No, Roger Wicker Didn’t Advocate Nuclear Strike on Russians

Russian T-72B3M main battle tanks at the International Army Games 2021 outside Moscow, Russia, August 24, 2021.
(Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

Tucker Carlson has taken to hitting Republican lawmakers over their approach to the Russian military buildup in Eastern Europe. His most recent target is Senator Roger Wicker, who last week said during an interview that President Biden shouldn’t rule out using military force in the event of a Russian invasion. But the kerfuffle seems to be based on a misinterpretation of Wicker’s comments to Carlson’s Fox colleague Neil Cavuto the day before.

Carlson and his guest, former congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, last Wednesday citing Wicker’s conversation with Cavuto, accused him of advocating the potential use of nuclear weapons over Ukraine’s sovereignty. “First-use nuclear weapons. Troops on the ground over eastern Ukraine. Is the fate of eastern Ukraine tied to some heretofore unknown core American interest that somehow we’re just not aware of in the Constitution?” said Carlson, introducing a segment about Wicker’s comments.

“This is why it is such a dangerous situation that we are facing, as we are being pushed closer and closer very quickly, as you said, to a hot war, a nuclear war that would destroy the world as we know it,” said Gabbard.

But a closer reading of Wicker’s remarks is instructive. “Military action could mean that we stand off with our ships in the Black Sea and that we rain destruction on Russian military capabilities. It could mean that we participate—and I would not rule that out—I would not rule out American troops on the ground,” said Wicker. “We don’t rule out first-use nuclear action. We don’t think it’ll happen. But there are certain things in negotiations if you’re gonna be tough that you don’t take off the table.”

While the Mississippi Republican did call for maintaining the possibility of a U.S. military response, it seemed he was comparing existing U.S. nuclear doctrine in general terms (which, as Wicker states, doesn’t rule out a first strike) to how he thinks the president should talk about Ukraine. It sounded as though he was stating a rule by which U.S. presidents should conduct themselves in negotiations by making a comparison to U.S. nuclear policy — not advocating a nuclear strike.

The way in which Wicker phrased his comments might have opened the door to uncharitable interpretations, but his comments really seem to have broken through because they were shared on Twitter by Aaron Rupar, a progressive Twitter personality and former Vox Media staffer.

Soon after Rupar shared a snippet of the interview on Tuesday, the clip made the rounds online, making Wicker the face of a supposedly insane approach to dealing with Moscow. Rupar, a journalist with a reputation for getting stories wrong, accused Wicker of floating the “idea of bombing Russian military assets — and [saying] he wouldn’t even rule out a nuclear strike.”

Rupar’s reading of the interview seems to have become the premise of Carlson’s conversation with Gabbard the following night, though it’s not clear whether Carlson’s team found inspiration for the segment in Rupar’s tweet.

Asked about the controversy by National Review, Wicker didn’t comment on the issue directly, but he elaborated in a statement on how the U.S should respond to Russian aggression. “Vladimir Putin’s aggression has to be met with a forceful response or it will invite the same questioning of U.S. credibility that followed his attack on Crimea. We should look for creative ways to arm our Ukrainian friends to the teeth and consider forward positioning NATO forces to deter Russia. The world is watching this test of our resolve.”

On Fox, Gabbard called Wicker “insane, a sociopath, or a sadist because he’s saying, let’s go and launch a nuclear attack that would start a war that would destroy the American people, our country, and the world.” But Gabbard couldn’t be more wrong; he clearly didn’t call for launching a nuclear attack. And far from starting a war, those calling for a clear-eyed approach to dealing with Moscow are seeking an effective deterrent to prevent an attack that would spark conflict.

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