocratic regime that affectionately refers to the U.S. as the Great Satan having the means to annihilate a U.S. city with a suitcase nuke, can you?
So, yes, I'd argue Iran poses a very real and potentially grave threat to the United States, especially if it obtains nuclear capability, as many experts seem to think is inevitable. Whether it is really inevitable and how best deal with the Iranian threat are questions for another day.
Jamie Weinstein (@Jamie_Weinstein) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He hosts The Jamie Weinstein Show podcast and is founding partner at JMW Strategies.
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