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Lawrence Wilkerson: Regime change is still the Neo-con agenda in Iran as they hope to use military might to assert American commercial interests

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. And welcome to this week’s edition of The Wilkerson Report with Lawrence Wilkerson, who now joins us.

Larry was former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. He’s currently an adjunct professor of government at the College of William & Mary. And he’s a regular contributor.

Thanks very much for joining us, Larry.


JAY: So ten years ago you were very involved in Colin Powell’s presentation to the United Nations. You were in the midst of all the preparations and politics for the Iraq War. And I’m not going to actually ask you again about that. You and I have discussed that many times, and down below this video player or next to it you’ll find a link to a whole series of interviews we’ve done with Larry about that.

But I want to talk about more today on what we have or have not learnt from the Iraq War and how it began. So I guess the simple question to kick off, Larry, is: could it all happen again?

WILKERSON: Unfortunately, Paul, I think it could, and probably at the hands of some of the very same people, the neoconservatives in general. But the Richard Perles, the Bill Kristols, the other people like them could march us into war, another catastrophic war, in Western Asia, this time with Iran.

JAY: Now, last time, they had this document called the Project for a New American Century, which kind of set a tone, I think, for the Bush administration, the idea that the United States should use its overwhelming superiority in military power to sort of reshape the world as it likes. And it really came down to the issue of regime change. And one could manipulate the media and the intelligence in whatever way was necessary to achieve that. Is that still the agenda?

WILKERSON: I think that’s basically the game plan. It’s a little more sophisticated this time, as you might suspect. They learned a little bit. And it features some new characters. But it’s basically the same plotting, careful, methodical use of the media, use of the Congress, use of Israel and AIPAC, use of all the instruments that they can get their hands on to kind of prod the American people, and mostly, of course, the administration, into a point where it doesn’t really have any choice but to go to war with Iran.

Now, that said, I’m confident here lately–at least, I’m more confident and I’m guardedly optimistic that we’re going to stop it, partly because it’s a different administration, partly because the American people are war-weary, partly because they are sick and tired also of fiscal irresponsibility and trillions of dollars going down the drain, but in many respects because they are beginning to realize just how badly, how truly badly we have messed up Iraq and Afghanistan and how much that has hurt our prestige and real power in the world.

JAY: So is it fair to say, now that you can look back ten years–and, again, we’ll bring it back to current time–that the die was set when the Bush-Cheney administration was elected? They already knew they wanted to find an excuse, a way, a rationale for regime change in Iraq that would be the first in a set of dominoes, which would include Syria, which would include Iran. I’m not so sure they actually cared about Libya at the time. That sort of fell into place. But they would say kind of–or do anything to achieve that agenda.

WILKERSON: I think that’s true. Various ones of them, whether you’re talking about Paul Wolfowitz or Bill Kristol or Richard Perle or Douglas Feith or whatever, or the ultimate non-neoconservative but ultranationalist Dick Cheney, whose single-man documentary is making its way ponderously across Showtime right now, you’d get a different angle, a different perspective, and maybe a different force behind it. But basically it’s about pushing American power across the face of the globe at anyone who gets in our way.

JAY: And the group that recently–I don’t know. I don’t think they’ve actually passed this resolution in the Senate yet, but Lindsey Graham is pushing this resolution that essentially says that if Israel attacks Iran, then the United States has to come to the defense of Israel. Am I reading that right? ‘Cause doesn’t that mean that Israel gets to decide what war the United States participates in?

WILKERSON: You’re reading it right, Paul. You’re reading that a senator of the United States Congress wants to surrender the sovereign war power of the United States of America to another state, in this case Israel.

JAY: Now, the alliance of forces that helped bring us the Iraq War was not just the neocons, though. At the same time we’re running this interview, we’re running an interview we did with Michael Ratner, and he focused to a large extent on the role The New York Times played in all of this. Is that kind of, you know, unholy alliance, if you will, also still there to be had, in other words, forces that like to describe themself as liberals teaming up with neocons to bring us a war?

WILKERSON: I think that’s true. I think you’ve got oil interest who are behind it. I think you’ve got people who are on the right wing, like AIPAC, who are behind it. You’ve got people who are messianic about freedom and democracy.

But let me just address that last point you made about liberals. Paul, I was in New York City at Temple Emmanual, which is the synagogue in Great Neck, New York, Saturday, Friday and Saturday. And Friday night, after having Shabbat dinner and then going into the synagogue service with them, they asked me to speak, and I spoke. And my subject was we need not be enemies, Iran and the U.S., in the 21st century.

And I will tell you that I got an overwhelming feeling in both conversation afterwards, in the Q&A, and their response during my general remarks that that community is very much opposed to war with Iran, very much opposed to the current situation that seems to be marching us there. So this is a liberal Jewish community, very affluent, very, shall we say, comfortable, taking care of themselves in that area of the world–got their schools there and everything, doing a good job, basically looking after one another, warm, hospitable community that’s very much opposed to war with Iran. So I think it’s unfair, for example, to say that the bulk of America’s Jewish community is marching along with these neoconservatives.

JAY: That brings up an interesting point, which was back in 2003–I guess it was on February 15, before the war, there was massive protests around the world, in the tens of millions of people if you add it all up, I think the greatest antiwar protest in the history of the world.

WILKERSON: I was in London and saw some of it there, and I can tell you it was awesome.

JAY: And did it have any influence at all? I mean, the war went ahead. Does an administration pay attention to such a thing?

WILKERSON: Well, that administration didn’t. And that brings up another point, Paul. You know, I lived through the ’60s. You did, too. I saw the rage generated by the war in which I participated. And I’ve talked to many who either participated in that war or participated in that rage. And, frankly, I have a lot of respect for the people who participated in the rage part, particularly people like Mohammed Ali, Cassius Clay, who actually went to prison for his beliefs. They were right, and basically I was wrong.

And I don’t see that rage today. I do not see people standing up and going out in the streets and saying, stop this silliness, stop this murder, stop this slaughter, stop sending less than 1 percent of America’s citizens, most of whom are socio-economically determined, to war and to death and to horrible wounds. I just don’t see the rage. And I wonder what’s happening to this country that it’s become so apathetic.

JAY: Well, some people argue it’s–now, at least, it’s partly because there’s a Democratic Party in power and the president sounds like he’s more rational about all these things. But, in fact, what’s going on even still in Afghanistan, one would think there’d be a more serious antiwar movement about that, and you don’t see it. How much of that is because it’s a Democrat and not a Republican?

WILKERSON: I’m sure that’s part of it. And the Democrats are trapped, of course, in their own political need for not showing any ankle, any weakness at all on the issue of national security now that they seem to be balancing the polls or even maybe ahead in the polls with the Republicans.

But that said, too, someone somewhere in here–and it ought to be the American people–have got to pull this back from polls and politics and put it back in the venue of the interests of this country, the ultimate interest of this country. And once that’s done, I think we probably could right the ship of state, so to speak, and get it back on a more palatable course. But I think it’s going to take the people. I don’t see any moral courage, with very few exceptions–Angus King from Maine, for example, the independent from Vermont, maybe one or two–Jones from North Carolina. I don’t see–other than these sort of mavericks, I don’t see any moral courage amongst the leadership of this country. So I have to turn to the American people and say, over to you; it’s your turn.

JAY: Alright. Thanks for joining us, Larry.

WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Paul.

JAY: 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.