Last week, retired Army colonel Ralph Peters quit his post at Fox News where he’d been a longtime fixture. Peters had become known for his impassioned commentaries against Russian appeasers, critics of Israel, and other enemies of American democracy.
Over the last year and a half, Peters has warned incessantly against the brutal designs and antidemocratic maneuverings of Vladimir Putin. Almost as obsessively, he has declaimed against the current occupant of the White House, Donald Trump, whom he has invariably described as an instrument of the Russian government. In fact, he openly supported his opponent, Hillary Clinton, in the 2016 election.
Of course, that isn’t much of a departure from his treatment of Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, whom Peters called a “total pussy” on air and said had been “date-raped” by Putin. More recently he accused conservative Fox host Tucker Carlson of sounding like a Nazi sympathizer from the 1930s.
Meanwhile, Peters, who spent the better part of that last 15 years in lockstep with Fox’s support for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, is suddenly marching to a different tune. He’s shocked that the network appears to be backing Trump’s attacks on the FBI in the context of the Russia investigation. In his letter of resignation to Fox News, Peters stressed his concern that the channel had “degenerated” into a “propaganda machine” for “a destructive and ethically ruinous administration.”
As Peters put it in his wordy invective against Fox:
When prime-time hosts—who have never served our country in any capacity—dismiss facts and empirical reality to launch profoundly dishonest assaults on the FBI, the Justice Department, the courts, the intelligence community (in which I served) and, not least, a model public servant and genuine war hero such as Robert Mueller—all the while scaremongering with lurid warnings of “deep-state” machinations—I cannot be part of the same organization, even at a remove. To me, Fox News is now wittingly harming our system of government for profit.
Peters’ letter raises some important questions. Why in a constitutional republic should certain government agencies that have the power to ruin people’s lives and in some instances kill them not be subject to oversight and criticism? Why is a news channel that accuses those supervising intelligence agencies of abusing their power for partisan political ends acting irresponsibly and even dangerously? Is Fox forbidden to flag irregularities in the way Robert Mueller has conducted his supposed investigation of Donald Trump’s still-unproven collusion with Russia?
The right to criticize Mueller’s probe, which seems to have wandered off-course long ago, is not invalidated because Mueller was a one-time war hero. The man has a checkered past, starting with his disastrous collaboration with Whitey Bulger as an FBI agent in Boston in search of dirt on other criminals.
Peters warrants examination as a special kind of militarist. Let’s note that his most memorable censure of Obama was that the former president “does not believe in American exceptionalism.” Peters believes his country was placed on Earth to spread the blessings of human rights and democratic equality, whether or not the intended recipients of those gifts want them. Britain and Israel are our partners in this work, while continental European countries like Germany and Russia are required to have compliant regimes that never stand in the way of our crusade.
At the very height of the Muslim refugee flood welcomed into Germany by Angela Merkel, Peters stood up for the “conservative” chancellor because she was “bad news for Putin.” In last year’s French election, Peters identified Marine Le Pen, who led the National Front, as an “absolute far-right nut case.” His reason for this extravagant judgment, besides slanderous and anachronistic associations with the Third Reich, was Le Pen’s friendly overtures to Putin’s Russia. Only a few countries in Peters’ worldview are allowed to be nationalist and pursue national interests, and Russia is clearly not among them. Our interest, as viewed by Peters, is in promoting a moral agenda through military means, and like the Jacobins and early Bolsheviks, his model Americans are only truly themselves when they think and act like an army or a city under siege.
Intelligence agencies, as Peters’ letter suggests, are beyond reproach because they help root out the traitors in our midst. Raising doubts about the veracity of an intelligence chief, moreover, jeopardizes the functioning of Peters’ America, which requires a powerful centralized state and unquestioning obedience to power. What distinguishes this arrangement from a fascist regime is the purpose for which it exists. Unlike the fascist state, which preserves and expands the historic nation, neoconservative Peters views the U.S. as a propositional nation that incorporates and spreads democracy and equality. Because of this lofty mission, which makes us exceptional, we are also allowed to play games that are forbidden to other countries. In fact, we would be guilty of “moral relativism,” warned Peters, if we failed to use nuclear weapons against North Korea during a military crisis.
Robert Merry has noted the hypocrisy of American politicians and journalists complaining about other countries interfering in foreign elections when the American government does the same thing. Peters’ answer would be that since the U.S. is an exceptional nation that is carrying out a global moral mission, we have a right to do what is verboten to other countries. We also have a right to get angry when others behave as we do, given our higher moral standing.
It is doubtful the sexagenarian Peters will get off his high horse anytime soon. Yet his feverish worldview has now put him in an awkward position, one in which even the anti-Putin Fox News channel is insufficiently belligerent for his tastes.
Paul Gottfried is Raffensperger Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Elizabethtown College, where he taught for 25 years. He is a Guggenheim recipient and a Yale PhD. He writes for many websites and scholarly journals and is the author of 13 books, most recently Fascism: Career of a Concept and Revisions and Dissents. His books have been translated into multiple languages and seem to enjoy special success in Eastern Europe.