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As James Madison once said “war powers is the surest way to tyranny” and tyranny will prevail if people remain apathetic says Col. Larry Wilkerson

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SHARMINI PERIES: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. As everyone knows by now, late Friday night the U.S. military, with the support of the British and the French military, launched a series of missile attacks against what they said were Syrian research, chemical storage, and military targets. The strikes were apparently in retaliation for an alleged chemical weapons attack near Damascus which is said to have killed 40 – 70 civilians. Over the weekend Trump gloated in these attacks.

DONALD TRUMP: By the way, John Bolton is here, and we just had a big, successful hit. John? Are you giving him all the credit? Or you know, that means the end of his job. Did our generals do a great job? Did our military do a great job? With way over 100 missiles shot in, they didn’t shoot one down. The equipment didn’t work too well, their equipment, and they didn’t shoot one, you know, you heard, oh, they shot 40 down, then they shot 15 down. Then I call, I said, did they? No, sir, every single one hit its target.

SHARMINI PERIES: Reaction from members of Congress was generally supportive of the strike, as were many human rights organizations and the mainstream media, although these strikes were unauthorized by Congress or the UN. Some senators, however, Bernie Sanders and Tim Kaine, as well as Congressman Ro Khanna, they rejected these strikes, saying that Trump should have gotten congressional authorization first, as is required by the Constitution. On Friday night, Bernie Sanders wrote: It is Congress, not the president, which has the Constitutional responsibility for making war. The international community must uphold the prohibition against the use of chemical weapons, but it is unclear how Trump’s illegal and unauthorized strikes on Syria achieve that goal. And he added this on Meet the Press on Sunday.

BERNIE SANDERS: I disagree that the United States should have combat troops in that area. I feel very much that we will be in perpetual warfare in that region. I do not want to see that occur. But let me be very clear: I am very concerned about a lot of the war talk that I’m hearing from my Republican colleagues, who apparently have forgotten the cost of war and the errors made in Afghanistan and Iraq. And what I believe, Chuck, very much, is that the most powerful military on earth, the United States of America, that our government should do everything that we can to resolve international conflict in a way that does not require war.

SHARMINI PERIES: In the UK, the reaction from Jeremy Corbyn was much tougher against Theresa May’s arbitrary decision to support the U.S, without consulting parliament.

JEREMY CORBYN: The Prime Minister is accountable to this Parliament, not to the whims of the U.S. president. Her predecessor came to this house to seek authority for military action in Libya and in Syria in 2015. The House had a vote over Iraq in 2003. There is no more serious issue than the life and death matters of military action. It is right that Parliament has the power to support or stop the government from taking planned military action. I believe, Mr. Speaker, the action was legally questionable.

SHARMINI PERIES: And in France, John Luc Melenchon of the hard left in France condemned the strikes, as did the center-right leader Laurent Wauquiez. Even the leader of the far-right Front, Marine Le Pen, said Macron had not published any evidence of the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime. Meanwhile, chemical weapons inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons arrived in Syria on Saturday. However, they have not been able to enter the affected areas because of the pending missile strikes. On the weekend and today we have the U.S. alleging that Russians may have tampered with the evidence in the meantime.

Joining me now to discuss the attacks on Syria is Colonel Larry Wilkerson. Larry is former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, and now a distinguished professor at the College of William and Mary. Thanks for joining us, Larry.

LARRY WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Sharmini.

SHARMINI PERIES: Larry, at a time when more people in Washington, and in Congress in particular, and the U.S. media should be challenging the official narrative, they’re actually endorsing it. And this is a war , or these strikes took place without congressional approval, without a U.N. resolution, and before the inspectors could even get on the ground to see what really happened. And UK joined them without parliamentary approval. France did as well without taking it to parliament. Now, without the obvious reasons, which is perhaps to distract the media and all of our eyeballs from what’s really going on in Washington, these strikes took place. So give us the real reasons and the motivations behind these missile attacks on Syria.

LARRY WILKERSON: The foremost reason for this strike, and I suspect the only reason Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis would give a positive recommendation regarding it, was to reassert U.S. power in the region after the very impolitic remarks by President Trump that we were withdrawing. In other words, we needed to convince the Russians, and the Iranians, but principally the Russians, that we were still in the game. And that when we come to the political settlement, which is the only way we’re going to stop this brutal war, we still have some high ground. And that was the sole reason for the strike that made any strategic sense. Everything else is nonsense.

SHARMINI PERIES: Larry, off the top, in the intro, I indicated that only a few people in power actually objected to these attacks. Why is this happening?

LARRY WILKERSON: Absolutely no objection, except to the few people, Mike Lee, perhaps, and Bernie Sanders, maybe Tim Kaine from Virginia, who would object because they know what it means. It means that we are so eroding the Constitutional war power, the people’s representatives war power, the Constitutional Title 50 U.S. Code Chapter 33 Section 15, 41-48 legal rationale, legal restriction and constraint on the war power. We’re violating it every week, every month, every day that goes by. And the more we do that we’re eroding the power of the Congress to act as a check on the president with regard to that power.

This is tyranny. James Madison said the surest way to carry is through the war power, and he was right. He was fundamentally right. This is the way kings gained almost universal power, through the divine right and through the war power. This is the way presidents gain, prime ministers gain ultimate power, through the war power. We keep surrendering this power to the executive branch and we will regret it dearly in the future if, indeed, we aren’t already regretting it. Look at what we’re doing around the world right now without any check, any balance. The American people don’t even know what we’re doing.

Niger recently was just an example of that. What are we doing in the Niger? Said the American people. Why are these people dying in Niger? Well, they really knew the truth about all the places we do have people, and all the places we are performing lethal actions and killing other people, I hope they’d be disgusted. But you know, Sharmini, increasingly I’m not thinking they would be. I’m thinking they’d probably be elated, or they’d be just as apathetic as they are at this present moment. They have surrendered the power to make war to the president of the United States with no check, no balance on that power.

SHARMINI PERIES: Larry, tell us about the relationship between U.S., UK, and France in this collaboration in attacking Syria. Apparently Macron was on record this weekend saying that he urged President Trump to remain in Syria, and he slightly withdrew that comment late night on Sunday. But nevertheless, what is the interest of U.S., UK, and France, and then of course remaining in Syria, what does that really mean?

LARRY WILKERSON: This is laughable and lamentable at the same time. The old colonial powers. France vis a vis Lebanon and Syria, Britain Iraq and Iran, and really vis a vis Iraq, and the United States. Here we are, the old colonial powers, the people that screwed the region up in the first place are now trying to, you know, essentially for commercial and other interests, oil and gas read loud, are trying to get it back in order again. It’s almost laughable if it weren’t so lamentable.

At the bottom of all of this, I think, is oil and gas, and what it means in terms of commercial interests with regard to those commodities in the region, whether it’s the Eastern Med, where Lebanon and Israel are now arguing over Section 9, or Turkey and Cyprus and Greece are arguing over fields, or whether it’s the pipelines that are going to be built or under construction already, like the one just approved for Afghanistan. This is why we’re in the region. And to present all these other reason, other reasons, as rationales for being there are just lying to the American people.

But we’ve done that forever. We lied to the American people in Vietnam, we lied to them during the Iraq wars. We lied to them about Afghanistan. We just don’t have the courage or the fortitude, or in some cases the wisdom, to tell the American people why we’re doing things. And here we come back to what you asked before, the reason the executive can do anything he pleases with regard to the armed forces in the United States, any time he pleases, is because the American people are apathetic. Their representatives in the Congress are utterly pusillanimous. They’re cowards. They will not do anything, with few exceptions, like Mike Lee, Bernie Sanders, and some of the others.

So we’re in a position right now where the president of the United States can take the armed forces, all-volunteer armed forces, mercenary armed forces for all practical purposes, coming from the poorest regions of America, they can take them and go out there to kill people, and do it in the name of the United States of America, and put a mythical proportions to it, like this is for freedom. This is for democracy. This is to stop the use of chemical weapons. And all that’s nonsense. It’s all for what Smedley Butler said years ago it was for: commercial purposes, filthy lucre, name it what you will. That’s what we’re doing it for.

SHARMINI PERIES: Larry, speaking of commercial interests, Raytheon, who makes these missiles that were used in these strikes against Syria, nearly added $5 billion to their stock value. Tell us about the money interests here, and who’s really benefiting from these attacks as far as profit is concerned.

LARRY WILKERSON: You get companies like Raytheon and others to make these missiles, the more sophisticated, the more expensive. I understand some of them were Standoff cruise missiles, they’re very expensive. It gets them more and more money, and it also, most people don’t realize this, it also cuts production costs and the volume costs for those missiles for the Department of Defense. So the more of these missiles you shoot, and I suspect Raytheon’s and others’ lines are hotly humming right now, the more of them you shoot, we’re shooting them in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen also, you may recall, the cost, ultimately, per unit for the United States. And since the Pentagon really is in a fiscal situation unparalleled, about to go bankrupt itself if it doesn’t do something about its gross spending habits, can’t even audit itself, then every unit that’s cost comes down is a benefit to the Pentagon. So you could say were killing people in the world for Raytheon and the DoD.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. As always there’s so much more to discuss with you, Larry. But our time’s up. So I’ll talk to you next week. Thanks for joining us today.

LARRY WILKERSON: T ake care. Good to be with you.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on the Real News Network.

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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.