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Despite Trump being wrong on the Iran deal, the US congress is more likely to derail it than his potential presidency, says Col. Larry Wilkerson

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SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Presidential candidates Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump met with Prime Minister of Israel, Netanyahu on Sunday. They discussed peace in the Middle East, and Israel’s security, and the stability of the Iran deal. As you know here at the Real News, we have been discussing the MOU on US assistance Israel, worth 38 billion over the next 10 years. That’s from 2019 to 2028. Well in this addition of the Larry Wilkerson Report, we’re going to continue that discussion. Larry’s going to respond to some of that we have covered thus far. Larry is as you know, a retired United States army solider, and former chief of staff to the United Sates Secretary of State Colin Powell. He’s also a adjunct professor at the college of William and Mary where he teaches a course on US National Security. Thanks for furthering this discussion with us today Larry. LARRRY WILKERSON: My pleasure Sharmini. PERIES: So Larry you and political economist, Shir Hever, have been having a back and forth over the nature of the US aid deal with Israel. In an interview Shir did say that when one considers the decline of the purchasing power over the deal’s 10-year period, the aid package is not really increasing. He also challenged your claim that Israel has become a strategic liability to the US. Let’s have your response to that. WILKERSON: I think I agree with Shir on most of his points and particularly on the reduction of purchasing power. I’m not exactly sure though, having dealt with before from the State Department’s prospective on an annual appropriation basis. I’m not sure whether that was part of a package or part of a 5 year, 3 year, 10 year package. Or if this is a new way of doing the aid. I think it’s the latter. No one’s responded to me yet so this is esoteric apparently. Even some of the experts I’ve queried don’t know. But if it is a lock in and if the congress has gone along with that lock in, that is to say they’re not going to perturb it over the decade, I find that hard to believe but if that’s the case, if the leadership at least is okay with it, then what we have here is as Shir has pointed out and made me think about even more profoundly than I was before, a reduction and a reduction over time and a reduction not only that but more or less agreed upon by the legislative branch. Usually the place that presidents have a hard time when dealing with Israel and any kind of cut back at all. Whether this is a recognition of fiscal realities, I hope it is, or whether it’s a recognition of the need to do this vis a vis Israel, I don’t know. Or whether the president just got it done. I simply don’t know. But I agree with that point by Shir. I still maintain that Israel is a strategic liability, a huge strategic liability. Particularly when you understand what’s happening in Syria right now from the point of view of all the proxies involved and the great powers involved like Russia, United States, and I’d almost put Turkey in that category now. And you begin to understand as Ron Prosor, wrote about in the Jerusalem Post recently or was quoted in the Jerusalem Post as saying this is a dangerous situation for Israel with Russia and the United States contending and possibly even becoming imposed. I contend that the whole situation is dangerous for the United States and the situation that Israel provides the United States vis a vis this struggle is as dangerous as the struggle itself. So I mean the real hard power in the region is not in Israel. It is never going to be in Israel. Even under duress it’s not going to be in Israel. So if you say okay let’s get rid of Qatar, let’s get rid of Saudi Arabia, let’s get rid of all the other hard power assets we have in Bahrain, the 5th fleet for example, then you got to take a whole new strategic calculus and map out an entire new strategy for the United States vis a vis this region of the world. Even then I don’t think Israel is going to be a major part of that strategy. PERIES: And one other thing that I think both of you might agree on, on this point is that the aid deal in the final analysis is about the benefits about the US arms industry particularly since there is a part of it now that bars Israel from spending it on their own military industrial complex. WILKERSON: Thank you Sharmini for reminding me of the very self-centered nature of the United States congress. You’re absolutely right. That does mark a change. The money now as I understand it is going to be spent with US contractors. Lockheed, Raytheon, Boeing, and others and that brings another 30 billion plus dollars over the next decade into their coffers. Not chump change by any standard. The other aspect of this of course is the fact that the way this has been interpreted in Israel and Shir I think alluded to this is that Netanyahu lost. That is to say he actually diminished US support in this very visible way. As I’ve said before I think US support is and President Obama military to military, intel to intel and so forth has tightened that support and made it even more substantive than it was in the past. But this really up front public issue of money means something to the average Israeli citizen. I think they know that this is a diminish[tion] as Shir pointed out and that Netanyahu’s responsible for it and they attribute some of that to his rankest relations with President Obama and by extension with the United States. I think this may cost Netanyahu the election in March. PERIES: Alright let’s talk about our own election right here in the US. We’re all gearing up for the big debate tonight and Prime Minister Netanyahu did meet with both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump yesterday in New York. I suppose he’s there for the UN general assembly. But the issues discussed were of course the Iran deal and then of course Middle East security and Israel security itself. So your response to the meetings and what they discussed. WILKERSON: I really have a problem and I really have a problem with any presidential candidate or any president who is very forth right and straight forward about things like as Trump was Jerusalem and Jerusalem being the official capital of Israel and dedicated and publicly announced as such. This just means you’re joining the settler movement in Israel. It means you’re joining the extreme right wing in Israel. It means you’re joining the greater Israel. PERIES: Let me clarify here. Larry you’re responding to Donald Trump saying that Jerusalem should become the united capital of Israel. WILKERSON: Yes. I have a real problem with any candidate, prospective candidate, legislator or otherwise, and certainly with a president who would say this about Jerusalem in the face of US policy for the last 3 plus decades which has been 2 states living side by side in peace. Two economically and politically viable states. This flies in the face of that. It flies in the face of history too. It flies in the face of history in ways that the Israeli myth and let me emphasize that word, myth, has publicized and made believable in the United States, just as we have a myth about ethnic cleansing of the Native Americans and so forth and we have a Hollywood and New York media supported myth related to that, the Israelis have myth about the Palestinians. This myth is an important thing for the Israelis. I give them that. It’s important thing for Americans too. Some of it’s true, some of it’s not true. But making this myth into a reality with a lot of the myth still being mythical is dangerous. It’s extremely dangerous. There’s two sides to this story, to this history. The Palestinians/Arab side and the Israeli/Jewish side. It does no one any service really in time to mythologize either side. So we need to go back to some fundamentals here. Israel being a state inside the 1967 borders and Palestine increasingly being a state that’s supported by Israel and the rest of the international community including the Arabs and including as I said Israel. And the non-Jewish citizens looting inside Israel being treated as first class citizens and not third and fourth class citizens. If we’re not aimed at something like that as a resolution over the next decade, decade and a half, I fear for Israel’s existence in the next 20 years. PERIES: Larry, one very important thing that came up was of course the Iran nuclear deal the Donald Trump proposes to undo if he becomes president. Your thoughts on that. Of course Hillary Clinton had also indicated that the Iran deal will stay intact. So I just want to get your response to that before you go. WILKERSON: Anyone who would disassemble the Iran deal at this point it borders on being an idiot, frankly. The Iran deal has taken a program that was very, very short distance away from a breakout capability that could’ve produced a bomb or bombs to a situation where at least for the next 15 years, and I would argue with good IAEA procedures, the next 25 plus years, a year or better warning with somewhere between 95 and 99% reliability for any kind of breakout. So we have, there’s a lot more to it of course Sharmini as you know but we have achieved through diplomacy what we never would’ve achieved through warfare. We’d be terminally involved with the war in Iraq. We’d still be in it. We need to protect that. We need to preserve that. There are legislators and others and there are people on the Tehran side, the IRGC for example who would love to derail this deal. The IRGC movements, Naval movements in the Persian Gulf on a daily basis demonstrate that in a very graphic form. We need to preserve this agreement. I think probably Secretary Clinton, hopefully someday maybe even President Clinton understands that. I’m not at all sure that a President Trump would. But I would tell you this, when he gets into the office and reads a deal that he’s so proud of himself for being able to do, read that deal. He’s going to find out it’s a much better deal than he thinks it is. It’s a much better deal than war would be and he’s going to correspond with the deal too. It’s going to be the congress that’s going to give him or Hillary tremendous problems because they want to, like they did with the North Korean deal, the agreed train war, they want to derail it. PERIES: Alright Larry, we’ll be following this and we’ll also be looking out to make sure if this is discussed in the debate tonight, we’ll be taking that up tomorrow as well. Thanks for joining us Larry. WILKERSON: Sharmini I sure hope it’s taken up tonight. I mean that’s one of the 5 or 6 issues that I’d put at the very top of the agenda. Especially if we’re talking security and foreign policy. PERIES: Alright, then we expect you back tomorrow. Thanks for joining us. WILKERSON: Take care. PERIES: And 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.