Will Trump Ally with Russia and Target Iran?
Paul Jay and Lawrence Wilkerson discuss why the Republicans are divided on Russia and to what ends the Trump administration might go to justify war with Iran
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.
The division in the Republican Party, and of course, it includes the Democratic Party foreign policy establishment, about what to do with U.S.-Russian relations, seems to be sharpening. McCain, when asked over the weekend on one of the talk shows, “Do you have faith, or trust in Donald Trump as President?” He evaded it quite to the point where he more or less said he did not. There’s certainly, at least two, if not more, camps on this issue of Putin and Russia.
Now joining us, to try to understand this, is Larry Wilkerson. Larry joins us from Williamsburg, Virginia. Larry is the former Chief of Staff of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. He’s currently an Adjunct Professor of Government, at the College of William & Mary, and a regular on The Real News. Thanks for joining us again, Larry.
LARRY WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Paul.
PAUL JAY: So, what do you make of this division over Russia? Certainly this issue, when Obama threw out all these Russian attachés and so on, and then Putin doesn’t throw anyone out? There’s certainly some evidence that some of his people were talking to Putin during the transition time. We know his strategic advisor, General Flynn, was not only at the RT, Russia Today, the RT Annual Dinner about a year ago, sitting just a few seats down from Putin, but even had a regular gig on RT.
Well, the intelligence agencies, when they came out and attacked the Russian alleged manipulation of the American elections; RT was one of the main targets. Main street media didn’t seem to focus on Flynn. You’d think they should have. Anyway, McCain, Lindsey Graham, are all — seem very concerned about Trump and Putin. What do you make of it all?
LARRY WILKERSON: I think this is one of the issues that I keep saying there are at least three, maybe four, Republican Parties, and then there’s Trump. There is no unity whatsoever. And this issue, perhaps, shows it most dramatically at the moment.
You may recall that between Graham and McCain, we were just about on the cusp of a new Cold War. Trump allegedly has these connections, business and otherwise, with oligarchs, with Putin himself. Admires Putin, even by his own remarks. And so these two initiatives, if you will, these two responses to Russian actions in the Ukraine, Crimea and Moldova, possibly in the Baltics and elsewhere, are diametrically opposed to one another.
So, we’ll just have to see how this plays out. But, I think you put your finger on a big problem for Trump governing. I think there are more than one Republican Party, there is more than one Republican Party over there, and it’s going to become very difficult for even the Republicans to get anything done.
PAUL JAY: But the Republican Party is rather beholden to Trump. He doesn’t have a lot of popularity right now, nationally, in the polling, but he certainly helped drive the elections and helped the Republicans take both houses, it seems. And he is in command of the party, I mean, how much can the people like McCain and that, actually buck what he wants?
LARRY WILKERSON: I don’t think he’s in, “Command of the party.” I think he’s in somewhat of a control position, with regard to 1 in 4.8 or so, voters in America, most of whom are Republicans, not all of them, but most of them are Republicans. That’s not a political mandate.
And as soon as the Congress has figured that out, and there are central issues where the Congress, or Congress members, have opposition with the President, you’re gonna see a real mess. You’re going to see chaos, maybe even worse than you did with Obama. Remember when Obama won that first term, he had a mandate, he had one heck of a mandate. And yet, his own Democrats, who had a precarious balance in one house, and a fairly substantial one in the other one, they didn’t cooperate with him at all, on almost anything. In fact, they didn’t even cooperate really, on his signature, what he thought, I think, was his signature domestic issue, of the Affordable Healthcare Act.
So, that’s a minor thing, I think though, to what we’re going to see with the Republicans, because I know this party. I know the different views that are in it. When Reince Priebus put his arms around the party post-election and said, “Oh man, we’re in great shape now. We won the White House, we’ve got both houses of congress,” and everything, he was blowing smoke. Blowing smoke. There is no unity amongst the Republican Party.
PAUL JAY: Well, what is the basis of the antagonism towards Russia and Putin? I mean, it’s not a socialist system, it’s not a communist party, it doesn’t represent that kind of politically ideological threat. It’s another capitalist country, and yes, maybe it has done some things on its borders.
But, within the world of big capitalist countries, that’s not so unusual either. Why are things at such a level for so much of the, both Democratic Party and Republican Party, foreign policy establishment?
LARRY WILKERSON: I think it’s as simple as this. It’s more complex, of course, there are other issues, but when you get to the core of it, it’s as simple as this — they opposed us. And this was Bill Clinton’s appreciation; it was not George H.W. Bush’s appreciation. There were some people in his administration, neo-conservatives, in particular who had this view, but it wasn’t George H.W. Bush’s view.
But it’s Clinton’s view, and it’s been every administration’s view, more or less, ever since. And that is, the Russians ought to do what we tell them to do. That they have no business — they lost the Cold War, they have no business having interest in the near or abroad… no business opposing NATO’s expansion to wherever we want it to go. Tbilisi, Kiev, wherever we want it to go, NATO should be able to go. And what the Russians should do, is kowtow up to us, and simply become members themselves. Not necessarily powerful members, but members that know their place.
I think it’s that basic, Paul. There are people like John McCain, and Lindsey Graham, who know it’s that basic with them. They do not like the fact that we won the Cold War, and the Russians look like they’re reaping the benefits.
PAUL JAY: And don’t like the ability of a power the size of Russia, to take a position in Syria that can change the outcome of the war there, not fitting to America’s script.
LARRY WILKERSON: And very much still in possession of quite an arsenal, thank you very much, of nuclear weapons. Even though they have reduced them significantly.
PAUL JAY: The division, be it a split or fight with McCain and Trump, has some specificity to it, which isn’t just about geopolitical opinion. Robert Mercer, who’s the billionaire behind Trump, he’s co-CEO of a company called Renaissance Technologies, which is fighting the IRS over an almost $7 billion tax bill. They owe ten years of taxes they’re fighting about.
McCain actually investigated that on a Senate Committee and actually called the other co-CEO, I think his last name is Brown, to have to testify. And Rebecca Mercer, the daughter of Mercer, was on Trump’s transition team. And Bannon works for Mercer, Kellyanne Conway worked for Mercer, and Mercer really has it in for McCain. And, lo and behold, Trump supported primarying McCain. I’m sorry, I don’t remember the name of the person who ran against McCain, in the Republican primary, but Trump supported trying to get rid of McCain.
So, there’s a lot of bad blood there, just on that score.
LARRY WILKERSON: There is, and I was thinking about this the other day, because I worked with Senator McCain when he was more cogent, and more lucid, and a little more, what I would call, commonsensical, when we worked in December 2005, I guess it was, when we worked on the torture issue.
It must be his worst nightmare to have Trump come to the White House. I mean, seriously, it must be his worst nightmare. Because if he still has lucid moments, if he still has moments when he really does think about the security in this country, and in a serious way, he’s got to be pretty much frightened. And your remarks earlier about him not really denying that particular interpretation of his remarks, that he didn’t support Trump, are indicative of that.
But if I were John McCain, I’d be shaking in my boots. I would be thinking, “My God, I was worried about Hillary Clinton, now look what I’ve got.”
PAUL JAY: A lot was made in the media about the testimony of various appointees to the cabinet on foreign policy, who seemed to distance themselves, on the face of it, with Trump. Mattis and some of the others – Pompeo — said they would accept that the Iran Nuclear Agreement shouldn’t be abrogated.
That to tear it up really isn’t in the cards. They sounded very reasonable, but given that they have all been documented, and been quoted, as saying Iran is sort of the number one source of terrorism in the world, Iran’s the greatest threat to the Middle East. We’ve heard this from Flynn as well.
Does that mean a scenario that people should be on guard for, of some kind of manufacturing of evidence, that Iran will have broken the nuclear deal? ‘Cause if things go along as they are, they’re not going to have an excuse to go after Iran.
LARRY WILKERSON: I’ve seen the manufactured evidence up close and personal, with regard to Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction. I’ve studied the distortion of intelligence involved with everything from the missile gap with JFK, to interpretations by Bill Casey and the CIA of the Soviets being much more powerful than they really were. In fact, they were falling apart at the time, in order to support Ronald Reagan’s defense buildup.
So, I know about distorting intelligence and that sort of thing. Paul, to answer your question directly, having said what I just said, I would almost be willing to bet there’ll be some sort of false flag operation. Some sort of concocted intelligence picture, something nefarious that’s inaccurate — but made to look accurate — put out, that asserts and attests to substantially verify Iraq is breaking the agreement. That’s what I’ve been looking for, ever since the agreement was inked. And I still suspect that that’s coming down the road.
PAUL JAY: All right, thanks very much for joining us, Larry.
LARRY WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Paul.
PAUL JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.