Talking Points

Why Tucker Carlson's response to Afghanistan is reminiscent of post-World War I Germany

No, the United States didn't lose Afghanistan because America and its armed forces are too "woke." But that's the case being made now by Hungary-loving conservatives like Tucker Carlson.

"It turns out the people of Afghanistan don't actually want gender studies symposia," Carlson said Monday night on his Fox News show. "They didn't actually buy the idea that men can become pregnant. They thought that was ridiculous. They don't hate their own masculinity. They don't think it's toxic — they like the patriarchy. Some of their women like it too."

Over at The American Conservative, Rod Dreher made a similar argument, pointing to recent diversity efforts at West Point. "America might not know how to win actual wars," he wrote, "but it sure is going to equip its troops to win the culture war against traditional morality and old-fashioned American values." At the right-wing Townhall website, Kurt Schlicter offered the same appraisal in even nastier terms.

What's happening here is just a 21st-century version of the "stab-in-the-back" myth, a reliable staple of modern warfare. The term is often associated with Germany in the post-World War I era, but its features — nationalists blaming left-wing cosmopolitans for a humiliating loss on the battlefield — are universal. In Germany, socialists, communists and unions were blamed for the country's devastating failure. (Rather fatefully, the country's Jews were also singled out for responsibility.) After the Vietnam War, American conservatives condemned antiwar protesters, the media, and even Congress for undermining the military's doomed efforts. Now, apparently, we're supposed to blame feminists, transgender people, and diversity consultants for America's inability to win in Afghanistan. Wokeness is the new stab-in-the-back theory.

Some of this is nonsense: American troops weren't running around Kandahar and Kabul giving "gender studies symposia." (In fact, U.S. officials looked the other way while its warlord allies committed child sexual abuse.) And it is ahistorical. There's a reason that Afghanistan is known as the "graveyard of empires." Do conservatives think the Soviet Union was defeated there because the U.S.S.R. was too woke? Or that the British Empire was forced to leave the country because its officials were overly enamored of diversity? Afghanistan is a famously tough country for outsiders to subdue. But that truth doesn't make for good culture war fodder, does it?