YouTube video

In reference to attacks in Paris, Col. Larry Wilkerson says the reincarnation of al-Qaeda in ISIS must be rationally dealt with if their defeat is the goal

Story Transcript

SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Also welcome to this edition of the Larry Wilkerson Report on the Real News Network. As you know, Larry Wilkerson is a retired United States Army soldier and former chief of staff to the United States Secretary of State Colin Powell. Wilkerson is an adjunct professor at the College of William and Mary. Larry, as always, thank you for joining us today. LARRY WILKERSON: Thanks for having me. PERIES: So Larry, on this very sad occasion following the attacks in Paris, I guess all of us are wondering why France, and what is it about American foreign policy, and now French foreign policy in the region of the Middle East in particular, where the IS is lodged. Why Paris? WILKERSON: I think your initial remarks reflect the reciprocation, if you will, of what Le Monde, as I recall, carried as a headline on our 9/11. And that was, we are all Americans now. Well, we’re feeling like we’re all French now. And while my heart goes out to le France and to Paris, and to the families and loved ones of the people who were killed in Paris, I also have to reflect on the rational side of this. And the rational side of this is what Joby Warrick has said in his new book about the rise of ISIS. The title of the book is Black Flags. And though I disagree with a number of the conclusions Joby comes to in that book, I don’t disagree at all with his main point about the rise of ISIS and how it started with Abu Musab al Zarqawi in Iraq, it blossomed into Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and then Al-Qaeda in Iraq, because of largely the Sunnis uprising against it in Iraq, was more or less driven out and reduced to a minimal personnel, when to Syria as a matter of fact, and now has been unleashed once again and looks like it’s much more potent, powerful than it was before, and start talking about what that means for Western Europe, for the West in general. What it means for those who might pose themselves as being opposed to this kind of terrorism and this kind of treachery and evil in the world. Including France, including Belgium, including the NATO countries, including the United States, of course, and all those who rally around that flag. The rational way of looking at this is this is an instrument of terrorism that is being used against us principally because of our policies and because of our support for, unbalanced support for Israel, and because of our inability to understand and comprehend what’s going on in the region. That said, it is base evil. There’s no question about it. Turning to these kinds of instruments and these kind of people to do these kinds of things is horrible. It is the, it’s the lowest level, if you will, of the depravity that humans can reach. And yet if you aren’t rational about why it’s happening, and you aren’t rational about what you need to do in response to its happening, you’re not going to defeat it. And just one case in point, I understand that this happened on President Hollande’s watch just as 9/11 happened on Dick Cheney and George Bush’s watch, and that you have to be, in a democracy in particular, if you want to stay in power you have to be responsive. You have to look as if you’re being responsive. You have to even advocate violence that approaches the violence that’s been used against you. And so you declare war. You say the war instrument is now what you’re going to do. But what the war instrument does is it changes the entire legal regime under which you’re operating. It enhances the ability of the executive, whether in France or the United States to be draconian, to usurp civil rights, to take away other people’s rights, and to basically begin to injure the very fabric of the republic that is France or the United States. And you have to be very careful when you do that. It also, I hasten to add, plays into the, more or less, the strategy of those whom you’re fighting. Because what Abu al-Zarqawi, who is probably the most intellectual of those against whom we’re fighting, the man who’s in charge of Al-Qaeda now, and what al-Baghdadi wants in a more visceral fashion, is for the powers in the world, especially those in the West, the Christian powers if you will, although we’re not a Christian power. We act like it most of the time. He wants them to overextend. He wants them to overreact. He wants them to spend money, vast sums of money, on the apparatuses we’ve created in order to counter these people. And he wants them to by that methodology and that strategy to destroy themselves. And that may sound preposterous, but it’s not. It’s not at all preposterous if you look at the history of empire, the history of great powers, and so forth. So we need to be very careful about how we react to these incidents which are all, you’ll get nothing out of me that says they aren’t horrible, but we need to be careful about how we react to them. We need to be smart, in other words. We need to be wise. PERIES: Larry, what’s going on at the moment as we are talking is that there’s–a tremendous amount of bombing is going on in Syria in retaliation. And one of the things that is also happening is at the G20 in Turkey this issue of Syria is being discussed. And you were saying we have to be very careful. But what should they be discussing, and what should be the response? WILKERSON: They should be discussing on a case by case basis how we go after the elements opposing a government in Baghdad, that are fighting in Iraq, and the elements that are opposing, attempting to overthrow, the government in Damascus, Assad, which incidentally is still the legitimate government of Syria. And we should be prioritizing how we’re going to use all of our assets, and Marco Rubio declaring that we should invoke Article 5 of the NATO treaty, an attack on one is an attack on all, is a wonderful political move. I mean, it plays really well to the right wing of the Republican party and to others in America. But it really doesn’t get anything done. It doesn’t get anything done at all. We need to prioritize what we’re doing in the region. The first priority, the very first priority, needs to be defeating ISIS by whatever means are necessary in the region. And if those means include a tacit alliance between the Russians, the Iranians, the Turks, the Americans, and anybody else who wants to join in the fight, and I would say we need to drag the Saudis and others into the fight kicking and screaming, because they’re the ones who funded this business in the first place. We need to prioritize to doing that before we do anything else. We need to defeat these forces before they get to the point where they are all over the region and causing problems throughout the world. You won’t ever defeat them completely. That’s the reason I hate using war as a metaphor. You’re never going to win, quote-unquote, this struggle. But you’ve got to get it down to a manageable level. And getting it down to a manageable level means that you get them down to where they were, for example, in 2010 when we had killed Zarqawi and we had more or less eviscerated them inside Iraq. You need to do it in Syria, you need to do it in Iraq. Of course you’re probably going to have to combat [in] other places like Libya and Afghanistan, too. But they’re less of a threat there and we don’t need them to become any bigger a threat there. So we need to go to the root of the matter and prioritize and get rid of them in Syria and Iraq. And that means putting these other things, like unseating Assad and so forth, aside for the moment. PERIES: Right. And Larry, finally, France plays a large role in the world as an arms trader and manufacturing arms, selling it to various forces and countries that are fighting in the Middle East. Has this type of policy, arms trading policy, being a part of their calculation in terms of reacting to the Middle East at the moment? WILKERSON: All of our policies in the West to one degree or another have exacerbated this problem. I’m not saying that the reason Al-Baghdadi and his basically illiterate and religious zealot fighters who will strap on a suicide vest and go into the Radisson hotel, for example, in Amman and blow up a wedding party, I’m not saying that it’s influencing them. But what I am saying is that it, our policies influence the 1.4-1.5 billion other Muslims in the world without whom, and without the money of whom, these people wouldn’t be able to survive. That’s whom we’re looking for. We’re looking to make sure that there is not one dollar more support for these people than there has to be. And our policies, very frankly, have exacerbated this whole group, where there is money flowing into these people. There are people like Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Qatar and others who are still thinking that this kind of Wahhabist ideology, this kind of bloodletting, if you will, this kind of cruelty and evil, will eventually rebound to their credit as Sunnis and as representatives of the Arab [world]. What I say is, be very careful what you wish for because they’ll come for you next. And if they understand that they’ll stop doing this,and we’ll wind up with a coalition that really can bring some power to bear, bring some might to bear on ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and eventually move them down to a manageable level. I don’t think we’re ever going to get rid of them. We’ve created too many problems in that region of the world. Most lately our invasion of Iraq started all this, to be able to reduce it to zero overnight. I’m not sure in a generation we’ll reduce it to zero. But if we can at least get it down to a level that’s manageable, that doesn’t give us things like Paris, or Lebanon a few days before that where I think 44 were killed–incidentally, that’s another point. The media seems to highlight deaths in Paris, and just brushes over deaths in Lebanon or deaths in Syria, for that matter. So this needs to be a more balanced fight. It needs to be a more rational fight. It needs to be a more prioritized fight. We need to all come together, all of us who believe that this is evil and it needs to go away, it needs to be exterminated as much as possible, and we need to do it. And then we can get to the other things. My gosh, there are plenty of other things to get to. PERIES: All right, Larry. Thank you for your thoughts. 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.

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.