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  March 12, 2017

Adversarial Relationship With Russia Result of Decades of US Provocation

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson tells Paul Jay that from the expansion of NATO to the Western-led plundering of the former USSR, the US has given Russia enough reason to feel threatened
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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: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay.

The allegations that the Trump administration somehow was in cahoots with the Russians has been batted back and forth, but the underlying issue here, both in the accusation – because there are many accusations flying back and forth that the Russians somehow interfered in the American elections – all of this has an underlying theme to it which is Russia is America's enemy.

Now, whether in fact Russia did interfere by releasing some material to WikiLeaks and perhaps some other kinds of, quote-unquote, "fake news stories" that helped influence the election campaign, I think the jury is still out whether in fact there's evidence of that. But if they did, well, they probably had good reason to want a Trump administration to come to power, because at least the Trump camp was talking in a more conciliatory way towards Russia, whereas the Clinton camp, in alliance with many Republican neocons, was talking again in the traditional American hawkish way of Russia as the main enemy of the United States on the planet.

Why is that? Why does that narrative continue? One could understand it when the Soviet Union was socialist, or supposedly socialist, and supposedly led by Communists. I say "supposedly" because I think even that's a debatable proposition. But at any rate, one can understand that Cold War psychology mentality. But Russia's a capitalist country now. It has a lot of oligarchs around the central state led by Putin, which isn't all that dissimilar than the United States. Why such narrative continues? Why are we back into practically Cold War rhetoric from so many of the American political leaders?

Here's a clip from Lindsay Graham, one of the more outspoken people on this.

LINDSAY GRAHAM: Because Russia is not our friend. Trump, President Trump, I want to help as much as I can because he's got a mess on his hands. He seems to get Iran right, he seems to get ISIS right, this nut job in North Korea, he understands the threat. When it comes to Russia, he has a blind spot. The bottom line is that Putin is disrupting democracy everywhere: democracy is an enemy to every strongman in the world, including Putin.

PAUL JAY: Now joining us to talk about this underlying issue of why there's such antagonism in America towards Russia is Larry Wilkerson. Larry joins us from Falls Church, Virginia. He was the former Chief of Staff for U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, currently an Adjunct Professor of Government at the College of William & Mary, and a regular contributor to The Real News.

Thanks for joining us again, Larry.

LARRY WILKERSON: Good to be here, Paul.

PAUL JAY: What justifies the level of rhetoric? Lindsay Graham, McCain, and of course there are leading Democrats, Republicans, the whole narrative is it's virtually Russia is an existential threat to the United States. First of all, is there any truth to that? And if not, then why this narrative?

LARRY WILKERSON: There's always the backdrop of a considerable number of nuclear weapons and what they might mean were they to be exchanged. So, if there is – and I'm one to argue with this all day long - usually an existential meaning they could wipe us off the face of the earth and end our way of living tomorrow morning, if there is one it's in the nuclear weaponry, which is why it is so very important that we not only continue the way we were going before – that is before we and the Russians decided we needed more nuclear weapons, more modern, more sure, more secure and so forth and so on, mostly to support our nuclear weapons complexes, both of us – we need to get back on the trail we were on with the Moscow Treaty in reducing the weapons and, though we probably can never bring them down to zero, at least get them down to the lowest level possible.

And so, yeah, there is that component to it. But aside from that, listening to your lead-in and just thinking about it for a moment, I don't it's true that the average American feels like Russia is an enemy. What the average American feels like is what they're fed through their media and fed from their government and everything else. So it might be growing that way, but that would be the purpose of some of these people who wish to have a new Cold War. Frankly, I think a lot of them miss the old Cold War, the surety of it and the spending of it, and the absolute gravy of it for the military-industrial complex and so forth.

But there is some angst, and the angst starts in Europe, and it starts with countries like Sweden and Norway and Finland that are cheek and jowl with the Russian bear, if you will, have been there before with the Russian bear, and it starts in Moscow with the so-called Hun, the Germans. I mean, let's just face it: Russia has been invaded and has been very badly treated in those invasions more than once, and Germany has been a principle ingredient in some of the most deep-felt angst of the Soviet Union, and now Russia.

So, there is great power feeling here about Russia on the part of Washington and the government, and there's reciprocation of that feeling in Moscow. That said, there is absolutely no reason that I could drag out right now and say that we should be going back to a Cold War because of that reason. It's absurd, and so you have to search for other reasons.

PAUL JAY: In fact, historically, it's been the – it was certainly under Clinton and since – the expansion of NATO...


PAUL JAY: ...right up to Russia's borders, as anyone's been asking, creating a provocation here, it starts with that.

LARRY WILKERSON: Absolutely. I don't care how anyone describes Vladimir Putin and his oligarchs and all that, whether they call them the most heinous people on earth or not, we have given them every provocation starting with Bill Clinton and Bob Rubin, the most powerful man in his administration, followed by Larry Summers, and their rape, pillage and plunder in fire sale after fire sale and collecting fees and so forth when the Soviet Union collapsed and Boris Yeltsin was drunk half the time. They stole a fortune from Russia. I don't blame Russia.

And the George W. Bush goes to Tbilisi of all places, and in a public speech says he expects Georgia to be a member of NATO some day in the future. This is just like sticking your fingers in both of Moscow's eyes, as it were. It's as much our fault that we've gotten to this point as it is Russia's.

PAUL JAY: Now there also seems to be, if you take Tillerson, the new Secretary of State, there's a division in the American elites about how to deal with this. Exxon, Tillerson's former company, had big deals going on in Russia and were being hurt by the sanctions, and had a lot... if the sanctions on Russia are lifted, it's going to be a big payday for Exxon and others.

LARRY WILKERSON: I suspect the big payday for a lot of people in the Trump entourage, too, because I think there's probably some real fire underneath that smoke – very much a group of people that are highly leveraged by Russian oligarchs.

PAUL JAY: Is this like divisions amongst the American oligarchs? Like some are pressuring with sanctions, another group wants to lift the sanctions to get in on the fossil fuel exploitation? And I think there are also issues of Western finance wanting to have a better, free hand in Russia. Putin has a certain amount of nationalism and protects his own oligarchs against Western oligarchs, and perhaps the American and European oligarchs don't like that.

LARRY WILKERSON: I think there's certain truth in that. I mean, you know, follow the money. That's always a good theory. And though there might be – I think there are – some good aspects geopolitically – geostrategically – to Washington and Moscow having better relations and not such acrimonious relations, there is no question on both sides that there are commercial interests that are being looked after here, too, whether they be the commercial interests of the leadership in Washington or whether they be the commercial interests of financiers on Wall Street or whatever, of course those are being considered, and those are playing into any decision-making that's going on.

What I can't fathom right now is why anyone would want, with the situation the way it is right now in this country, another enemy. You know, that old conservation of enemies theory: you don't want any more than you can handle in any given time. Look at who we're lining up, Paul. We're lining up China, we're lining up Iran and all that goes along with Iran including Hezbollah in Lebanon, we are lining up with North Korea, we are lining up with Russia. This is absurd. John McCain and Lindsay Graham can pontificate all day long, but I'm going to tell you that they're idiots. We do not need an enemy list that is beyond what we could even in the most wild moment contemplate handling. We don't have – even, we don't have the military forces to handle all these enemies. And yet we're bearding them, as it were.

PAUL JAY: And is all this just... it is really serious? Or is it to justify the $54 billion addition to the military budget? And I see John McCain's quoted as saying he thinks there should be $37 billion more tacked onto that $54 billion. I mean, if they get enough enemy lists out there, do Americans buy these military investments, and maybe is that really what it's about?

LARRY WILKERSON: Well, you've got about 40% of the American people in the latest Gallup Poll, I believe it was that I looked at, say that the defense budget is too low. They simply don't know, though – they're ignorant. And I don't mean that in a pejorative sense. They simply don't know. We're spending this money so badly. We're spending it on the wrong things. And they also don't know that the all-volunteer force is costing them a fortune. Fifty percent of this money is going to go to pay for people because that's how much money we need to bribe these people to serve in the armed forces after 15 straight years of war.

The American people need to get off their ignorant chair and start figuring out and learning what's happening to them, what's happening to their armed forces, what's happening to Washington, what's happening generally speaking with regard to what I was just talking about: how many enemies we're generating out there, and how it's utterly beyond our capacity to deal with all these enemies.

PAUL JAY: And how big a piece of this is people like Erik Prince, who's apparently advising Trump – Erik Prince used to be the Blackwater guy who made millions and millions of dollars hiring mercenaries to go fight on the United States' behalf, although apparently they're doing some of that for China now. His sister's in the Cabinet. Is part of this going to be another big expansion of private armies as part of a U.S. military strategy?

LARRY WILKERSON: Well, that's part of what we've been doing. It's part of what we're building towards. You may have seen that editorial – op-ed – I was surprised that the London Financial Times published it, that Prince proposed to the European Union that he could stop the refugee flow across the Mediterranean that was costing them millions of euros to deal with. He can do it for a lot less. Well, I give you three guesses as to what Erik Prince's methodology might be to stop those refugees. But this is the kind of thing we're looking at.

PAUL JAY: All right. Thanks for joining us, Larry.

LARRY WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Paul.

PAUL JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.




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