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Wilkerson Pt2: Diplomacy must lead a regional solution to Afghan war; there is no military solution

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network, with Lawrence Wilkerson in Washington. Lawrence was the chief of staff of Colin Powell’s State Department, worked with Colin Powell when Powell was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and now teaches in Washington at a couple of universities. Thanks for joining us again.


JAY: Alright. Let’s back up again. Big geopolitical picture. Certainly al-Qaeda as an organization is part of the issue. I’ll give you just my own opinion here. It’s there. It was a threat. But al-Qaeda can operate from Pakistan. It doesn’t have to operate from Afghanistan. It can operate from Somalia. It can operate from a lot of places. So there’s a bigger geopolitical puzzle here about why they finally decided to go. So speak a bit more about that, and within that, talk about the growing alliance with India, ’cause it seems this Indian-American alliance is becoming a linchpin of American policy in the region, but people would rather talk about gatecrashers at a party.

WILKERSON: Right. It is a serious regional and even global set of circumstances, and if there was another aspect of the speech which concerned me a bit, it was that there was hardly anything said about that. We’re talking about Central Asia, Iran, Pakistan of course. We’re talking about as far away as the Persian Gulf. We’re talking about Israel. We’re talking about a number of factors in what I call Western Asia. “The Middle East” is really a misleading term. The Chinese look at it as Western Asia. We’re talking about a fractious part of the world where many resources sit and where lots of antagonisms exist. I would have liked to have heard something about how we’re going to bring those regional interests from China, who, after all, has a small border with Afghanistan and has now a huge, huge copper mine just inside that border. I would like to hear Iran pulled into this. I would like to hear Russia pulled into this. I’d like to hear Turkey pulled into this. There are so many countries that have a vital interest in what’s happening in Afghanistan.

JAY: And even proxy armies and proxy politicians and proxy warlords.

WILKERSON: Absolutely. And in some cases we have countries like—Tajikistan, Uzbekistan are just waiting to collapse. They’re held together only by one person in most cases, and that one person does things like boil people in oil. It used to amaze me when Donald Rumsfeld would talk about Uzbekistan—.

JAY: And very close to General Dostum, who’s now back in gears with Karzai again.

WILKERSON: Dostum is now running the huge—they’re not just passing the raw opium product anymore. Dostum is now running a huge state-of-the-art factory inside Afghanistan which is producing the heroin.

JAY: Well, in this speech, barely a mention about the drug trade, which goes to the core of the entire issue there, because if there was something to fight over amongst warlords and Talibans after the Russians left, there’s way more to fight over now.

WILKERSON: Production is up—I think it’s tenfold. The money being made is something like two-thirds of the Afghan GDP. And that’s what you can compute. Imagine what it would be if you could compute it all.

JAY: I mean, the reality of what could be in 18 months—and this would be, probably, a best case scenario—is the US is able to put together a group of warlords that are more loyal to the US than someone else and be there and create an army where they can somehow control the country.

WILKERSON: You touched a very important dimension of this earlier when you ask your question. You need to bring India, Pakistan, China, Turkey, even Syria, you need to bring them all into this, because each is going to have an aftermath that it’s interested in, and it’s either going to be civil war, with the Indians and the Paks, for example, fighting over Afghanistan because the Pakistanis see it as strategic depth against their principal enemy, India, and don’t want it to be stable and secure—they want to be able to influence it. The Indians see it as just that for Pakistan, and they want it to be reasonably secure. And if they have to make it secure, they will make it secure. So we’re looking at a contest between different regional powers that does need some orchestration.

JAY: Well, isn’t that the real alternative strategy? [Rather than] just send more troops, doesn’t there need to be some kind of regional conference about how to solve Afghanistan?

WILKERSON: Absolutely.

JAY: Which means give up this idea the United States needs to run the show.

WILKERSON: I think you would—.

JAY: They facilitate a show.

WILKERSON: Yeah, exactly.

JAY: But you have to run the show.

WILKERSON: Yeah. And by facilitate, in my language I mean on occasion lead, because I don’t see anybody else stepping up to the plate.

JAY: But to lead, don’t you have to give up the idea that we’re going to be the dominant power in the area?

WILKERSON: You may have to do that in order to achieve a diplomatic solution that you can then, with your allies and friends, back up with power. I don’t subscribe to this theory that it’s better to be feared than loved or respected; I subscribe to the theory that if you get enough people at the table who understand what each other’s interests are and understand where those interests fold over each other and are coincidental, you can achieve a compromise solution. You may have to back aspects of that solution with your military power, and you may have to use some of the military power of your friends and allies to help you, but that doesn’t mean that you are the hegemon of the area or that you’re the world hegemon or anything else; it simply means that your leadership and your counsel is crucial to achieving solutions. And that requires military and diplomatic power, leading with diplomatic power. And that’s what’s called for here, because what you have beneath that, of course, is just raw expressions of military power, whether it be the Pashtuns against the Hazaris or the Hazaris against the Tajiks or whatever in Afghanistan, or the Indians versus the Pakistanis, or whatever. They can’t counsel themselves. We found that out in 2002 when we essentially had to keep them from going—India and Pakistan from going to nuclear war with one another. They need help. And there we’re a behemoth, but we’re not a behemoth that everyone one feels like, as they do sometimes vis-à-vis—or did vis-à-vis the Soviet Union, or now sometimes towards China, we’re not behemoth that comes with all the trappings of territorial aggrandizement, imperialism, and so forth—at least we haven’t been in the past. I’m worried about the present. So we’re a better party to be an honest broker. We’re a better party to be a negotiator, a better party to lead diplomatic [inaudible]

JAY: So this is where you get back to what’s the real objective here,—


JAY: —because if the Pentagon’s objective and the military-industrial-complex objective—.

WILKERSON: Is to continue this war so they can make money off of it, then that’s [inaudible]

JAY: A war that goes on endlessly, long-term military bases, let’s keep our strategic position, and given all the resources—that’s one set of thinking.

WILKERSON: Dick Cheney went to Iraq for one reason: he went to Iraq for oil. And there is a huge component of that in Central Asia, of course. Our new ally is India. Everyone in the United States military knows that. Our new area of operations is the Indian Ocean. That’s where the Navy’s going to concentrate, the United States Navy’s going to concentrate. Its principal ally is the Indian Navy. And that’s not just as a counterpoint to China’s power; it is also a statement of where we believe the strategic focus of the world is right now. And that’s because of things like the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India Pipeline, for example. You know, oddly enough, our troops are laid out along, in Afghanistan, the path that that pipeline would take. We were in Iraq and caused the Tbilisi-Baku-Ceyhan Pipeline to be built and to send 4 million barrels a day, I think, through Ceyhan right now. So, yes, this is very much about very fundamental strategic reasons like oil and water and so forth.

JAY: If you go the military path, where is this one direction [sic]. The other direction is regional diplomacy.

WILKERSON: Absolutely.

JAY: And something else, which he completely dropped from his language. In the campaign he said you can’t have a military solution to Afghanistan. He talked about reconstruction. He talked about building the economy.

WILKERSON: And you can’t have a military solution to what I just described either, not in my view, and I’m a soldier for 31 years. You are not going to get those resources distributed equitably in the world. You’re not going to get those powers to stop warring so those resources can be distributed equitably. You’re not going to have peace and prosperity and freedom and human dignity and all those kinds of things. You’re not going to get them through the military. You do not bring those things at the point of a bayonet. You have to bring those things through diplomacy, through negotiations, and through convincing the majority of the people involved, whether they be Turks, Syrians, Iranians, Chinese, or whatever, that they have a stake and an interest in a shared future, a cooperative future. You don’t do it with guns anymore.

JAY: Well, if you had to go based on the speech, it seems to me that the person who doesn’t believe in change you can believe in at the moment is President Obama.

WILKERSON: I hope you’re wrong. I don’t agree with you. I may have to eat my words two years from now. He may have been captured by the same military-industrial-congressional complex that not just captured George Bush but was led by Richard Bruce Cheney, but I don’t think so, and I’m waiting to see. This is not a future that we can sustain. We cannot be the new Rome. It is an impossibility in today’s world. We will squander our power. We will squander our resources. We will be a third-world nation. We will be bankrupt in a generation if we try.

JAY: So sooner or later there’s going to have to be a regional solution. The question is how many people are going to get killed along the way.

WILKERSON: That’s a very cold way of putting it, but I’m afraid that’s reality.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us.


JAY: Thanks very much for joining us on The Real News Network. And don’t forget the Donate button.

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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.