Commentary associate editor Noah Rothman took Fox News' Tucker Carlson to task for his skepticism against reports claiming Bashar al Assad had used chemical weapons against Syrian rebel elements and innocent civilians.
Here's part of their debate:
"So we have legitimate news on this story," Carlson began, "this comes from Reuters, the Defense Secretary was just asked specifically the question essentially that we asked on Monday, the one that you called us traitors for asking, which is, 'do we know that Assad is behind the gas attack,' and this what the Secretary of Defense just said."
"We're still assessing the intelligence, ourselves and our allies, we're still working on this," Carlson said, quoting Secretary of Defense Mattis.
"So as with the gas attack last year, last April, the Secretary of Defense, who would know, has not confirmed that we know the Assad government did it," Carlson continued. "So why am I unpatriotic for asking the same question?"
"Well let me say at the outset," Rothman replied, "I have not called you a traitor, I would not call you unpatriotic..."
"Yes you did," Carlson interrupted.
"No sir I did not," Rothman interjected.
"You called me," Carlson said, "and I'm quoting, 'an ostensibly patriotic American opinion-maker who is advancing the geo-political narratives in defense of a blood-soaked regime that threatens American interests.' I'm not attacking you, you were attacking me, for asking the most basic of all questions, and it turns out that the Secretary of Defense has the same question."
"Well I believe your question deserves to be answered," said Rothman, "but whether you know it or not, you are advancing pro-Assad narratives and you should check out Iran TV, PressTV, and the Kremlin-funded network RT to see the favorable coverage you are receiving. I don't believe you're doing that intentionally."
"But that's irrelevant to the question," Carlson interrupted, "I don't seek that coverage."
"So let's answer that question," said Rothman.
"The Secretary of Defense has been asked twice directly on this," Carlson continued, "and in neither case did he, in contrast to propagandists like yourself, say unequivocally we know the Assad government did this. This is not an ancillary question, it's a central question."
"No, it's precisely the opposite," Rothman disagreed, "in fact in his comments he made it very clear he is not questioning the outcome of investigations like that conducted for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or the United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism, which went so far as to say not only do we find this to be sarin in 2017, but Syria was responsible for it. These are investigations that were conducted and very thorough.
Here's the entire debate between Carlson and Rothman:
Carlson and Rothman continued to debate the substance of Mattis' statement and whether he was saying that there was any doubt in reports on the ground, or merely stating that the U.S. has no assets itself on the ground to confirm the reports.
"I'm just saying," Carlson asked, "how do you account for the fact that the Secretary of State is saying the same thing I said on Monday, do you think he's disloyal? I mean that's a real question based on the columns you've written."
"No, I say and I will repeat that you are mischaracterizing his remarks," Rothman explained, "he is not calling into question the evidence that has been supplied to the United Nations' investigators and the OCW, but if you do want to get into why it necessary to respond to these attacks in the American interest and not in some vague notions of morality..."
Rothman then made the case that it was in the U.S. interest not to allow the use of chemical weapons to become a common practice in the future. He also argued that terrorists had been using chemical weapons in terror attacks and that the threat would increase if the Syrian government imploded.
"But can we end, we're out of time," said Carlson, "on this one point, which is, if you want to have an adult conversation about adult issues, wouldn't you agree that it's helpful not to call names but to engage with the actual questions and not to dismiss people."
"It is," Rothman agreed, "that is why I did not call you names, and I didn't dismiss you, I answered your questions directly."
"Self-awareness not your strong suit," laughed Carlson at the end of the segment.