Lawrence Wilkerson Biography: Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government and Public Policy Lawrence Wilkerson’s last positions in government were as Secretary of State Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff (2002-05), Associate Director of the State Department’s Policy Planning staff under the directorship of Ambassador Richard N. Haass, and member of that staff responsible for East Asia and the Pacific, political-military and legislative affairs (2001-02). Before serving at the State Department, Wilkerson served 31 years in the U.S. Army. During that time, he was a member of the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College (1987 to 1989), Special Assistant to General Powell when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989-93), and Director and Deputy Director of the U.S. Marine Corps War College at Quantico, Virginia (1993-97). Wilkerson retired from active service in 1997 as a colonel, and began work as an advisor to General Powell. He has also taught national security affairs in the Honors Program at the George Washington University. He is currently working on a book about the first George W. Bush administration.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.
This is another edition of Reality Asserts Itself. And the reality asserting itself these days is more than troubling. Geopolitical rivalry is intense and sharpening. Ukraine is just one recent symptom of the issue.
The climate is apparently already affecting the United States, according to the latest scientific reports, and the IPCC report is saying that we are facing severe crisis as we move further into this century. Yet public policy is nowhere near catching up to the extent of the crisis.
The underlying economic crisis has not been dealt with. The issues that led to the financial collapse in 2008 have not been addressed. The issues of too-big-to-fail, the issue of massive financial speculation and gambling that triggered the crisis have not been mitigated in any serious way by legislation. And most predictions are we’re heading into another global, deep recession sooner than later.
Now joining us in the studio to discuss a very serious situation is Col. Lawrence Wilkerson. Larry is a retired United States Army officer, former chief of staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell. He’s an adjunct professor at the College of William & Mary, where he teaches courses on U.S. national security.
Thanks for joining us, Larry.
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON, FMR. CHIEF OF STAFF TO COLIN POWELL: Thanks for having me, Paul.
JAY: So, in Reality Asserts Itself we usually start with a personal back story, and then we get into the some of the issues. But we actually did all that with Larry prior to even having Reality Asserts Itself. In fact, you could say the format–Larry is, like, the first person for that format before there was that format. So we’re going to link this series of interviews of Larry to that. You’ll be able to find all the earlier ones, which has a lot to do with Larry’s back story. And we’re going to kind of dig into some of the issues.
So, Larry, you were right at the center of the State Department. Back when you were there, and then sort of extrapolating to today, who runs U.S. foreign policy? ‘Cause there’s this sort of feeling there’s this grand design and, you know, grand machinations and chessboard-playing and all of that. Where are the centers of power for making U.S. foreign policy? ‘Cause it seems to me it’s not just the president.
WILKERSON: I think you’re right. And part of what I teach–and I teach post-World War II policy more than anything else, but we have to go back into the past to understand that policy. Part of what I teach is how since World War II and the acquisition of this enormous power by what in essence is the new Rome in the world, the United States, part of the shift that takes place in manipulating and managing that new power is a centralization of foreign policy away from the old cabinet places where it used to take place, most prominently through the Foreign Service and through the secretary of state, to the White House and to the creation of the 1947 National Security Act, the National Security Council. So if you ask me pro forma where does it exist today, it exists more in the National Security Council and its staff than it does anywhere else, certainly anywhere else in the cabinet. So what I’m saying is it’s centralized in the White House.
But what does that mean in terms of, I think, your real question, who’s behind the White House, and who’s therefore behind U.S. foreign policy, more or less? I think the answer today is the oligarchs, which would be the same answer, incidentally, ironically, if you will, for Putin in Russia, the people who own the wealth, the people who therefore have the power and who more or less (and I’m not being too facetious here, I don’t think) buy the president and thus buy American foreign policy. So that’s as succinct an answer as I can give you and touch on a few historical points.
JAY: There seems to also be centers or circles of power. For example, Lindsey Graham and John McCain seem to represent an alignment of forces. It seems that the fossil fuel industry, military-industrial complex–and certainly not that they are exclusively backing McCain and Graham. They have their hooks into both parties and to–they’re kind of a hidden hand throughout much of American politics. But it seems to be a somewhat distinct center. And then Wall Street seems to have even–although it’s not monolithic, it’s a distinct center of power. What’s the actual dynamic? Like, how do they influence National Security Council decisions? How do these processes take place? Where do the discussions take place?
WILKERSON: I think it’s probably less fundamental and less precise, and therefore less in the interest, often, of the United States than you might think or that the American people might think. Because of what you’ve just suggested, that there are many poles in American foreign-policy, from the Congress to even the Supreme Court, to the White House, to the State Department, the Foreign Service, and so forth, it’s a very complex mix, and it’s rarely ever articulated in a way or manifests itself in a way that good leadership can control it, handle it, and manage it toward a real strategic objective. That’s part of our problem in the world today.
But I would submit to you that certain oligarchs, anyway, big food, big pharmacy, big energy, oil, real estate, things like that, they like it this way because then they can flow into the void in the particular region or function or both that they want to control, that they want to manipulate, and do so effectively, whether it’s subsidies from the federal government for oil companies or whether it’s massive efforts by the government, clandestinely or otherwise, to influence someone like Monsanto being able to operate in Latin America and do the things that it does. So it’s incredibly complex, difficult to analyze from a strictly governmental standpoint.
But when you start probing and you start analyzing, you begin to discover that there are centers in this mess, if you will, that are getting what they want. And what they want is basically wealth and power. And they then turn that wealth and power back into political contributions, which now almost have no limits, no constraints on them, and they influence people like John McCain and Lindsey Graham and Bob Menendez and Chuck Schumer and Barney Frank when he was in there and so influential with the banking committee, and they get what they want in terms of legislation that oftentimes I’m convinced the legislatures do not even realize they’re doing. They don’t understand that they’re fulfilling this objective of a particular oligarch or conglomeration of oligarchs. And yet they’re doing it, and they’re doing it because they are well paid for doing it, in the sense that their PACs are flush and full and they get reelected.
Is John McCain motivated entirely by this? Is Bob Menendez motivated entirely by this? Of course not. They’re not intellectual giants, and they don’t spend lots of time analyzing this situation in the complex ways that we do. So they think they’re actually fulfilling their principles and bending over a little bit to accept the money and the cash necessary to do that. So that’s how the system works. That’s not even half the explanation, but that’s how the system works. And, incidentally, it has worked that way for a very long time, I would say probably since about Andrew Jackson coming into the White House after we’d really established ourselves.
JAY: I think it’s a really interesting point, because those of us that sit back doing this geopolitical analysis–and we look at what are the objective interests of the powers and what are the objective interests of the different parts of these powers, and then we kind of think there’s people making policy the same way, but they kind of just–.
WILKERSON: They think they are too.
JAY: But they’re not doing–they’re kind of, geez, what’s the crisis that I’m going to deal with today? How am I going to make money out of this tomorrow? It seems to me that with the odd exception of–you know, you have, you know, the Brzezinskis and these type of people that seem to think in a broader way–most of it seems to be, you know, what is in it for me today, the hell with tomorrow, and not so conscious of the forces. I mean, one of the things that always hits me is when you look at the predictions of who would win World War II. Most of what I’ve seen is by 1940, ’41, it was pretty clear Hitler’s going to lose. Now, if you’re in the German monopoly capitalist class doing analysis, you’ll say, well, this is not leading to anything good for us; why aren’t we bailing? But the forces of refusing to accept the reality of it were far too strong.
WILKERSON: Well, that’s a good point. I would say–and I don’t subscribe to conspiracy theory normally, but I would say there were forces behind that shadow, if you will, who were doing quite well, Swiss, German, American, and others who were more or less feeding off the conflict and got very wealthy feeding off the conflict, just as they did off World War I, even more dominantly with respect to the United States in particular, German reparations and so forth. We made a ton of money off of World War I, and we really didn’t contribute a whole lot, if you’ll remember. We were only really there substantially for a very short period of time, roughly April 1917 to Armistice Day. So there is a group that’s interested in this kind of thing–and this group alarms me probably more than any other in the world, and particularly my own country–that is interested in a constant state of war, or as near a constant state as possible, because they sit behind all the belligerents and make money.
JAY: And there seems to be sectors of the economy that profit from volatility, brinksmanship, geopolitically, which leads to massive arms sales. And I’ve mentioned before on air that I was at this dinner of this organization that does military advice and policymaking to Middle Eastern countries, mostly about arms purchases, and of course who backs the organization’s advice is Lockheed Martin and Boeing and, you know, all the military manufacturers. So the brinkmanship sells weapons. And then, of course, Wall Street also does great in volatility, ’cause–especially if you’re one step ahead, which the insiders are. But then there’s other parts of the economy. You know, if you’re trying to sell stuff to the American public, massive volatility is not particularly good for you.
WILKERSON: No, it’s not. The real economy in this country, though, has shrunken so dramatically since World War II–I show the stats to my students, and I usually use the CIA stats. I can’t remember them precisely right now, but I can give you general idea. In 1945, we were about, oh, 25 percent or so services and about 60 percent or so what was called heavy, medium, or light industry, manufacturing mostly. It’s completely the opposite today. It’s about 11 to 12 percent manufacturing, and the latest stat–and this is a precise number from the CIA–76 percent services. So you don’t have the same real economy, if you will, and you don’t have the same GDP reflective of that real economy. And that’s a very different economy to wage war under than the one we had when we entered World War II, for example. Very different. And you could say in some respects this shadow behind the power that makes money off war, period, no matter who’s the belligerent, makes money off that volatility now, especially with computers that are able to assist them in doing so, like currency manipulation, for example, or just general speculation. With computers you can do it at lightning speed and you can do it in a nanosecond, and you can make billions in that nanosecond, and you don’t care about what you’re doing to the real economy, because you’re raking in the dough.
JAY: Has the American elite, including that section which profits on near war and profits on actual war–but in general has there come to a conclusion now that war with Iran is not good for the overall interests of the Empire, but if you want a really good Cold War, a really good arms race, then Russia’s the right one to do it with?
WILKERSON: That’s an interesting speculation. I think–and this is a good development in my view, but for different reasons than I’m going to tell you. (I don’t want war. That’s the biggest reason.) I think what’s happening is people are beginning–people, these people I’m talking about, who really understand the dynamics in the world–and some of those are in the White House, no question about it. Some of them are people bearing the burden of public policy. No question about it. I think they’re beginning to understand that this is not about nuclear weapons. This not about Iran’s nuclear power. It’s about power. It’s about who’s going to be the hegemon in the Gulf. Who’s the most stable country in western Asia? Iran. Who’s the country with the most cohesive population? Iran. Who’s the country with the most potential for the future? Iran. Not Israel. Not Afghanistan. Not Iraq. Iran.
JAY: Not Saudi Arabia.
WILKERSON: Not Saudi Arabia. Iran. So if you’re going to have a relationship with someone that’s going to last and endure and enhance your power and your interest over time, you need a rapprochement with Tehran regardless of what kind of government might be there. And it is not the best government to the world, but we’ve never had a problem with that in the past. So I think that’s taking over. And so you’re seeing that become a new objective. However it might be sold rhetorically, it nonetheless, I think, is a new objective of that NSC staff that’s really caring about American policy and so forth. We might disagree with it, but I think they do care.
And what’s happening on the other side, with Ukraine and with Russia, of course, is what you just said: hey, we long, we yearn for the solidity and the stability of the Cold War, and my God, Putin’s giving it back to us. Let’s accept the offer.
JAY: Now, isn’t this what McCain ran on when he ran for president? It was all about the return of the evil Russian Empire.
WILKERSON: John never saw a Russian he liked.
JAY: I mean, it was all about Georgia, it was all about the coming fight with Russia. The current sort of American role in the Ukraine and, you know, what–I mean, I don’t think one can exaggerate the American role, in the sense there were plenty of internal factors in Ukraine that led to the overthrow of the president and so on. But the Americans are certainly up to their eyeballs.
WILKERSON: Yeah, we were there fomenting regime change, if you will, just as we were in Caracas, as we were in Damascus before.
JAY: But can you–is there any sense–is this coming from the Obama administration? Or is it coming from–and this is where I get to who makes U.S. foreign-policy–how many lines of this kind of policy exist that kind of circumvent the White House and the National Security Council?
WILKERSON: I don’t think they necessarily circumvent it. I think they are at times in tension within it, but I don’t think they necessarily circumvent it, like, for example, Dick Cheney did in the Bush administration. I think what you have is you have people like Samantha Power and Susan Rice who are right-to-protect-people. This is very traditional. This is messianic Christianity manifesting itself in a secular way. This is we have to bear the brown person’s burden, you know, we have to go fix these problems in the world. So this is not something new. It’s just got a more sophisticated manifestation in 2014.
And it makes a difference. It made a difference in Somalia when Madeleine Albright and Boutros Boutros-Ghali were pushing for state building in Somalia, when any anyone with a brain could have seen impossible task, you’re going to fail, and you’re going to have to leave ignominiously, which is exactly what Bill Clinton had to do. It manifested itself in the Balkans and in Kosovo. Two days of bombing and Miloević’ll cave. Seventy-eight days later and the threat of ground forces and Miloević finally caves.
So there’s that strain, a messianic strain that’s always been there.
Then there is a strain of real power, realpolitik. And that’s people who are actually trying to achieve American interests, whatever they may be, and the way they think they should be achieved. I would put President Obama in that category.
And then you’ve got people who are closet neoconservatives, who really do feel that America has to assert itself periodically at a minimum in order to teach the rest of the world that it can’t climb the hill on which America is the king.
JAY: But Ukraine is setting up we have to teach Putin a lesson, except you helped create the conditions where you have to teach Putin a lesson–
WILKERSON: Well, of course.
JAY: –and more or less play into Putin’s hands. I mean–.
WILKERSON: Well, this is a chess game, to a certain extent, played on multiple levels simultaneously. And when you have a person like Putin with the capabilities that Putin has–I would suggest to you that the KGB and the GRU or NKVD, whenever you want to talk about, were probably the best intelligence people in the world for a long time. When you’ve got those kind of capabilities, you can do things, and particularly when you’re operating on interior lines.
I’ll take you into a military jargon here. Interior lines means I’ve got a border with you and I can move my tank 15 feet and kill you. But I am the person going to contest that tank, and I’m 10,000 miles away, and I’ve got to fly my tanks into your country before I can even take you on. The advantage of operating on those interior lines is really, really huge. It’d be like us doing something in Mexico and Russia trying to object or us doing something in Cuba and Russia trying to object. It’s really difficult. You can do it, but it’s really difficult.
So there are a lot of things operating with respect to Crimea, Ukraine, Odessa, and so forth, Georgia, right now that play into what some of these people, like, I think, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, would love to see happen, and that is the development of a new Cold War, a new Cold War with old antagonists.
JAY: Which I don’t think was Obama’s plan.
WILKERSON: No, I don’t either.
JAY: It was McCain’s plan, which is why it seems like Obama is getting cornered.
WILKERSON: He’s playing catch-up in certain respects.
JAY: Completely. I mean, his Asia pivot had nothing to do with this.
WILKERSON: Well, here’s the real–this sometimes drives me, you know, to drink. When Jim Baker and George H. W. Bush really accomplished what I think was one of the real diplomatic feats of the end of the 20th century, the reunification of Germany, whether we agree with that or not, they did it, and they did it without a shot being fired. It was wonderful to watch H. W. Bush do that, and Jim Baker. But one of the reasons they could do it was because they assured Gorbachev, and later Yeltsin, that NATO would be quiescent, it wouldn’t move, it wouldn’t threaten Russia. In fact, I was there when we told the Russians that we were going to make them a member, we were–observer first and then a member and so forth.
Well, that fell apart on the fact that they perceived right quickly that we weren’t really serious. And then we start, under pressure from Lockheed Martin and Raytheon and others, to sell weapons to Poland and weapons to Georgia and weapons to Romania and everybody else we could bring into the fold. Under those pressures and others, we started to expand NATO and stuck both our fingers in the Russian eye, so to speak, immediately. It’s clear to me why Putin responded in Georgia and why he’s now responding to Crimea in Ukraine. This is what great powers do when they get concerned about their so-called near abroad.
So we have as much fault here as anybody else in this situation, and I don’t think President Obama–I think he bought it when he came in. He did not realize–why should he? He didn’t have the experience in this regard. He didn’t realize what we we’re doing and what might come about from what we were doing, and he just went along with it.
JAY: Yeah. I mean, I think in the final analysis–I mean, to be frank, I don’t think it’s unique about President Obama, but President Obama does what’s good for President Obama.
WILKERSON: I think all presidents do that to certain extent.
JAY: And if the forces are arrayed in such a way that it’s too much to buck, he goes there. It’s not that he’s there to fight for principle.
WILKERSON: I’ve got to say, to this point I was losing faith in the man I voted for. I’m a Republican. I voted for President Obama twice. I was losing faith for so many reasons. But he has restored a modicum of that faith–
JAY: With Iran.
WILKERSON: –with Iran and with Russia, because he’s been very circumspect.
His secretary of state has not. He’s been way too forward in the foxhole. And John Kerry gets way too passionate and emotional. He reminds me of the right-to-protect people.
But President Obama has to this point been very subdued about how he’s dealing with sanctions and responses to Putin in general. And I think that’s right. That’s what–we should be talking. We should be talking and we should be tamping down the tensions and tamping down the pressures. They’re manifest significantly enough because of all of the different people in Ukraine who want power and have nothing to do with Russia and nothing to do with United States or Europe.
JAY: Okay. We’re going to continue this discussion in the next part of our series of interviews with Larry Wilkerson on Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. And we’re continuing our discussion about who makes and what drives U.S. foreign policy with Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who joins us again in the studio.
Larry is a retired United States Army officer, a former chief of staff to the United States Secretary of State Colin Powell. He’s now an adjunct professor at the College of William & Mary, where he teaches courses on U.S. national security, and often contributor to The Real News.
Thanks very much again.
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON, FMR. CHIEF OF STAFF TO COLIN POWELL: Thanks.
JAY: So let’s switch gears in the discussion. If the pundits are to be believed, the frontrunner right now for the Republican nominee for president is starting to look like Jeb Bush. Chris Christie seems to have self-destructed, although you never know in American politics whether or not someone like him can resurrect. He perhaps could. But whether it is Chris Christie or a Jeb Bush for that matter, that’s the official Republican foreign-policy narrative, particularly Jeb Bush.
Rand Paul, at least on the face of it, is not. Rand Paul, if–I mean, I interviewed him during the 2008 primaries, and he said to me then that we–meaning his father Ron Paul and the Libertarians–he said, we have more in common with the antiwar Democrats like Dennis Kucinich than we do with the Bush administration. But when Rand Paul ran for Senate, he took money from Karl Rove, exactly, you know, essentially, the people he had been attacking.
But if in fact he keeps to his libertarian foreign policy even a little, which is major cutbacks in the American military budget, closing American military bases–back in those days, Rand Paul, like his father, talked about American empire and the need to stop being an empire and so on and so on. And it seems to be that there is a real tension there, and that so far, at least, the official Republican Party could never accept a Rand Paul as being president, because of the foreign policy piece of it. How serious is this tension? And what do you make of this debate within the Republican Party on foreign policy? Is it a serious one?
WILKERSON: I don’t think my party has had a really serious debate on foreign policy since it scripted itself for the far right–in the primary process, in any event. Once it gets into the general election, I think you see a little bit more. I don’t think you see it much in the platform; I think you see it a little bit more in the nuance of the answers to questions in debates, the pronouncements and so forth, by even someone like Mitt Romney, who tracked so far to the right for the primaries.
And when I say that, I say that it’s still the same Republican Party–contaminated majorly, to be sure–that it was for Dwight Eisenhower and afterwards. It is an internationalist Republican Party, by and large. That is, it believes that we touch every country in the world and every country in the world touches us and, thank you very much, that’s very remunerative for us in big business. We like to touch other countries and take their money and their resources. So that’s still what’s there. It’s just got a new tint and tone right now, principally from the neoconservatives, which seems to be we love perpetual war because it really serves our interests best, and from others in what I’d call the radical right, who are not like Rand Paul or Ron Paul or Walt Jones and others, very adverse to a constant state of war or to war in general, but who are willing to accept almost anything so that they get their social issues met and satisfied, issues like abortion and gays and so forth.
So you’ve got this conglomerate structure in the Republican Party that’s extremely difficult to deal with. And I say all that because I think it’s going to be really insightful to watch if Jeb Bush can orchestrate all these different complexities and come out on top as the nominee of the Republican Party with any kind of foreign-policy platform at all that means anything other than internationalism.
JAY: But the internationalism–unless he’s breaking with the tradition of the Bush family, internationalism is what you said: it’s the projection of U.S. power.
WILKERSON: And it’s a very different internationalism for, say, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, although I don’t think it was so different for George W. Bush (Dick Cheney manipulated him into it) than it was for their dad, George H. W. Bush. And George H. W. Bush was very much in the tradition of Eisenhower: an informed, enlightened internationalism that, yes, helps the United States, but also lifts boats in the rest of the world. That was H. W. Bush’s interpretation of it, very much in the vein of Eisenhower internationalism.
Jeb, I think–I sense Jeb is the same way, so it’s going to be very interesting to see if he can resurrect that pillar of the Republican Party. I frankly think it’s going to be impossible.
JAY: Well, the Eisenhower tradition, the rhetoric was lifting all boats, but the practice was asserting U.S. power and, you know, crushing national liberation movements–the overthrow of Mosaddegh in Iran. It was, you know, in the framework of the Cold War, asserting that we want pro-American governments everywhere we could possibly have them.
WILKERSON: And the United States was involved in no wars once he ended the war in Korea, and we went through the most prosperous time, arguably, in our history as a nation and we came out if it looking pretty good. That’s not bad for eight years as president of the United States.
JAY: But if you talk about the sort of underlying assumption, if you want to draw that connection to Bush senior, Bush senior certainly was no war [sic]. I mean, he had a war and not–.
WILKERSON: Bush Senior’s wars, though, were more in the spirit of what he hoped to achieve, which was a new world order, which is the way he characterized it. And the new world order was going to be, hey, Saddam Hussein, you don’t aggress against other nations; we’ll do something about it (we being the UN led by United States); and, if you will, Noriega in Panama: hey, we don’t condone (although we did for several years) international criminals anymore.
JAY: Well, he was our international criminal.
JAY: Noriega was working for the CIA, essentially.
WILKERSON: True. I’m not trying to defend them so much as I am to explicate the idea of international–Republicans believing in internationalism. It’s always for wealth and power. That’s the underlying reason.
JAY: Yeah, I mean, ’cause it still driven–what you said in episode–segment one: this is driven by oligarchs with very deep economic interests [crosstalk]
WILKERSON: Oligarchs controlled by Eisenhower, more or less, though, even though he had one of the premier ones as his secretary of state and another premier one as his director of the CIA or at the CIA.
JAY: So if you look at this fight within the Republican Party, like I said just before we started it, it looks like Jeb Bush if you’re to listen to all the punditry going on. And you said to me, well, how is he going to get through the far right? So is this going to be–I mean, do you get a sense that Rand Paul is serious about these beliefs on foreign policy to the point–is there going to be a real war within the Republican Party over the foreign policy? Or is Rand Paul more or less going to do whatever it takes to be president and then simply more or less become part of the machine, and then the fight between Bush and Paul are on, you know, issues of personality and whatever?
WILKERSON: Well, my guess–I must emphasize it is a guess–would be that Rand Paul would probably go the latter way, because I don’t see him being the principled person that his father, Ron Paul, is.
That said, I do see how a number of things could combine to propel Jeb Bush into the White House. One, America seems to from time to time display a pattern of changing horses in terms of the Oval Office. You know, the Democrat’s been in for so long, let’s have a Republican, and so forth. That’s not to be discounted in the way the collective American psyche works.
And second, Jeb Bush is much different from his brother George–should have been the candidate, in my view, in 2000–and I think can present himself, if he can survive the rabid dogs of the primaries, can present himself to the American people in a way that will look quite palatable–not only palatable, but positive. And I think they will pick up on that, and it’s going to depend on who challenges him, and it’s probably going to be Hillary. And what I’ve said in the past and still stick by is I do not think Hillary Clinton is electable, period.
JAY: And do you think there’s serious differences in foreign-policy outlook between Hillary and Jeb Bush? I mean, right–.
WILKERSON: No, not at all. As I’ve said many times, U.S. foreign-policy has tracked the same line, with deviation here, deviation there.
JAY: But Iran’s–is a difference. Do you not–I mean, do you see a Mitt Romney, if he’d been president, dealing with Iran?
WILKERSON: Ultimately, yes.
JAY: You do.
WILKERSON: Yes. I see any Republican president having to go the diplomatic route first. I see him being more easily derailed by his own party, and therefore using the diplomatic route’s failure as an excuse for conflict. That’s true. But I see him as having to go the diplomatic route first for international reasons, legitimacy and so forth, and also for domestic reasons.
JAY: But if you go back to what we were talking about in the first segment, about there is an alliance of forces that likes brinkmanship close to war, likes war, ’cause there’s lots of money to be made out of war, this Iran strategy of Obama doesn’t serve either of those right now. It’s actually, you know, diminished the brinkmanship.
WILKERSON: No, but it ultimately serves what I think is becoming a realization amongst many of the national security elite, and that is, as I’ve said to you before, this is not about the Iran confrontation, it’s not about nuclear weapons. That’s the superficial aspects.
JAY: No, I get this. This is about regional power.
WILKERSON: This is about power.
JAY: I get that. But does the Republican foreign-policy establishment–we’re talking about the John Boltons in the McCains and the Grahams.
WILKERSON: Oh, no. I shudder when I think about John Bolton and John McCain and others like them.
But I do think there’s still a strain of realpolitik in this Republican internationalism, represented by people like Brent Scowcroft, Henry Kissinger, for that matter, and others. And I think Jeb responds to that strain more, he vibrates to that strain more than he does to the strain of the neoconservatives.
JAY: Okay. Well, we’ll see how this plays out.
Let’s focus a bit on what’s going on with Iran right now. Where do you think–are these negotiations–first of all, are they being done, do you think, with the intent of really trying to make a deal?
WILKERSON: I do.
JAY: It’s not a diplomatic play to set the stage for war. And if not, then where are we at with this these negotiations?
WILKERSON: I think for partly the reason that I just spoke of, that is, that people are beginning to realize this is really about power in the Gulf, and Iran represents power in the Gulf and should be reconciled with. So I think these negotiations–six months ago I would not have said this, but I think, having observed them rather closely, that we may even complete a plan, if you will, a deal within the Joint Plan of Action-specified time frame. I would have said we would have to extend it. I think we may complete a deal.
If we do, then the problem becomes getting that group of Republicans in particular, but some Democrats like Menendez who want no deal at all, period, to accept the kind of parallel–this lifting of sanctions or step-by-step lifting of sanctions, if you will, that is going to be necessary for the U.S. to live up to its end of the deal. They’re going to try to thwart that. And the Iranians are going to see that and they’re going to back out very, very quickly. And that’s the thing that concerns me now is that the president will not get the Congress able to do the things it needs to do with regard to sanctions to live up to the U.S. side of the deal.
I think the deal will be a solid positive deal for both sides. That is to say, it’ll be what it should be: a win-win situation, where Iran gets its civil nuclear program, gets some dignity from that, and we get very good assurances checked daily and on the spot and unannounced by the IAEA for an indefinite period that Iran is not trying to break out and build a nuclear weapon. That’s what we want. That’s what we need. And from there, we can effect a better rapprochement that begins to recognize that power relationship and serve both our interests in the region, Iran’s and the United States’, as, incidentally, it did for 26 years when we had our hegemon in Tehran, the Shaw.
JAY: Right. So that strategic objective is completely at odds, it seems, with what Saudi Arabia wants,–
JAY: –with what, certainly, most of Israel wants.
WILKERSON: Although I would say there are people behind the scenes, powerful people in Israel, who are beginning to awaken to this reality.
JAY: I mean, you hear this from these former heads of the security agencies–Mossad and Shin Bet and so on–who are saying Iran is not a existential threat. But they don’t have the reins of power, it seems.
WILKERSON: No, they don’t. And it’s political in Israel, and that’s scary. When it’s purely political, it’s scary. It’s Netanyahu trying to hold on to political power and willing to do almost anything, including forfeit his country’s future, to help to hold on to that power.
JAY: So put that in the Israeli hat, and then put very similar, it seems, in the Saudi hat, who are, seems, willing to do almost anything.
WILKERSON: Orchestrating a war in Iraq right now, backing the insurgency, backing the insurgency in Syria, backing destabilization of Lebanon. Saudi Arabia’s doing all manner of things.
JAY: Backing the regaining of total military dictatorship in Egypt and the overthrow of an elected president.
WILKERSON: I can’t think of anything Saudi Arabia’s doing right now, other than selling oil to the world at a reasonable price, that’s good.
JAY: And as we know, Saudi Arabia’s been very involved in various networks, terrorist networks. And I keep harkening back to this issue, ’cause nobody else seems to want to talk about it, the joint congressional investigation into 9/11, cochaired by Senator Bob Graham–has said publicly, told us on The Real News–and we know in the redacted famous 28 pages that it directly connected Saudi Arabia to 9/11, Saudi government to the 9/11 attacks, and so on and so on. So what is the danger, then, in that? It seems to me that the Saudis and the Israelis have a tremendous amount of influence in Congress, the Israelis through AIPAC and its lobbying, the Saudis because of the massive arms purchases. The Saudis have terrorist networks, which they can pull levers of. There’s a lot of dangerous obstacles to this deal with Iran.
WILKERSON: Yeah. As I understand it, last week or the beginning of this week the Saudis apparently outbid Iran with regard to the so-called peace pipeline, which was coming from Iran to Pakistan, and the Pakistanis are now, probably in return for the loans given because they’re going to sell arms to Saudi Arabia or whatever, are now saying no, they’re going to get whatever they need in gas and oil from Saudi Arabia, they’re not going to get it from Iran. So this has already been, as I understand, completed by the Iranians to their point of completion. The Pakistanis were supposed to pick it up from there. And now it won’t be completed, apparently, unless this is just some bargaining that’s going on and the Pakistanis are holding out for the highest bidder or whatever. But I’ll tell you who’s going to be the highest bidder, probably, is going to be Riyadh and not Tehran.
So, yes, the Saudis are mucking with lots of things and not necessarily–in fact, almost always contrary to the interests of the United States. I think Riyadh has made a decision–whether it’s ironclad or not I don’t know, and they’ve got a succession coming up, so we’ve got to see if it adheres through the succession, but I think they’ve made a decision the United States is no longer a reliable ally. And as far as I’m concerned, good.
JAY: So if you look at Jeb Bush, who you would think is a far more–or whoever’s the American Republican nominee, but certainly Hillary, this rapprochement with Iran, the sort of strategic shift–’cause it is one.
WILKERSON: It would be.
JAY: It would be.
WILKERSON: A major one. Thirty years of animosity.
JAY: Is Hillary on that page? Is there–when you go back to this–.
WILKERSON: Not from what I’m hearing.
JAY: Yeah, because–.
WILKERSON: She’s scaring me.
JAY: Yeah. When you go back to that vote that took place back around 2007, 2008, the one where they were going to declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization (which is essentially saying the Iranian state is terrorist, but they want to try to find some way to do it that didn’t come out and say that), I mean, most of the leading Democrats voted against that motion, most of–all the better foreign policy minds, including President Obama. I mean, everyone was against that thing. And he wasn’t then president. But Hillary voted for it with the Republicans.
WILKERSON: She scares me. She frightens me. If it’s rhetoric, that’s one thing. If it’s heartfelt belief, that’s another. But even if it’s just rhetoric, to more or less court the conservatism of America, which all the pundits are always talking about, it still scares me, because you often get trapped by your rhetoric.
JAY: So thanks for joining us.
And thank you for joining us. We’re going to do one more segment with Larry. He has to get going. So please join us for that on Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network, and welcome back to Reality Asserts Itself. I’m Paul Jay.
We’re continuing our discussion about who makes and what drives U.S. foreign policy. And joining us again in the studio is Larry Wilkerson.
Larry is a retired United States Army officer, a former chief of staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell. He teaches now at the College of William & Mary. And he’s an often contributor at The Real News.
Thanks for joining us again.
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON, FMR. CHIEF OF STAFF TO COLIN POWELL: Thanks, Paul.
JAY: So there seems to be kind of two parallel processes going on. And I’m talking about–I mean, it relates to U.S. foreign policy almost with all countries, but right now I’m interested and I think everyone’s interested in relations with China, even though the heat is with Russia right now. Certainly President Obama’s Asian pivot in the long-term strategic thinking of the United States is: how do you manage the relationship with China?
And what I mean by two different processes. There’s a tremendous amount of economic integration. China holds more U.S. Treasury bills, I think, than anyone–any single place on earth. They have–
WILKERSON: A little more than Japan.
JAY: –massive amounts of U.S. cash, tremendous integration in terms of the labor, Chinese labor providing commodities for the American market, and so on and so on, a great deal of economic integration, you can say even codependence on each other. On the other hand, over here there’s the Asian pivot on the American side. There’s the strategy–what most people call an encirclement of China.
WILKERSON: Hedging. That’s what we call it.
JAY: Called hedging.
WILKERSON: Hedging strategy. Yes. We want peace, we want peaceful cooperation, we want stability, but we’re hedging our bets.
JAY: Well, hedging on both sides is pretty massive, the buildup of the American military and the buildup of the Chinese military.
WILKERSON: And China’s sort of machinations with Moscow.
JAY: And if this Cold War with the Russians gets even hotter and the sanctions start to really threaten Russia’s ability to export its energy, the obvious thing is we’ll sell it all to China.
WILKERSON: One of the interesting developments in this, Paul, has been India’s posture. India has remained more or less neutral in this business of pontificating about Ukraine, which is probably disturbing to those in Washington who feel like India is the ultimate partner encircling China or hedging our bets.
JAY: Yeah. We’re the ones that gave them a nuclear submarine. How dare they not be on board for this?
But in terms of the danger of war, which process is kind of more dominant? ‘Cause it each has its own logic. You would think the commercial integrations logic would trump that there ever really would be that kind of confrontation. On the other hand, when you have these enormous military buildups, the logic is somehow, someday, something happens.
WILKERSON: I think you’re right, and it’s something to watch very carefully and something to try to form policies to prevent, I think. Hedging strategies can get out of hand on both sides. China’s almost preposterous, grandiose claims in the South China Sea can get out of hand. These sorts of things have their own momentum, and before you know it, you’re staring at something that looks like you can’t get out of it, whether it’s over Taiwan, the most likely fire point, or whether it’s over something else we can’t even see now, like, for example, Filipino occupying a rock in the South China Sea. It’s not a situation that I would say is fraught with danger and potential for danger right now, but it could be easily. It doesn’t have the in-your-face aspect of Ukraine, this sort of great-power standoff, Russia or Moscow and Washington, but it has, I think, a much longer term ability to ruin not only U.S.-China relations, ultimately, but to impact the entire globe.
JAY: And how much is this driven by a real concern that this rivalry with China over–what?–markets, over raw materials, and such and such really requires a military alternative versus how much is this driven by what you were saying in the first segment, oligarchs (on both sides, really, but I would say here it’s more the American side) who just need another place to have a military buildup, because everybody makes a killing out of this?
WILKERSON: Yeah, well, the president of China right now is having a hard time trying to go after some of his oligarchs, who are just too corrupt for his own liking. And this is reaching a point where it may be destabilizing for the Communist Party in and for China ultimately. So I’m watching that very closely.
But at the same time, you have a situation here that’s ripe for a great-state relationship. What do I mean by a great-state relationship? Well, you sort of had that in 1648 with Westphalia, which sort of set the road for monarchs and their peoples to, you know, be sovereign and to exercise some tolerance and so forth, a state system you could argue we’re still operating under. You had the Atlantic Charter, too. The Atlantic Charter was–here’s the greatest empire in the world, receding, to be sure, and the nascent empire meeting and saying, we’re going to get together and have a great-state relationship to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. And it worked. And the world had sort of a Pax Americana for half a century, virtually.
We need some sort of relationship like that between Washington and Beijing today, I think. And I do not mean in any way that we should rule the world together. What I mean is the challenges that we’re going to confront in the 21st century, challenges that could be existential, challenges like climate change, challenges like enough water to drink, enough food to eat, and so forth–I’ve seen some projections that say–by climatologists whose views I respect, that say by the end of this century we could have only arable land and water enough for some half-billion people. What we do with the other 9 billion? Where do we bury them, even? How do we deal with that kind of massive change in human relationships with this planet? So these are huge challenges. So what I’m saying is you need this kind of great-power relationship, this great-state relationship to begin to lead the way for others to follow, others who are already doing a good job of it, like Germany, for example, to meet these challenges which are much bigger than whether or not Taiwan is a part of China or whether or not Ukraine is a part of Russia. These are tactical skirmishes on the fringes of challenges that may have major impact on human life on this planet, and yet we don’t seem to be able to get the leadership to move to face and confront these challenges.
JAY: We were talking earlier before we started the interviews, and the kind of–I guess the question came down to is capitalism as we know it out of these kinds of answers and not capable of producing this kind of leadership. You know, this concentration of power in–I should say the concentration of ownership, and so much in the hands of a section of capital that’s, you know, essentially parasitical, betting on derivatives markets and just gambling, you know, with no interest in really strengthening the real economy of the United States and taking advantage, wherever they can, around the world, the politics that reflects that, I mean, to get to what you’re talking about, that kind of relationship between states that will face up to climate change and, I think, a looming, very deep economic crisis that’s going to hit that’s going to be, you know, 1930s styles or worse–.
WILKERSON: Yes, and set everyone back in terms of their wanting to deal with climate change, because it’s going to be initially resource-intensive, probably.
JAY: So in terms of the discussion, discourse that ordinary people need to start getting their heads around, I mean, does it not–you have to start talking about who owns stuff, who has power in the United States, and what to do about it.
WILKERSON: Adam Smith’s invisible hand in Wealth of Nations is now not an invisible hand. It’s the hand of oligarchs. So if you want a succinct answer, if capitalism is going to help–going to be the economic, philosophical engine of this, meeting these challenges, it’s going to have to return to Adam Smith, but not just in Wealth of Nations, but also in his moral sentiments. You’ve got to have a different version of capitalism. It cannot be predatory capitalism, which both China and the United States are exemplifying massively today, China like the U.S. did in the 1890s, 1880s, 1890s, and the United States in this new form of collateralized debt obligations and all the rest of these financial innovations that do nothing but make the rich richer and the poor poorer. So it’s got to be a different brand of capitalism or it’s got to be a new economic system.
JAY: Yeah. And do we not have to then jettison all the baggage and shadow of the Cold War rhetoric–McCarthyism, House un-American activities committees, all the stuff that has such weight to stop you from discussing a new economic system?
WILKERSON: This is the huge component of a great-state relationship that would have to be–it would have to manifest itself and it would have to do so before you get into the challenges and the way you’re going to meet them. And what do I mean by that? I mean what Malcolm Byrne and John Tirman–at MIT, Malcolm at George Washington–have called empathy: you have to understand the other person’s side. Think of the Ukraine today. Think of Iran today. You have to call crawl into the other person’s shoes and understand their side. And that means you have to recognize their culture. You have to, to certain extent, honor the right they have to have that culture. You have to honor the right they have to design their own political system and so forth, and quit this messianic desire to bring, you know, these people down, those people down ’cause they’re evil and contemptible. You have to eliminate the politics of fear as much as possible. And you have to work together. You have to genuinely work together.
That doesn’t mean–Admiral Locklear said this recently, United States commander in the Pacific, probably the most influential man in terms of immediate U.S.-China policy, U.S.-Asia policy: he said China and the United States have more in common than they do have differences. It’s not a large majority, but it’s a majority. The problem we have, the challenge we have is to deal with the friction created by that minority of issues where we don’t agree. Well, that’s what a great-state pact does. It says, we are going to push those issues aside, work on them if we can in the corridors, and try to fix what we can. But we’ve got to have a relationship that basically begins together (because you can’t do it alone; you can’t; no country can do it alone), meets the challenges that we’re confronting in this century, which are huge.
JAY: But is part of the problem is that the people that are making policy here in the United States, they do put themselves in the other shoes, in this sense? They look at themselves–.
WILKERSON: Well, the John McCains and the Lindsey Grahams, who are Luddites, they do.
JAY: Well, they look at themselves and they said, well, you know, we’re predatory, so they are too, so let’s just do worst-case scenarios dealing with predatory supposed allies that we know eventually–like we did with with the Germans, we may have economic integration, we may trade with them, but we’re also ready to go to war with them because we’re all really predators and that’s what predators do.
WILKERSON: If that’s the case, then let’s just keep being predators and watch the planet cast us off, because the planet is going to cast a soft, or at least a sizable majority of us. There’s no question in my mind about that. The planet will go on as it went on after the dinosaurs, but human life might not. And that’s the nature of the challenge that we confront in this century.
In this century, in my grandchildren’s lifespan, major, major impacts will begin to occur, indeed may already be occurring. Pacific nations, for example, like Palau understand they’re going to be underwater and they have to relocate their whole populations. These kinds of things are going to happen with a frequency and a drama that is going to convince everyone. But is it going to be too late?
JAY: Alright. Thanks for joining us, Larry.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network and Reality Asserts Itself.
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