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.
transcriptJESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.On Monday, reports are confirming that Saudi Arabia will be sending fighter jets into Turkey, raising the possibility of a joint ground invasion into Syria. But the two U.S. allies seem to be backtracking a possible ground invasion after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called for a cessation of hostilities. Now Turkish and Saudi officials are saying that they will be waiting to see how a planned ceasefire transpires.Now joining us from Williamsburg, Virginia to understand the significance of this news is Larry Wilkerson. He's the former chief of staff for U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, and he's currently and adjunct professor of government at the college of William and Mary. And of course, he's a regular contributor to the Real News. Thanks for being with us, Larry.LARRY WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Jessica.DESVARIEUX: So, Larry, let's break down the intentions of Saudi Arabia and Turkey in putting forth the possibility of a ground invasion in Syria. What's their objective?WILKERSON: Saudi Arabia's already involved in what increasingly looks like a losing campaign in Yemen, so I don't know whether they're trying to shift, maybe, attention, but they certainly can't handle two of these theatres and expect any success.So I have to expect that a lot of this is rhetoric, and rhetoric, a bluff if you will, that may or may not be called. I hope it's not called, myself. I hope that the secret talks that have been going on to sort of back the more public talks in Geneva have been, as you indicated, successful, and that we're going to have a ceasefire here, realizing it's going to take some time to get these disparate military elements to cease fire, and probably we won't get a ceasefire out of some of those people to whom they're opposed. It's not in their interest, a ceasefire.So we've got to wait and see what happens. I'll just say that I hope that no more forces are introduced into this, because in a conflict like this with the Turks bombing Kurds, supported by the United States, with the Iranians and Hezbollah in particular helping the Syrians, with the Saudis having funded the ISIS elements in Syria already, and other complexities I haven't even mentioned, this has every prospect to be an August 1914-like event series that could lead to a much wider war, far more powerful belligerence, and maybe even a conflict that none of us, not a single one of us, other than perhaps ISIS, ever contemplated or wanted in the first place.DESVARIEUX: Let's unpack that a little bit more. We're not fearmongering here or trying to scare our viewers, but what do you mean by that, it could be an even larger conflict?WILKERSON: Well, we see one of the most formidable land forces on the planet today, the Turks, with a potential of getting into this conflict in a significant way to eliminate once and for all, they think, Erdogan thinks, because let's face it, Erdogan is not the person he was ten years ago. He's more embattled, now, and he's seeking for ways to consolidate and keep his power. We're looking at the possibility of them entering the fray against an enemy, an enemy, quote-unquote, who we are supporting and count a friend, the Kurdish group that's made some of the best headway against fighting ISIS forces in Syria.They may be looking, as I said, at the Saudis suggesting they're going to enter the fray with 150,000 troops. I don't know where they're going to get them, but they're going to enter the fray with that, and we're going to wind up with the Saudis, who financed the elements of ISIS who we're going against, fighting against those elements? I find that really hard to believe. We haven't even mentioned the Sunni-Shia schism that's going to be present in this. We haven't even mentioned Iraq, who's in the background looking at the problems that the Sunnis are going to have, the Shia, of the Sunni Saudis, as it were. And all of this coalesces around the fact that Russia and the United States have major interests and major commitments in Syria.You put all that together and you've got the chemistry for a real shooting war, shortly after everybody says, well, damn, this isn't working at all. Let's just go in and make it work with force.DESVARIEUX: Let's talk a little bit more about that force, because some people would argue that Saudi Arabia and Turkey taking this stance might actually get the Russians and Assad to the negotiation table. And this sort of pressure or possibility of a ground invasion will sort of further that along. What do you make of that argument, Larry?WILKERSON: Well, you know, that's interesting that that kind of pressure would be brought. I mean, if you're looking at the Saudis coming in to help fight ISIS, which is the ostensible reason they announced they would come in, how does that hurt Assad? And if you look at the Turks coming in, or the Turks using armaments, ground or air otherwise, to help defeat ISIS, how does that defeat Assad? And yet that's both of their avowed purposes, Riyadh and Ankara, get rid of Assad.So this is extremely complex, and it's this kind of miscommunication, this kind of misapplication of military force, this kind of refugee situation, for example, that could lead--and let me tell you about, let me tell you about Jordan. Jordan is sitting there with a 1.5 million refugees inside its tiny little borders. You have got, as one of the members of the royal family told me not long ago, in Syracuse in Sicily, you have got an Iraqi or a Syrian family in every single Jordanian home. Every single Jordanian home. That is massively destabilizing. I suspect southern Lebanon is the same way. I suspect the northern part of Iraq, where the Kurds live, is the same way, because so many Kurds have fled into that region, to get away from the Syrian civil war.We're looking at a massive possibility for a lot of conflict from one end of that region to the other, north, south, east, and west. And to add the Russians and the United States into that, the Saudis into that, the Turks into that, it's just utter stupidity. But that's the way big wars evolve, sometimes.DESVARIEUX: Yeah. And, and you know, I want to talk a little bit more about Saudi Arabia, because there's some news coming out, Human Rights Watch had put out a report saying that they're using banned, internationally banned cluster bombs that were actually made in the US. Larry, I just quickly want to get your take on that. Is anything being done to reprimand them for these kind of actions?WILKERSON: Cluster bombs are a form of munition that should be banned from the battlefield, period. Just like land mines, other reprehensible human developments for using and augmenting the war capacity of its state. If the Saudis are using cluster bombs, if anybody's using cluster bombs, if the U.S. is using cluster bombs, they should be taken to the ICC and they should be charged with war crimes. That's my view on it. I'm sorry, but that's my view on it.DESVARIEUX: Okay. All right. Larry Wilkerson, joining us from Williamsburg, Virginia. Thank you so much for being with us.WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Jessica.DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
EndDISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.