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As Defense Secretary James Mattis warns North Korea of “the end of its regime and destruction of its people,” Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to Colin Powell, says the Trump administration is playing a reckless game

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AARON MATE: It’s the Real News. I’m Aaron Mate. After President Trump threatened fire and fury on North Korea, his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, said there is nothing to fear. REX TILLERSON: I think Americans should sleep well at night. I have no concerns about this particular rhetoric of the last few days. I think the president again, as commander in chief, I think he felt it necessary to issue a very strong statement directly to North Korea, but I think what the president was just reaffirming is the United States has the capability to fully defend itself from any attack and defend our allies, and we will do so. The American people should sleep well at night. AARON MATE: Today, more threats emerged from Washington. In a statement, Defense Secretary James Mattis said North Korea should “cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and destruction of its people.” Speaking to CBS, Senator Lindsey Graham said the U.S. is prepared for military action. LINDSEY GRAHAM: There are two scenarios where we would go to war with North Korea, if they attack Guam or some other American interest or our allies, or if they try to keep developing an ICBM with a nuclear weapon on top to hit the homeland, we would act. President Trump has basically drawn a red line saying that he’ll never allow North Korea to have an ICBM missile that can hit America with a nuclear weapon on top. He’s not going to let that happen. He’s not going to contain the threat. He’s going to stop the threat. I hope we can do this diplomacy and sanctions. A war would be terrible, but if there’s going to be a war, it’s going to be in the region, not here in America. AARON MATE: I’m joined now by Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, currently a distinguished professor at the College of William and Mary. Colonel, welcome. LARRY WILKERSON: Thanks, Aaron. AARON MATE: One day after President Trump issued his threat, we had these follow-up comments today from Secretary Mattis threatening North Korea with the destruction of its people, not just of its regime but its people. What do you make of all that’s going on? LARRY WILKERSON: I hate to admit that Lindsey Graham is from the state I am, South Carolina. I’ve known Lindsey for some time, but that was absolutely disgusting, reprehensible statement that you just played that he made. It’s okay because the war won’t be here on U.S. territory. It’ll be on the Korean Peninsula. What a reprehensible statement. We military professionals estimate that in the first month of that war there will be as many as 100,000 casualties, perhaps double that. There are 230,000 Americans living in Korea, most of them, I’d say probably 85% to 90%, in the greater metropolitan area of Seoul. As a matter of fact, about 50% of the South Korean population of some 48 million live in the metropolitan area of Seoul, which would be impacted gravely by North Korean actions were we to have war on the peninsula. This is disgusting. Lindsey Graham is disgusting. Donald Trump is disgusting. They’re all disgusting. I hope that all of this is braggadocio, bravado, brinkmanship, and so forth, much the way Kim Jong-un does himself, only this is the leader of the free world as it were. He’s talking to a dictator of a basket state, so it shouldn’t be that way, but what we have is Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump and here Lindsey Graham acting like they’re the same people. That’s disgusting. AARON MATE: On that point, I’ve got to play one more clip of Lindsey Graham. This is him speaking last week about the same issue. LINDSEY GRAHAM: There is a military option to destroy North Korea’s program and North Korea itself. He’s not going to allow, President Trump, the ability of this madman to have a missile to hit America. If there’s going to be a war to stop him, it will be over there. If thousands die, they’re going to die over there. They’re not going to die here. He’s told me that to myself. MATT LAUER: Are you saying it’s okay to use a military option that immediately endangers the lives of millions of people in that region? LINDSEY GRAHAM: I’m saying it’s inevitable unless North Korea changes, because you’re making our president pick between regional stability and homeland security. He’s having to make a choice that no president wants to make. They’ve kicked the can down the road for 20 years. There’s no place else to kick it. There will be a war with North Korea over their missile program if they continue to try to hit America with an ICBM. He has told me that. I believe him, and if I were China, I would believe him, too. AARON MATE: Colonel, that’s Graham speaking last week to NBC’s Today Show, saying that Trump has personally told him that if there is a war, it’s going to be over there. If you could address the substance of what he’s saying, which is that he’s saying that North Korea is continuing to develop a threat to the U.S. What’s your response to that? LARRY WILKERSON: So many lies and so much disinformation. First of all, Kim Jong-un is a not a madman. If there’s a madman in this deal, it’s Donald Trump. He’s very sober, very sane. Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung before him were the same. They have one purpose. Their purpose is to maintain their regime, to continue to be able to drink their Hennessys and their Courvoisier, and to have their women and so forth and so on. That is the sole purpose of the Kim dynasty. It is a very rational purpose, and they’re very rational about achieving that purpose. The best way we can deal with that, because that is a reality, and it is a reality that they are a nuclear weapons state today, and we’re responsible for that basically. That’s a long story, but we are. Dealing with that reality means we’ve got to talk. We’ve got to sit down and we’ve got to talk. We’ve got to do what former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry suggested, and that is we’ve got to offer something to them that they want, and then they give us something that we want. For example, we could say that we’ll halt exercises on the Korean Peninsula, and we’ll halt the Seventh Fleet coming that close to the peninsula for those exercises, and so forth, in exchange for their stopping ballistic missile testing and perhaps even nuclear weapon testing. We’ll start at that point, and we’d move on from there, as we did in 1994 when we came close to war on the peninsula. Bill Perry and others orchestrated what eventuated into the agreed framework, where we essentially froze their program of reprocessing plutonium at Yongbyon. That’s the sort of thing we need to do. We’ve prevented war on the peninsula and prevented all these humongous casualties that are going to occur if war does happen. Since 1953, we’ve had peace on the peninsula. We need to continue that. The way we’ve done that is through talking from time to time, and abating these rumors, and winds of war and getting serious about doing something to keep that regime thinking that it’s not going to be overthrown every 15 seconds. That’s what’s got them concerned. I don’t care how criminal they are. I don’t care how nefarious they are. I don’t care how they treat their own people. Of course, I do in reality, but I can’t do anything about that. What I do care about is the people who are going to die if a war breaks out on that peninsula. I know from 40 years of experience, 15 of them at the highest levels dealing with North Korea, that the only way you settle this issue is by talking. I hope that ultimately this great negotiator, this incredible businessman, is just doing this in order to increase the leverage so that when he does go into negotiations, he’ll have the high ground. I think that’s misplaced thinking, but nonetheless, I do hope we’re going into negotiations. AARON MATE: Colonel, yesterday after Trump’s comments, the North Korean regime floated the possibility of strikes on Guam. I want to read to you just from a tweet from the Twitter page of the U.S. Pacific Air Forces. It talks about how a contingent of U.S. forces has arrived at Guam. It says, “U.S. ready to fight tonight,” an apparent reference given the developments to North Korea. Let me ask you, has North Korea, in terms of its actions, in terms of its tests, has it done anything that the U.S. has not done? Because I’m thinking about the U.S. flying B-1 bombers over the Korean Peninsula, and of course these military exercises that you’ve mentioned, and tests along the same lines. Is there a parity here between what both sides are doing? LARRY WILKERSON: Absolutely there is. I’ve been on the peninsula since 1977, almost every year since that time, as a soldier and as a diplomat. I’ve got to tell you that there’s blame on both sides in terms of the confrontation over the demilitarized zone and elsewhere on the peninsula, blame on both sides. There’s blame for North Korea. There’s blame for South Korea. There’s blame for Japan, blame for China, blame for Russia. Everybody shares in this [inaudible], but at the end of the day, the situation is, on the one side, this massive military instrument whose initial attacks would devastate one of the most technically sophisticated and probably best examples of both market capitalism and democracy in the world, Seoul. At the same time we’re winning, we’re going to win a Pyrrhic victory. There’s no doubt we’d win because the casualties are going to be massive. The destruction of Seoul is going to be massive. It’s idiotic that we play these games, whether it’s Beijing or it’s Pyongyang, although it’s understandable for Pyongyang, or it’s Seoul, or it’s Washington. It’s idiotic that we play these games. We need to sit down. We need to talk, and we need to work out another 20 years or so of peace until we get to the next point where we do this again. Inevitably we will, and then we sit down and talk again, because I prefer peace on the peninsula, as do the South Koreans, the Japanese, the Chinese. Everyone else in America should as opposed to war. This talk of fighting on the peninsula from a superpower, from a country like the United States, to make these kind of statements and lower ourselves to the same level as Kim Jong-un, to drop ourselves into that pit of pigs, as it were. You know this old saying that when you do battle with the pig, two bad things happen. The pig has fun, and you get dirty. This is much worse than that. I just can’t believe that I’m talking about a U.S. president who would descend to the depths of saying things like one would hear on Game of Thrones, in order to make that his public diplomatic position. It’s absurd. AARON MATE: Colonel, I want to read you a headline from the Wall Street Journal today. It says, “U.S. stocks slide amid North Korea worries.” It points out that the Standard and Poor and the Dow Jones have both declined about 30% each. Then it has a chart that says defense stocks, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin, all those have increased in the wake of the North Korea crisis, the latest developments on that front. LARRY WILKERSON: Of course. The merchants of war just keep on being the merchants of war. I remember when we were getting ready to go into Iraq in 2003. Lockheed Martin, the number one defense contractor in the world, I think their share price was about 26 and three-quarters at that time. A year later, it was $100 plus. War is extraordinarily powerful for Raytheon, Lockheed, Boeing, and others. Of course, their influence on decisions to go to war is a heavy influence. We’ve fulfilled Eisenhower’s prophecy about the military-industrial complex. We have. AARON MATE: Colonel, finally, we just have one minute. Your assessment of South Korean President Moon Jae-in. He came into office. There was a lot of hope that he would re-institute the sunshine policy of better relations with North Korea. He vocally opposed the THAAD missile system of the U.S. The U.S. quickly moved to impose that missile system even quicker, I think perhaps based on his election. What’s your sense of what he’s done so far on this front of the tensions with North Korea, and is he perhaps boxed in by the U.S. position? LARRY WILKERSON: President Moon came in with the right idea, generally speaking, I think. He wanted to defuse the confrontation and start to deal with North Korea, but we saw that. We saw that, we being the military-industrial and governmental complex that loves war, and has made war its raison d’etre. We saw that, and immediately put THAAD on the ground, immediately tied his hands. We’ve done that extensively since then so that he has almost no choice now but to go along and do it. AARON MATE: Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, currently a distinguished professor at the College of William and Mary. Colonel, thank you as always. LARRY WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Aaron. AARON MATE: Thank you for joining us on the Real News.

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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.