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Col. Lawrence Wilkerson and Paul Jay discuss Hillary Clinton’s militarist track record and Donald Trump’s bellicose rhetoric

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PAUL JAY, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. There’s some debate going on in many circles, political and activist and otherwise, just who’s more dangerous on foreign policy: Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton? A lot of neocons have come out, like Robert Kagan, in support of Hillary Clinton, saying that she will be more aggressive towards Russia than Donald Trump, and critiqued Trump for not having loud enough language against Putin, and so on. Other people say that Donald Trump also has been against regime change. He claims to have been against the Iraq war. He was against, he says, the regime change in Libya. And that Hillary has a record, more of a record, actually–I mean, Donald has never been in power, so he can’t have a record other than having spoken–but Hillary has a record of essentially being a warhawk, a neocon. Here’s a little clip of Hillary Clinton after the death of, overthrowing death of Gaddafi. She’s rather pleased with it all. HILLARY CLINTON: We came, we saw, he died. JAY: We came, [we] saw, he died. She was rather happy at what many people consider, legal scholars, in fact, consider what essentially was a war crime–the UN resolution on Benghazi called for the defense of Benghazi, not the overthrow of Gaddafi–and she was rather pleased. And that’s indicative of why people are quite concerned of what Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy might be. On the other hand, Donald Trump, who is now saying he’s against, was against, the invasion of Libya and the overthrow of Gaddafi–I should say, the bombing of Libya by NATO forces led by the United States, and the subsequent overthrow of Gaddafi–in fact, Donald Trump was not against the overthrow of Gaddafi. In fact, Donald Trump called for American troops to go into Libya to overthrow Gaddafi. Here’s a little clip, a video of a blog that Trump did in 2011. DONALD TRUMP: Gaddafi in Libya is killing thousands of people. Nobody knows how bad it is. And we’re sitting around, we have soldiers all over the Middle East, and we’re not bringing them in to stop this horrible carnage. And that’s what it is. It’s a carnage. You talk about all of the things that have happened in history, this could be one of the worst. Now, we should go in, we should stop this guy, which would be very easy and very quick. We could do it surgically. JAY: So here’s Trump actually calling for all the U.S. troops in the Middle East to go invade Libya on the ground, and overthrow Gaddafi surgically, whatever that means. So who knows what the heck Trump actually does stand for. So joining us to try to make sense of all of this is Larry Wilkerson. Larry joins us from his home in Virginia. Larry is the former chief of staff for Colin Powell, who worked both in the Bush administration and others. And he also teaches at William and Mary college in Virginia. Thanks very much for joining us, Larry. COL. LARRY WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Paul. JAY: So before we get into any comparison about who’s more dangerous and such, let’s start with Clinton’s record of foreign policy. She supported, certainly, the war in Afghanistan. She supported the war in Iraq. She was a prime instigator of the intervention in Libya. She’s also given a lot of credit for the mess in Syria, both in terms of U.S. policy of supporting the Saudi-Qatari intervention in Syria and such. She’s, in fact, in terms of comparison to President Obama, has called for a no-fly zone in Syria, which many military leaders is tantamount to a U.S. full-scale engagement in Syria. She’s very close to AIPAC and support for Israel. She now takes credit for the Iran agreement. But previous to this she’s had a very hard line on Iran, much closer to Netanyahu’s in Israel. Without comparing her to Trump right now, what do you make of Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy? WILKERSON: Her foreign policy is very troublesome to me. I call it Madeline Albright, Bill Clinton, and other people of that tie. Susan Rice, Samantha Power fit the same bill. Incidentally, Susan Rice, Samantha Power, and Hillary Clinton were probably the most influential people with President Obama, who as I understand it from fairly good sources, were reluctant to do the Libya business. She bothers me in that concern. She is right out of what has been called the playbook, and the playbook since about 2000, actually since the end of the Cold War, and us having no strategy to speak of, the playbook has been the war instrument is the first instrument of choice. Of all those things we have in our national power kit bag, finance, economics, politics, diplomacy, you name it, the war instrument stands foremost. And for Ms. Clinton I feel like it stands very visibly foremost. So she’s troublesome in that regard. I would say right now that in her first term she’ll get us in some other war somewhere. JAY: Robert Kagan, the co-founder of the Project for a New American Century, which essentially called for the assertion of U.S. military power without much consideration for international law, and they’re the ones that called for, said a new Pearl Harbor would help us overthrow the regimes of Iraq and Syria and Iran, and so on. This is pre-9/11. Kagan has come out and supported Hillary Clinton, and says that he thinks most of his colleagues, meaning fellow neocons, will support her. And one place, according to an article Rania Khalek wrote for the Intercept, more or less said that Hillary is a neocon, even if she doesn’t want to admit it. WILKERSON: I think some of this is opportunistic. It’s politics. They see that she’s going to be the winner. That’s a pretty sound judgment, I think. And so they want to be on the side of the winner. They don’t want to be forced out of the White House for four or possibly eight years. So it’s partly opportunistic, but it’s also, as you just pointed out, as you intimated, it’s also ideological conformity. They see in her, as I said, someone like Madeline Albright, who once, as you probably know, turned to Colin Powell and said, you’re always talking about that military. Why can’t we use it sometimes? Which kind of goes along with this flippant comment Hillary made with regard to Gaddafi’s death. These kinds of things concern me, whether they come from women or men. And I might say, and I’m all for a woman president, I have an extra concern with regard to this particular woman, because she seems, from time to time, to want to show her bona fides in national security in demonstrative ways, to prove that she does have those bona fides. And that means war, and looking for a war, and finding a war. And that’s very troublesome. JAY: Yeah, and her position on Iran has not really been on the same page as Obama, and I thought there was an interesting difference about how they talked about it. And Obama, when he spoke at the DNC, the convention in Philly, he talked about this being a victory for diplomacy. But Hillary’s talked very much, and her supporters have always talked about, how the harsh and strong sanctions forced Iran into this agreement. Whatever the truth of that is, and how you want to argue who actually caved or compromised more, Hillary’s been very much more on this page of Iran as the great threat, and her as president, one could imagine that’s what she might revive. WILKERSON: I think part of that is a little bit of chest beating on her part, because she perceives herself to have been responsible for both tightening up the sanctions and getting international buy-in to those sanctions to the extent that they did have some impact on Iran’s willingness to come to the table. But a larger part of it, again, is what I think you’re intimating, and that is she’s a heck of a lot more bellicose than President Obama. And she sees the diplomatic instrument as being secondary to the military instrument, whereas she sees the military instrument certainly now after these years in office, and I’ve heard him say this to me personally in the Roosevelt Room, he sees the diplomatic instrument as being the primary instrument and the military instrument being influential on that, but secondary to it. That’s the way we should be looking at it. As a great power, as an advocate of human rights and peace in the world, that’s the way we should be looking at it. In fact, as Colin Powell often said, of all the tools in our national security kit bag, the military one should be the last, the very last one we turn to. And we should only turn to it when every other instrument in the bag has failed. That’s not the way I see Hillary Clinton. JAY: And when I said Robert Kagan and others of his ilk are supporting Hillary, the thing they find most supportive in her, the thing they want to support, is her bellicose language about Russia, and that she’s not afraid to–she made a point of this in her own speech to the DNC, to take on, confront Russia. This kind of aggressive rhetoric about Russia, how serious are the neocons about this? WILKERSON: She was present at the creation, as it were. She was there when her husband Bill Clinton decided to abrogate, completely abrogate, the promises of H.W. Bush to [inaud.], the Soviet foreign minister, and Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet premier at the time, that if they acceded to the reunification of Germany and its retention at NATO, a monumental diplomatic achievement, perhaps the greatest at the end of the 20th century, that they would not move NATO one inch further east. That’s Jim Baker’s actual words: not one inch further east. But what Bill Clinton did was not just move it an inch further east, he began to incorporate the former Soviet satellite states in NATO, and even hinted at Georgia, Ukraine. And George W. Bush came along and actually gave a speech in Georgia, indicating Georgia would later be a member of NATO. This is what has caused Putin, a great power leader, to do what he’s done. Not any great desire to fight the United States. Certainly no desire to fight NATO. But a desire to keep his [near abroad], as they call it, think about these northern states of Mexico, the southern provinces of Canada, indeed, vis-a-vis us, intact and not a threat to him. That’s the way he looks at it. So this is the first lady of those eight years. I’m not confident she’s going to handle the U.S.-Russia relationship as well as it should be. JAY: And we’ll see–one of the things Kagan says in this article I mentioned, that Hillary won’t be averse to our serious arming of the Ukraine, which Obama has held back somewhat on, not to provoke a nuclear war with Russia. But let’s–. WILKERSON: Paul, for very good reason, because Ukraine right now is just short of a basket case. Economically, financially, leadership-wise, corruption-wise, and so forth. Ukraine needs to be left alone. It needs to have its own fight, if you will. And I don’t mean with bullets and bombs. I mean it needs to have a political struggle inside itself between all the elements, including–and I hope they’re eradicated–the Nazis. Yes, I said Nazis, that we’re supporting in Ukraine, for lack of a better opposition. Ukraine is going down the tubes. And part of the problem is they are involved in this Russia supports these people, the EU supports these people, the United States supports these people. Let’s give them some arms, let’s fight a proxy war here. That’s not what Ukraine needs right now. It needs peace, it needs stability, it needs tranquility, and it needs to work out its own problems without interference from any of these powers around its periphery or across the Atlantic, unless they want to help with money, advice, and development. That’s what Ukraine needs. JAY: Right. Okay, now let’s look at Trump. At the convention, the Republican Convention, Trump has Giuliani speaking, who blames Iran for funding terrorists who want to attack America. I mean, anyone that knows anything knows that that isn’t what’s happening. And if there’s any country involved in that it’s Saudi Arabia. And there’s certainly good evidence leading to some Saudi role of some sort in 9/11, and other such terrorist attacks. The–but he himself has said, other than his opposition to the Iraq war, which was pretty lukewarm at the time, it seems more in retrospect, the change of mind on Libya, because he’s not acknowledging what he actually said at the time. But his main foreign policy claim is that he’s going to crush ISIS, and he’s not going to tell us now how. But he’s going to do it, quote, quickly and massively. What does that actually mean? Now, this morning, today is Wednesday, there’s an interview–I should say a piece–by Joe Scarborough on MSNBC, on Scarborough’s show, where Scarborough quotes a foreign policy adviser who met with Trump. Here’s a piece of that. SPEAKER: Several months ago, a foreign policy expert on the international level went to advise Donald Trump. And three times he asked about the use of nuclear weapons. Three times he asked, at one point, if we have them, why can’t we use them? That’s–. SPEAKER: Oh, wow. SPEAKER: That’s one of the reasons why he has, he just doesn’t have foreign policy experts around–. SPEAKER: Trump. Trump asked three times about nuclear weapons. SPEAKER: Three times, in an hour briefing, why can’t we use nuclear weapons. JAY: Now, we can’t verify any of that. Joe Scarborough heard it from this foreign policy expert. And MSNBC certainly generally has the drumbeats going about how horrible Trump is. On the other hand, if he’s going to live up to any of his Make America Great Again promises, and his promise to wipe out ISIS, and so on, he’s going to have to do something big. So what do you make of, what do you know, what we know of Trump’s foreign policy, Larry? WILKERSON: To your first point, Paul, he’s [inaud.] had to move really fast, because ISIS is getting wiped out right now. As a matter of fact, one of the reasons they’re trying to spread to places like Libya and perhaps Tunisia, and Afghanistan and elsewhere, is because they are getting wiped out in Syria and in Iraq, particularly the latter. So he’s going to have to move really fast, because what ISIS is turning into is what Al-Qaeda has been. It’s a terrorist organization with somewhat of a global reach, and it’s insidious. It’s poisonous. It’s savage. It kills Sunni, Shia Muslims as much as Christians, Buddhists, anybody else in the world. But it has been basically as a territorial entity wiped out, or is very near to that point. So he’s going to have to move really fast in order to nuke somebody in Libya, or nuke somebody in Afghanistan, they’re going drop what, a half-KT nuke on eight or ten people in a group? Because that’s about all they’re going to find in any one place. So that’s a nonsense statement that he’s making right now, because it plays to the 20 percent of Americans who are certifiable and might indeed cast a vote for Trump. Fortunately for us in the rest of the country, that’s not enough to get him elected. His other statements, as you’ve pointed out, and as you’ve shown, I think, are elliptical, from A-Z, contradictory, antithetical to one another, depending on the time that–that can be true of almost any politician, but not with the consistency, I think, that we’ve seen with Donald Trump. I still maintain that his principle purpose is to destroy the Republican Party. I think he has pulled the veil away from people like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and John McCain, and a host of others. He is showing them for what they are. He is showing them for the venal, poisonous, uncaring human beings they are, as well as the power-hungry, single-issue or social-issue abortion, whatever it happens to be, that they have become, the racists that many of them are, and so forth. And he’s destroying the party. I think that was his ultimate purpose. Now, has it morphed somewhat, and he’s grown a little maniacal because he’s seen that he has a possibility, after winning the primary, and so forth? I don’t know. But I think his initial purpose was to destroy the party, and I think he’s doing a damn good job of that. And I cannot imagine Donald Trump, the man that I see on TV, that I have seen on TV for the last 20 years, enjoying the White House like he enjoys the comfort of his palaces, his casinos, and other places. And the ability to pontificate from on high with no retribution, total impunity and so forth that he enjoys, and having to go to the White House and be checked at every step, as you pointed it out, the institutional fabric of the White House will enshroud him. He will not be able to do anything that he’s claiming to do right now. JAY: Well, it seems to me that it was–. WILKERSON: So I don’t even think he wants the job. JAY: Well, he kind of–. WILKERSON: –Paul. JAY: He kind of implied that when he–according to Kasich, when he offered the vice presidency to Kasich and he turned it down, he told Kasich, you’ll be the most powerful vice president in history. And one–it’s not too big a speculation to think that’s what he said to Pence. So I mean, I’m wondering if what we’re really talking about is sort of a Bush-Cheney situation where Trump gets to pontificate, but the White House actually gets run by Pence, and what do you make of Pence, who seems to be a rather serious neocon himself? WILKERSON: That’s a scary proposition, too. I only had occasional, one or two, really high-visible moments to have any insight into Pence at all, but those moments were very distressing. Very much what’s called a conservative today, but what I call a radical, a social radical. Um, even in some respects, national security radical. People like Trotsky, I’ve called these people. They aren’t conservatives at all. They’re radicals. So the social positions alone that Pence talks about and adopts, apparently ideologically and from his heart, scare the bejesus out of me. Anyone that thinks reversing Roe v. Wade, anyone that thinks that dealing with Christianity and making it the nation’s principle religion, or its fundamental religion, or whatever, anyone that thinks that any of these social issues, reversing the trend towards gay and lesbian and transsexual and other rights, sexual rights, anyone who thinks reversing those is a good posture to me is scary, because they are working against the very momentum of not just the United States, but the globe. They’re working against the momentum of the 21st century. And that’s probably a recipe for disaster, especially for a country that purports to be the world’s leader the way we do. So both of these people scare me. Pence, though he’s more rational, and Trump. And what you said before about John Kasich enjoying unprecedented power, John would probably say, I don’t want to be as powerful as Dick Cheney, I guarantee you that, even with Trump. JAY: And you were saying there were a couple of things on national security with Pence that scare you. WILKERSON: Well, it’s this whole group that took this prominent posture, which was mostly influenced by Israel. I would say they are card-carrying Likud Party members. It doesn’t mean that when you take their wallet out you’ll find a membership card, but that means, that’s a metaphor for they think first about Israel, and second about the United States. And they ideologically justify this to you, if they ever attempt to, their contempt for you if you question them is palpable. But they justify it, when you get them to, by saying, well, Israel’s interests are the U.S.’s interests, and vice versa. Which is poppycock. No nation in history has ever had congruent interests with another nation, or vice versa, consistently. That’s what they say. And Israel dictates their national security stance. And where I saw this most prominently was working with the Congress, the Senate, and the House on the Iran deal, which was a close-run thing, as you well know, all the way. And it’s still a close-run thing because of people like Pence, and the chairman of the foreign relations committee, and people like Mitch McConnell and John McCain and others, it’s still a very [close run] thing. The story today, which is an old story, goes back to January, when the president actually sent the $400 million to Iran. This is Iran’s money. And why did we send cash? We sent cash because the Republicans, and some Democrats like Bob Menendez and Chuck Schumer and others, made sure that the banking restrictions in Iran are still so tight, even with the agreement, that they can’t accept large [terms] of U.S. money, because eventually it’ll have to clear a U.S. bank, and it won’t clear. So we have to send cash. This is Iran’s money. We had an agreement with the Shah at the time of the revolution. It was $400 million. Part of our negotiation to get our people back, and to settle the Iran-U.S. relationship in 1979-1980, was that we would pay that money back. And when we paid it back we’d pay it back with interest. Well, the interest is over $10 billion. Well, we went to arbitration, and arbitration reduced it to, I think, $1.7 billion. This is the first payment on that $1.7 billion. We were very fortunate to get that decision. We didn’t have to pay even more. But Obama’s simply trying to return their money to them, and look at what the Republicans are making of that. Corker and Pence and people like that. Look what they’re making of it today. It’s a transaction of diplomacy. It’s the way it should be under the agreement. And yet this is what my party’s doing. These people scare the hell out of me, Paul. JAY: And the one thing that Trump seems to be completely on the same page with Pence and the neocons about is ripping up the Iran agreement. That’s where he, at least, is clear about something. WILKERSON: Yes. And renegotiating the Iran agreement means you kill it, because the Iranians will never agree to renegotiate. JAY: And the neocons get their long wished-for war. WILKERSON: Yep. JAY: So just quickly, finally, given two terrible choices here, what scares you more? WILKERSON: Let me come back to your previous point just for a moment [inaud.] to make this point. That also frightens me about, as you pointed out, Hillary Clinton’s position on Iran. Because I see it as being almost the opposite of President Obama’s. As you pointed out, he thinks it was a diplomatic achievement of the first order, as do I. And I think historians will, too. She thinks it came about because of massive U.S. power, at the top of which is military power. And so when it starts to unravel, which the Congress is working hard to make it do, she’s going to go to the military power. JAY: So too horrible choices on foreign policy. Who scares you more? WILKERSON: You won’t get me to answer that question. I have to say, I don’t know where Donald Trump stands. Some of the things he said, a re-examination of NATO, more equitable burden sharing, a re-examination, indeed, of all our security alliances, has been necessary since 1991. And we haven’t done it. So those are cogent, reasonable, well-thought-out positions, though the playbook doesn’t agree with them. But I don’t know if he really believes in them. I don’t know if he just concocted them for the moment, or whether he really thought about them and he believes them. Other things he said make sense, too. But I don’t know, as I said, if he really believes in them or he’s just opportunistically throwing them out there as bait for what he considers to be those who might vote for him. JAY: And then on the issue of Iran, like I said, where he is clear, that leads, you know, leads to war. If they tear up that agreement, then Likud and [inaud.] these guys are back where they were–they go back to what Cheney wanted in the first place. WILKERSON: Yes. What happens if he says, okay, I’m opening renegotiations, and nobody comes? What happens then? Because I don’t think the Europeans will come out. JAY: Well, whoever wins this election, there better be an anti-war movement of massive proportions, because bad things are going to be coming. Thanks very much for joining us, Larry. WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Paul. JAY: Thank you for joining us 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.