The recent public war between Ben Shapiro and Candace Owens revealed more than just the Daily Wire pundits’ views on the Israel-Palestine conflict, it also highlighted the current divide on the Right regarding foreign policy.
Broadly, Shapiro supports most of what Israel is doing militarily in Gaza despite the many civilian casualties, and Owens has opposed it.
When Shapiro was asked about Owens’ stance recently, he dismissed her as “disgraceful.”
Owens responded during an interview with Tucker Carlson that she viewed herself as “America First,” implying that perhaps the United States’ interests should come before other countries’, including Israel’s.
While both of these positions exist on the Right, they stand in stark contrast.
Human Events’ Jack Posobiec put it well, saying, “I don’t necessarily think that Candace has come down and said she opposes the idea of going after Hamas, or if she’s pro October 7 and the attacks on the kibbutzes. I think what we really have here is this is a fault line for a lot of people on the Right that comes down to more of that ‘America First’ vs. heavy American interventionism. Some people would say ‘neoconservative’ type of stripe that exists on the Right in American today. In American conservatism.”
During the Iraq war, the small minority of non-interventionist conservatives and libertarians were almost completely ignored. The biggest names among these few were Pat Buchanan and the late Robert Novak, but even their name IDs could not withstand the post-9/11 fury of Americans, which was eventually channeled into invading Iraq in 2003.
But even though Buchanan, Novak and lesser known names at the time (including Ron Paul) were fairly powerless, the neoconservative establishment sought to banish them ever further in 2003 through a long National Review essay titled ‘Unpatriotic Conservatives’ written by George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum. Frum was also the author of Bush’s ‘axis of evil’ line in his 2002 State of the Union address, referring to Iraq, Iran and North Korea.
Frum finished his essay with a declaration from the conservative movement that he apparently assumed he represented, “War is a great clarifier… In a time of danger, they have turned their backs on their country. Now we turn our backs on them.”
Got it? If you were against war and on the Right, you were excommunicated from the conservative movement. There was no room for you.
The neocons sure as hell weren’t going to try to actually debate any anti-war conservatives, now were they? Most Americans didn’t even know such creatures existed. That was the whole idea.
But we are no longer in 2003.
The most popular conservative pundit in America right now is Tucker Carlson who essentially holds the same views as Candace Owens in both the US staying out of the Israel conflict and also not sending aid and arms to Ukraine to intervene in their war with Russia.
Neither of these figures is being shouted into submission for holding those views— because no one has the ability to do this anymore.
When Shapiro appeared to attempt this with Owens by dismissing her as merely “disgraceful,” that was the same neoconservative tactic that has been used for two decades to squelch antiwar views. He made his comments at a private event that was recorded and the video was leaked, but this was still his response to her position.
So what is a conservative foreign policy in 2023? There is still neoconservatism – advocating forever wars in the name of American hegemony – that has never really been ‘conservative’ in any conventional sense. Or as columnist George Will once described this group, “The most magnificently misnamed neoconservatives are the most radical people in this town.”
Yet now, there is also now an actual debate on the Right in which some of the most right-leaning leaders and pundits label themselves ‘America First,’ as Owens has, and find themselves on the polar opposite side of the once dominant neoconservatives.
Carlson was doing more than just allowing Owens a chance to rebut Shapiro—he was making a statement that rightwing non-interventionism was not going away even in this tense moment, and hawks’ old method of name-calling their opponents into obscurity just isn’t going to happen anymore.
Those days are over.
Or in other words, ‘nice try, Ben.’