Why is the far right so against US intervention in Syria?
In 2002 and 2003, millions of left-leaning demonstrators to protest against the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq. All the while, conservative media, along with large segments of the liberal press, beat the war drums, encouraging the Bush administration in its project of regime change.
But 15 years later, as the US edges towards a greater involvement in Syria, there is as yet no progressive, mass anti-war movement. For now, the most prominent opponents of Middle East intervention are all on the right, while with military intervention in the Middle East.
Almost as soon as allegations of were aired, a broad spectrum of rightwing commentators were claiming that it was a “false flag” – that is, an attack carried out by someone else as a provocation, in order to bring down international punishment on the Assad government.
The most reliable peddlers of conspiracy thinking led the way. Alex Jones a live Twitter broadcast claiming that the “false flag chemical attack could start a wider war”. The hardcore Trump acolyte and anti-immigration zealot Ann Coulter it a “faked attack”, and like many others, connected it to Trump’s recently expressed desire to leave Syria.
In the same vein, many pointed a finger at the alt-right’s perennial scapegoat: Jewish people. In a tweet, alt-right podcaster Mike Peinovich (AKA Mike Enoch) “(((neocon))) bullshit”, using the movement’s visual symbolism for Jewish people, adding that “I don’t buy it and neither should you.”
On his own podcast, prominent alt-right figure Richard Spencer also expressed scepticism about the attack, and interpreted the administration’s increasingly uncompromising stance towards Syria’s ally, Russia, as an indicator of Jewish influence.
“Let’s just let the cat out of the bag,” Spencer said, “there is a Jewish element (who thinks) Russia is fundamentally illegitimate.”
The false flag theories, the animus towards Israel and Jewish people as supposed orchestrators of the attack, and sympathy for Russia, were all visible wherever the far right gathers online. This not least on Gab, the alt-right’s favored social media platform, where users swapped antisemitic memes explaining the attacks as a conspiracy, intended to manipulate Trump into fighting Israel’s wars.
If this skepticism were confined to these fringes, it might not be worth too much of our attention. But it also received an airing in ostensibly more mainstream forums, especially Fox News.
On Thursday, the Fox and Friends host Steve Doocy, who claims made by the Russian government that aid organization the had staged the attack. (The same claims had been the previous day on Richard Spencer’s website).
And in general, Fox News hosts pushed back on the president’s bellicose remarks, largely evincing an anti-war sentiment. New recruit Tomi Lahren Trump in her final thoughts segment to “remember that it’s America first”, and demanded that the US pull out of Syria entirely.
Early on Monday morning, Laura Ingraham wondered why was a priority among other humanitarian disasters, and also asked, “where are we getting all the money?”
As for Tucker Carlson, he arguably cemented his position as the country’s most high-profile critic of America’s wars. On Monday night, on his primetime show, Carlson first the “geniuses” accusing Assad of chemical weapons use, asking: “Do they really know that? Of course they don’t. They’re making it up.”
He further asked: “How would Assad benefit from using chlorine gas last weekend?”, arguing that as he is poised for victory, this would be self-defeating.
This emerging rightwing stance against war in Syria seems remarkable when set against recent history, but it makes more sense in the context of the right’s longer history.
Matthew Lyons, a on the far right, points out that there’s a “whole tradition in the US right of opposing military intervention overseas”.
Lyons says that this tradition, traceable to the America First Committee’s attempts to keep the US out of the second world war, receded in the cold war, only to be revived by so-called “paleoconservatives” like Pat Buchanan in the 1990s. (This week, Buchanan himself against Trump’s apparent capture by “the war party”).
“Alt-rightists such as Richard Spencer and rightwing conspiracists such as Alex Jones partly echo the paleoconservatives,” Lyons says.
He adds that when Trump launched strikes against Syria last year in response to another gas attack, “they saw that as a betrayal of Trump’s talk of ‘putting America first’, and a capitulation to the neoconservative establishment, so-called globalist elites, or just Jews”.
And while the far right has mixed feelings about Russia, Russia will take any help it can get. As George Washington University’s Marlene Laruelle , Russia is “a beneficiary of a confluence of narratives and visions” in the west, and acts “not as a societal transformer but as an echo chamber of European and American societies’ own doubts”.
In other words, while Putin may not be responsible for the right’s anti-war turn and the crisis of neoconservatism, to the extent that this reflects a broader shift in public opinion, he may benefit from it.
As for Fox News, according to the Dan Cassino, anti-globalism is also the flavor of the month there.
He thinks they have been chasing the audience discovered and nurtured by outlets like Breitbart and Infowars. Indeed, as presenters like Carlson have found ways to make alt-right-adjacent ideology “palatable to advertisers”.
Cassino says that while once Fox had to balance Tea Party-style red meat politics against the sensibilities of “country club Republicans”, now he’s not sure that center-right audience exists any more.
For now, then, the most energetic and entrepreneurial parts of the right are anti-war. Until and unless a broader left anti-war movement emerges, they may remain as the most prominent advocates for that position.