YouTube video

Larry Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell, says some Republicans are acting on their prerogative, while others are maliciously trying to destroy the president and his legacy

Story Transcript

SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. After 36 years of a standoff with Iran, the United States has negotiated what will become a comprehensive nuclear energy development agreement with Iran. By all accounts most experts following this story is considering this a significant achievement between Iran and the United States, but not only as Russia, China, France, UK, Germany, plus the European Union has all been a part and parcel of these talks, bringing it to fruition. But here in the United States, the Republicans and some Democrats are attempting to undermine the delicate negotiations, still continuing until a final agreement is achieved. Here to discuss all of this I’m joined by Larry Wilkerson. Larry is the former chief of staff for the U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. He’s currently an adjunct professor of government at the college of William & Mary, and a regular contributor to the Real News Network. Thank you so much for joining us, Larry. LARRY WILKERSON, FMR. CHIEF OF STAFF TO COLIN POWELL: Thanks for having me. SHARMINI: So Larry, a few weeks ago after the open letter to the Ayatollah, which we covered a few weeks ago with you, everyone still points to this letter by Senator Tom Cotton, at least he initiated the letter, as the most egregious act undermining the negotiations that have been going on, and undermining the administration, the White House, and President Obama. Larry, can you just highlight for us the different points of view on the part of those who oppose it, and then outline why they’re doing this? WILKERSON: They’re doing it simply because they can, and because they’ll do almost anything to derail this president. Today I read that certain sectors of the political commentariat in Washington is saying that this will be, and arguably it will be, the crowning foreign policy achievement of the Obama administration. There are people, those 47 signatories to that letter that you’ve mentioned, for example, from Tom Cotton. Those people would like to destroy this legacy. And so they will do so. And you asked me the immediate question, even against the national interest of the United States, I say most affirmatively so, because that is their purpose, and the opportunistic political purpose there, of course, is to make the White House a more gainable target for their candidate in the next set of elections. That’s a sad commentary on the state of our democracy, but I think it is a true commentary. PERIES: Now Larry, House Republicans, as well as some Democrats, are against this deal. They’re trying to undermine it. What are the splits? Why are some of the Republicans okay with it, and why aren’t the others? WILKERSON: There are some Republicans who, and I think this is a dwindling few, again I’m sad to say, who are genuinely interested in what is a prerogative of Congress. And that is to comment on and to do some substantial approval of, in the way of power of the purse and so forth, any foreign policy initiative that they see as majorly impacting the national security of the country. I don’t disagree with that. I think there is plenty of precedent, plenty of protocol, plenty of constitutional backing for those prerogatives. There are some Republicans who will want to do that, and there are quite a few Democrats who want to do that. The problem arises in the fact that there are certain Republicans, especially in the leadership, who want to use that genuine concern and comment to derail the negotiations. And frankly, I think there’s some fairly naive Democrats, like my own otherwise pretty good senator from Virginia, Tim Kaine and others who are falling into this trap. If the letter from Tom Cotton and 47 signatories didn’t convince them of the perfidy of the Republicans, I don’t know what will. But they seem to be walking in this with blinders on, with regard to what is really going on here. Let’s look at what these Republicans want and what Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has just declared he wants. He wants to get enough Democrats on his side as co-sponsors or at least signatories of the bill, supporters of the Bill 615, in order to have a veto-proof — and that’s his words, not mine — majority in the Senate so that if the President were to carry through on his threats and veto this bill, because he thinks it’s dangerous to the diplomacy, then they would override it. Well, what’s the purpose for that? The purpose for that is simply to override the president’s veto, and to kill the deal, and thus destroy the president’s foremost legacy in foreign policy. There could be no other purpose to that sort of rationale. PERIES: Now, as I said in my opening statement, Larry, this is a deal that negotiators, as well as other countries, have signed on to. UK, Germany, the European Union, Russia, China. Now, some of them are close allies of the United States. What does this say to them? WILKERSON: It says to them that the United States is going to go its own way based on the prerogatives of its legislature, prerogatives they simply cannot fathom, regardless of what they want. And let’s just examine what the results of that are going to be. It means that our closest allies and two of our principal competitors in the world in various ways, Russia and China, are simply going to write us off as not integral to this negotiation. That means the sanction regime will fall apart, it means China and Russia in particular will begin trading with Iran just like it was a normal country. And it means that we’re going to be the isolated party in this rather than Iran. We’re going to shift almost overnight from having almost universal support for the sanctions, universal support for diplomacy, universal support for what is diplomacy’s product here, the deal that might be achieved, and us as the only opponent thereto. Think Israel and the United States in the United Nations, and everyone voting against Israel except us and some South Pacific island state. That’s the similar isolated situation we’re going to be in, but with regard to a far more formidable subject. PERIES: Now, prior to the Cotton letter, there was a great deal of grandstanding by Prime Minister Netanyahu and his arrival in Congress and his speech, which was also an effort to hinder the negotiations that were underway by trying to introduce some additional economic sanctions. Now if this agreement goes through, all that gets put aside, yet I think the Republicans are keeping this alive for the 2016 elections. This whole discussion, who supports internationally, who’s supporting Netanyahu and Israel and who’s not, vis-a-vis the Republican party here. What will this debate or discussion look like moving forward into 2016, Larry? WILKERSON: The sad thing about this entire affair is that Bibi Netanyahu increasingly does not represent Israel. And he certainly doesn’t represent, as he claimed before he came to give the nefarious remarks to Congress, the world Jewish community. Not in any way, fashion or form. Nor does he represent even a majority of the Jewish community in America, all of whom are interested in this agreement, interested in the diplomacy that achieved it, and interested in what it might turn out to be, June 30th or whenever, when it does come to technical fruition, if you will. There’s no guarantee that it’s going to. There’s still a lot of hard, difficult challenges to meet. But it looks like there is at least a reasonable possibility we might meet them. If Israel is seen as the ultimate derailer of this exquisite diplomacy, I submit to you that Mr. Netanyahu is going to be the bete noire of the world community, he’s going to even — further than he already has, and he already has majorly, fractured the U.S.-Israel relationship in ways it hasn’t been since 1948. that’s not good for Israel, that’s not good for the United States. Let me just say that the dimensions of this deal, if they are realized on June 30th, or July, or August, I don’t really care. It could go on for another 6 months as far as I’m concerned, as far as any sane person is concerned, because we have for the first time in 12 years frozen Iran’s nuclear program. This deal has the parameters around it right now, on inspection, on reduction of centrifuges, on reduction of polyenriched uranium stocks. On the change of ARAK into a non-plutonium for a bomb producing reactor. All the dimensions of this deal are not just win-win, which they have to be in order for both publics to be sold on them, Iranians and Europeans and Americans, but they are the most effective agreement that could be achieved, far beyond what I thought was even capable of being achieved, that diplomacy could bring about. To spurn that now, to move away from that now, to somehow derail that now, is the equivalent of Chamberlain in Munich. Which is often the argument the opponents of this deal use. They don’t know how to study history. They don’t know how to gain insights from history. They don’t know how to make analogies, historical or otherwise. They are just out for political power, political opportunity, and to damage this president. It is unconscionable what they are doing. Now, that’s all based on what I have seen, what experts have briefed on this agreement. Experts you might trust a lot further than I do, say, Senator Bob Corker of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who basically is a real estate agent. So they need to get their act together, they being Congress. Weigh in, which is their prerogative, but don’t derail this deal. They will regret it, I assure you, because the only other effective alternative is eventual war. PERIES: Larry, thank you so much for joining us today. WILKERSON: Thank you for having me. 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.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

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.