This is an episode of Reality Asserts Itself, produced on May 10, 2014. Colonel Wilkerson says while an Iran deal is in US strategic interests, it could still be derailed by Congress, the neocons, and Hillary Clinton.
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.
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“Lawrence B. Wilkerson is a retired United States Army Colonel and former chief of staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell.”