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Larry Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, offers unsolicited advice to Bernie Sanders on whether he should speak at AIPAC

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. March 20 begins the annual three-day AIPAC summit; that’s the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, and they usually hold a convention in Washington, DC, and usually all the presidential candidates are invited to speak, especially in a presidential year, as such. And as of March 14, only Hillary Clinton has accepted the invitation, and a petition is currently being circulated urging Vermont senator Bernie Sanders to decline the AIPAC’s invitation. On to discuss all of this is Lawrence Wilkerson. Lawrence is the former chief of staff for the U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, and he’s currently an adjunct professor of government at the College of William and Mary, and of course he’s a regular on the Real News Network. Thank you so much for joining us, Larry. LARRY WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Sharmini. PERIES: So, Larry, what is fueling all of this tension between the candidates appearing at AIPAC and speaking? What’s the history behind it and what’s the problem with doing so? WILKERSON: The long history is a very, very unbalanced position of the United States diplomatically, politically, and so forth, with regard to Middle East peace process. That unbalanced position has become that way over time principally from about the latter part of the second Reagan administration, through the Clinton administration, and up to George W. Bush, and now President Obama. Let me be a little more specific. You have presidents who actually fought this imbalance. You had presidents like Dwight Eisenhower, who told the Israelis, the French, and the British to get out of Suez with their military forces in ’56. You had presidents like Ronald Reagan who sold [inaud.] aircraft over vehement objections from Israel to the Saudis. You have presidents like George H.W. Bush who tried to conduct real and meaningful diplomacy post the first Gulf War, when we had the Oslo conference and so forth, and the Oslo Accord. Then you have Bill Clinton. And I have to say that much of the detritus in U.S. foreign and security policy we’re dealing with today goes back to the Clinton administrations and originated there. Bill Clinton decided to be the first president, I think it was 1995, to go and speak to AIPAC. Really a very bad decision, one that set the precedent for presidents going over to AIPAC. Presidents have no business going over to what are essentially foreign lobbyist organizations and addressing them with the protocol and the prestige of the White House. That’s my view. And now we’ve got a situation where as we do for other instances like this, where someone sets a bad precedent, where you’re damned if you don’t go. And so we’ve got invitations, as you pointed out, to not just presidents, sitting presidents, but to candidates for the presidency. I think it’s really dangerous, but it’s going to happen because of this extremely imbalanced relationship the United States has created with regard to Israel. PERIES: Now, as I said in the opening, there is a petition circulating asking Bernie Sanders to skip the AIPAC meeting. And so I was hoping that you could highlight on what the consequences might be if he accepts the invitation, and should he cut out of it? WILKERSON: If he’s actually been invited and it’s public that he’s been invited, it will be extremely difficult for the reasons as I just enumerated for him to turn down, because it will appear, since Hillary is accepting, it will appear that Bernie Sanders is not as concerned about Israel’s security as Hillary Clinton is. The opposite, of course, might be true, and would be clearly illuminated in that direction were he to do so. The opposite would be him declining and therefore establishing himself as a presidential candidate who would restore the balance to the United States relationship with Israel and with the Palestinian situation and the Arabs in general. So it would be a smart move in that respect, but politically it might be a dumb move. So I would fully expect that if Bernie were invited, he would go.. PERIES: Now, Larry, I understand that last time we spoke you were actually an adviser to the Sanders campaign, and that has changed. Give us some highlights as to what happened. WILKERSON: No one has told me that it has changed. I spoke personally with the Senator. I spoke with different people in his campaign. And I was beginning to send them foreign policy, security policy advice, and other input. We were going to talk about climate change and a number of other things. But I haven’t heard from them in over two weeks, and I suspect that’s because they simply don’t want to pick up the phone and call me and tell me I’m fired. And the reasons for that were the New York Times, Haaretz in Israel, the Jerusalem Post in Israel, the Free Beacon, that bastion of equanimity and sound foreign policy advice that belongs to the neoconservative camp, all ran stories on remarks I’ve made about Israel being a predatory capitalist state, which it is, the United States is too, of course, and about the possibility of false flag operations run by Israel and so forth that the Sanders camp didn’t find very palatable. And so I haven’t heard from them since, and I assume that I am, in fact, fired. PERIES: And we might take credit for some of that, as according to Haaretz and New York Times that some of the things that Larry Wilkerson had said in interviews with the Real News Network. So, Larry, I thank you for the commentaries you do carry out, and you’re always welcome here. WILKERSON: Thank you, Sharmini. Have a good day. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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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.