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Larry Wilkerson says Sen. Marco Rubio is serving up pablum for those Americans who believe that all you have to do is spout off this kind of rhetoric, whether it’s accurate or not

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to Larry Wilkerson Report on the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Senator Marco Rubio, 43, is the third Republican to announce a bid for the presidential nomination, following Senator Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. Rubio has already said his presidential bid would center around building a new American century, and that American exceptionalism in the world would be among his top priorities as president. Let’s have a look at what he had to say. SENATOR MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): What happens if we diminish? What happens if we diminish because we can no longer afford to be the greatest country in the world? What happens if we diminish because our leaders decide we don’t want to be the greatest country in the history of the world? What happens if we retreat? What happens is you’ll leave a space, and that space will be filled by someone else. The only nations right now that can even try to do it are nations that don’t believe in the things we believe in. Whose idea will continue to spread across the globe? Will it be our ideas of freedom, democracy, and free enterprise? Or will it be their ideas of state-owned enterprises and totalitarianism? The greatest thing that we can do for the world is be America. PERIES: Now joining me to discuss Marco Rubio’s announcement is Larry Wilkerson. Larry is, as you know, the former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. He’s currently an adjunct professor of government at the college of William & Mary. Pleasure to have you here, Larry. LARRY WILKERSON, FMR. CHIEF OF STAFF TO COLIN POWELL: Thanks for having me, Sharmini. PERIES: So Larry, what do you make of this revival of the new American century, and the American exceptionalism that he talks about in his announcement? WILKERSON: Sharmini, apart from–and I couldn’t help but take notice of this–his red tie, which is the first advice of your media advisor, his almost Hollywood coiffure and otherwise persona, and the platitudes that he constantly reiterated without any substance at all, I have to say–and this may shock you–that I agreed with much of what he said. Because much of what he said is an accurate description of the United States of America today. Now, why is it an apt description of our country today? It is the complicity of the Democrats and the Republicans, Bill Clinton and Bob Rubin, especially with regard to the economic crisis. And George W. Bush for augmenting and deepening and making more profound that crisis by waging not one, not two, but three wars without raising any additional revenues, that it brought us to that state. So as he intimated in his remarks, it is both the Democrats and the Republicans who have brought us to this dismal state of our power and our influence in the world. And they’ve done it through a political process that has become polluted with money, contaminated with special interest, and so forth. So my first question to Marco Rubio is when you get through with the platitudes about making America exceptional, about making it the American century, about making every American feel as if they have the American dream in their grasp, and so forth, how are you going to do it? Especially when your party is amply, amply responsible for the condition we’re in today, and your party is in control of both houses of government and as you say, would win the White House with you or whomever. And how are you going to do it? That’s my first question, you 43-year-old, wet behind the ears barely-Senator from Florida. How are you going to do it? Because platitudes do not impress this 70-year-old gentleman. PERIES: Now Larry, one thing that resonates when you watch his announcement for his candidacy is that the new American century, as well as American exceptionalism, is very much a part of the George W. Bush campaign. And your thoughts on whether he’s reviving that? WILKERSON: I think it would be a comment on his lack of good political sense if I thought that he’d stolen from Bill Kristol and the neoconservatives the title of Bill Kristol’s former think tank, the Project for a New American Century. Sounds an awful lot like it though, doesn’t it? Because that has brought us, in part, to this disaster I’m speaking of today. Where we’re embroiled in wars that don’t seem to have any end. Where we’ve upset the balance of power in the Middle East, a very vital region, and destroyed–and are continuing to destroy–major U.S. influence in that area. Where we have a number of conflicts going on that we don’t seem to be able to do anything but tactically move hither and dither to deal with, and where we have spent some $4-6 trillion of taxpayer money to no positive outcome whatsoever. So I’m really interested again, as I said, is how–we say in the military–Marco Rubio is going to operationalize all these wonderful things he said about America, many of which are simply what they sound like: pabulum for those many Americans who believe that all you have to do is spout off this kind of rhetoric whether it’s accurate or not, and all of a sudden the sun will shine on a new day in America. That is absolute poppycock. PERIES: And Larry, the revival of this kind of discussion is very dangerous at this moment, given what’s going on in the Middle East with the fight against ISIS. Your thoughts on that? WILKERSON: Oh, I don’t fault Marco Rubio for standing up there and saying the kinds of things that a hundred million Americans will cheer, or that 48 million of the really hard-right wing in the Republican party will say, oh, that’s our guy, man. He’s going to bring everything about. It’s not much different from President Obama back in his initial campaign days, when he was offering promise and hope and so forth and so on. As I said before, this 70-year-old former soldier for 31 years, and diplomat for a few, is really fed up with these politicians who don’t seem to be able to do anything but deliver rhetoric, high-sounding rhetoric, to the complacent, apathetic Americans to whom they’re speaking, and don’t be, don’t seem to be able to render some real substance as to how they’re going to accomplish all these things they’re going to accomplish. I did not hear a single word in what Marco Rubio said–and I daresay I probably won’t hear any going forward either that make sense–that comprised a plan, a strategy, for doing the kinds of things that he said he was going to do. Which I am all for. I’m all for resurrecting the middle class. I’m all for resurrecting the American dream. I’m all for getting those embassies across the world to have thousands of people standing in line ready to come to the United States and yearning for a visa to do so. I’m all for that. But I didn’t hear one single grain of substance in what Marco Rubio said, so I have to conclude that he’s just like all the rest of them. He’s just trying to get the power. PERIES: And finally, Larry. Being the Republican you are, if you had to vote tomorrow of the candidates that have declared their candidacy so far, who would it be? WILKERSON: I’d hold my nose and exit the polling station with no intent to vote for any of them. I had–I’m sad I have to say something like that, but one has to in the end protest in some little way, and that would be my little way. Not to vote for any of the Republicans put forward by my party. PERIES: Larry, as always, thank you so much for joining us. WILKERSON: Thanks 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.

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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.