YouTube video

Lawrence Wilkerson: Why Idaho will Vote for Romney and Drone Strikes Create Suicide Bombers

Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. And I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.

And now joining us for this week’s edition of The Wilkerson Report is retired colonel Lawrence Wilkerson. He was the former chief of staff to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. He’s now a adjunct professor of government at the College of William & Mary and a regular contributor to The Real News. Thanks very much for joining us again, Larry.


JAY: So what do you got for us this week?

WILKERSON: This week has been full of the election, Romney, Obama, and what each might do, mostly in domestic policy, as you know, and we’re looking forward to Monday’s debates on foreign policy. And as you and I have said a number of times before, we’re still waiting for the meat, we’re still waiting for substance. I hope to heck we get some on foreign policy. We certainly haven’t had much on domestic policy or other issues that have come up from—.

JAY: Now, you were just on a hunting and fishing trip. Tell us where you went. And what kind of conversations were you hearing?

WILKERSON: Yeah, I was watching this principally from eastern Washington State and northern Idaho, headquartered in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. And it was interesting what I was hearing from people in little places, like Fairfield, Washington, and Peck, Idaho, places most Americans wouldn’t even be able to find on a map. What I was hearing, in essence, was that Washington is utterly dysfunctional, that the government is broken.

This is a typical western attitude. I’ve encountered it before. But it has new permutations now. It, for example, leads them to believe that Mitt Romney, the unknown factor, is the best bet for fixing everything, and it also leads them to believe that if Mitt Romney’s elected—and they’re probably going to vote for him; I would predict Idaho, at least (maybe not Washington State with a big population in Seattle), will go for Romney—that things will get brighter, and that their economic outlook, which is their chief concern right now, and their future for their grandchildren and children and everything will be a brighter prospect than if, as one person said to me, “that African American stays in the Oval Office.”

JAY: Yeah, how much has this got to do with race? And to what extent are they—you know, is it just the other guy’s better than the guy that’s in?

WILKERSON: It certainly has a racial component, and I’d be naive if I didn’t think it did. After all, you can hardly find a black person in Coeur d’Alene. In fact, I will say this right now: in five days, I did not see a black person in eastern Washington or in Northern Idaho. In fact, I didn’t see many other types than white Anglo Saxon, I assume Protestant or Catholic, as the case may be. So I think that has to be admitted to be a component of it.

A much larger component of it, however, is still this angst that I find all over the country. It’s expressed mostly in economic terms, but it’s also expressed from time to time in terms of where are we going, what is our purpose, what is our strategy in the world anymore. Do we manufacture anything? Do we even care about manufacturing? Do we care about people who have and hold manufacturing jobs? Do we even want to restore America’s once massive manufacturing base, or are we just going to hand it over to China and whatever country comes along after China to assume that role? These are the real issues on these peoples’ minds.

JAY: And, I mean, you were in the Bush administration. What I don’t quite understand—although I guess I have to remember Gore Vidal’s line, U.S.A. stands for the United States of Amnesia. But how is it that they don’t connect that the kind of rhetoric that we’re hearing from Romney is pretty much, more or less, the same as that we heard from Bush, and eight years of Bush helped create—you know, trigger the crisis, at the very least, and they don’t seem to connect those two things?

WILKERSON: Well, many of these people would still vote for George W. Bush were he on the ticket. And in that sense, it’s this rugged individualism, which is still very much a part of the West. It’s the sense of I do everything for myself; I don’t need government. This at a time from lots of them who are on Medicare, on some other kind of entitlement, using food stamps, buying subsidized groceries or whatever, or in some way, fashion, or form, even more so than using highways and sewer and water and other things provided by the government, using the government. They feel it’s vile, it’s evil, it’s not anything that can help you in any way, fashion, or form. They want to remain independent from it. They want to remain characters, if you will, in the American drama.

JAY: It’s kind of contradictory, ’cause the same people will talk about how much they care about the Constitution, except the Constitution was all about creating an American government.

WILKERSON: Yes, isn’t it? And they will be the same people who will do things for the city council, do things for the state, do things for the county, and so forth, and they’ll be the people who will go to school board meetings and look after their children’s interests in the local [incompr.] and so forth, not realizing that they, at that time and point, are practicing good citizenship within a governing republic.

JAY: Now, the other part, though, of it is a lot of this alienation from government, to my mind, is quite legitimate, because government is in fact so dominated either by big—the interests of big banks, the interests of the military-industrial complex. And especially small businesses and medium, smaller size farms and that, they see themselves getting killed by farm policies that favor big agribusiness. So although what I don’t find—what I don’t quite get is—I understand the alienation from a government that serves those interests, but then they isolate the government they hate and they don’t seem to hate the big corporate interests.

WILKERSON: That’s true, with the exception of a couple of people I ran into who were really angry—small farmers who were really angry about the Monsantos of the world, the Archer Daniels Midlands and so forth who essentially live in—one person put it this way: they live in New York City and rape the land in Idaho. This is a problem. There is almost nothing but megafarming now. So when you look at those vast steppes, as it were, of wheat and other crops and you understand the struggling little small farmer who’s trying to exist almost in the interstice between vast plots, you understand their angst. And their angst is directed, as you said.

It’s also directed at government for providing the subsidies and the corporate welfare, as another one called it, that provides for these people to make massive profits even when they’re not what you might call business-profitable. So there is some—.

There’s also angst about the idea that you get hunters and you get fishermen and you get people who are based in one or the other in terms of their business, whether it’s supporting trout fishermen on the Selway River or whether it’s supporting hunters in a preserve or something like that or looking after salmon in some of the beautiful rivers out there [incompr.] angst about the government’s inability, from time to time, as demonstrated by Richard Bruce Cheney so vividly for eight years, to manage the land and the fisheries and the other functions that government has the responsibility for in a way that they see as being conducive to their interests, whether it’s keeping the salmon alive or whether it’s the Bureau of Land Management allowing land to be developed so more housing can be built.

JAY: So you were out there when you watched the debate. What did you make of the debate itself?

WILKERSON: You know, I watched it while flipping over to football games and everything else because that was my host’s desire. And that in itself tells you something—tune out of the debate’s really easy because they’re meaningless. And I found that almost everywhere.

I thought from what I did see, the instances where I concentrated for a few minutes on what Romney was saying or where President Obama was saying, I didn’t see a whole lot of argument or debate that meant anything in real terms to the American people. There are no specifics. Even from the president there aren’t many specifics. There are certainly no specifics from Mitt Romney with regard to the most important aspects of what he’s now campaigning on, which is a huge cut in spending, the attack that is inevitable, I think, on entitlements, whether we’re talking Social Security or Medicare, despite what his rhetoric now holds. And when you see that, I think, or you hear that, I think the normal tendency is to tune out, which is what I saw everywhere I went. It’s not worth watching, because it’s meaningless.

Now, they’ll watch it. They’ll watch it for the theater. They’ll watch it because they want to hear the pundits say afterwards who won or lost, they want to hear the spin of the pundits. But they’re not watching it for substance, because they know intuitively, if not intellectually, there’s nothing there, there’s no substance there.

JAY: Right. Now, one of the things in terms of foreign policy, the debate we’re expecting on Monday, I don’t know whether this is going to come up or not. Somehow I think it may not, but it should, and I know it’s something you want to talk about, and that’s what’s going on in Pakistan.

WILKERSON: Pakistan right now, Paul, to me is the most overlooked country that’s being intensely focused on, and the most dangerous country, perhaps, in the world. We forget sometimes, if we ever knew, that Pakistan is the biggest nuclear proliferator in the world. The A. Q. Khan network is essentially what allowed countries like Iran and North Korea—and I could say some others that are, I think, still classified—to obtain the kind of information, the kind of plans, the kind of drawings, even, that allowed them to pursue a nuclear program that could lead to a nuclear weapon. There’s no question in my mind that North Korea benefited from A. Q. Khan in acquiring its nuclear weapon. So just from that perspective, Pakistan is a country to watch. They’re the only true successful nuclear proliferator in the world, unless you count us having given Israel the bomb through our lax security.

At the same time, there are probably more suicide bombers preparing for action in Pakistan than any other single place in the world. One estimate is as high as 40,000. The reason those suicide bombers are not unleashed on us yet—that is to say, inside our own borders—is because they have such a target-rich environment in places like Pakistan, and even more so Afghanistan, and increasingly in other areas that we are giving them a target-rich environment, like Libya, for example. So that’s happening. They’re training suicide bombers.

At the same time, you’ve got these things that gather attention around them but don’t register with Americans in the way they should with regard to the danger of this country, like the attack on the young girl Malala Yousafzai and the horrible way that she was damaged. You also have at the same time organizations like Lashkar-e-Taiba, one of the most deadly terrorist networks developing now—probably had something to do with the attacks in Mumbai, India, for example. You also have the Haqqani network and the Taliban and, still, major support for both within Pakistan. You also have in the ranks of the Pakistani military, heretofore the sort of stability-building institution in Pakistan, you have more and more in the lower ranks Islamist, to the sense that I would say one day they might sympathize more so and more openly with people like the Taliban and others and become radical themselves.

So you have a huge problem in Pakistan that is basically being ignored so that we can continue to get the logistic support and access and so forth that we need to carry out our campaign in Afghanistan, and also to carry out the drone strikes and so forth.

JAY: Well, one of the arguments is that the drone strikes aren’t helping the cause of—it’s helping to add fuel to the fire of people that want to do these sorts of things.

WILKERSON: Very counterproductive. In fact, I go back to Donald Rumsfeld’s little snowflake which he sent out, and he essentially said, tell me how us killing two terrorists and creating ten is a winning strategy. And what we’re doing now is we’re creating—here’s something I heard, Paul, that is probably not very far from the truth, this from a former CIA agent. In 2000, there probably were somewhere between 300 and 500 people in the world—terrorists, let us call them—who really wanted to inflict damage on the United States of America and had either the support or the capacity inside them, their own organization, to actually do it. There are probably 50,000 today.

And one of the reasons for that order-of-magnitude increase in people wishing to hurt the United States is our own policy, principally our policies in the Middle East. And you can tick those policies off, from failure to do anything about, in a balanced way, the Israeli-Palestinian issue, which I’d put at the top of the list, to drone strikes, to invasion of Iraq, to lingering forces in Kuwait and Iraq, and so forth. Our policies are causing what Donald Rumsfeld thought was a mathematical conundrum, that is, impossible to deal with and say you’re successful, to be a reality that I don’t even think Donald Rumsfeld ever contemplated. We are creating a lot of people who want to do harm to us.

JAY: Alright. We’ll talk more about all this after the next presidential debate on foreign policy. Thanks very much for joining us, Larry.

WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Paul.

JAY: 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.