Wilkerson: Trump’s New National Security Advisor Believes in Empire, More Realpolitik than Flynn

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson says General H.R. McMaster might be more restrained about military action, but will support massive budget increase to military and the imperial mission

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Story Transcript

PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.

General H.R. McMaster is the new National Security Advisor after Flynn, Michael Flynn, has been dismissed or resigned or a combination thereof. General McMaster is also the author of a fairly well-known book, certainly in military circles, Dereliction of Duty. And joining us to talk about McMaster is another military man, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson. Larry joins us from Williamsburg, Virginia. Larry’s the former Chief of Staff for U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. Currently an Adjunct Professor of Government at the College of William and Mary and a regular here at The Real News.

Thanks for joining us again, Larry.

LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Paul.

PAUL JAY: So, first of all, let me just ask you generally, what do you think of the McMaster appointment?

LAWRENCE WILKERSON: I think he will make a much better National Security Advisor than Michael Flynn, who had not the intellect, the temperament or the character or, apparently, the good common sense to be a National Security Advisor. I won some money on him. I did not know he’d leave with such a alacrity, 24, 25 days, but I did predict he’d be the first one to leave.

PAUL JAY: So what do we know of McMaster’s view of the world, in terms of geopolitics? Flynn seemed to have a particular relationship with the Russians and not that, and personally, I think that’s such a bad thing. The diminishing of tension with Russia, one would think, is a good thing and I don’t know why it’s being so demonized, except for partisan political reasons. But that being said, Flynn seemed to be very much focused on attacking Iran or some targeting of Iran. What do we know about what McMaster’s view about geopolitics is?

LAWRENCE WILKERSON: I’m going to be very frank with you, Paul, and say that I think, like I would call Colin Powell these days, that Lieutenant General McMaster is very much an advocate of America’s imperial role in the world. But Ill hasten to add that I think, like Powell, he will be a lot more circumspect about where he recommends using military force in support of that role. As a former military officer myself, a military professional, a person who now teaches this sort of thing at the university level, that’s not that discomforting to me. It’s discomforting when I think he or she picks an occasion to use military force that, in my mind, is anything but what should be done. And that can come from the president, from Bannon, from any number of other people within the administration too. I like to look at McMaster is sort of a balancer of that and a person who will refer to realpolitik, realism more than others and perhaps influence the debates, the discussions in that way.

PAUL JAY: Now President Trump has made his stated main foreign policy objective, the wiping ISIS off the face of the earth. Here’s a piece of Trump when he spoke at the CIA, a little clip.

DONALD TRUMP: We’ve been fighting these wars for longer than any wars we’ve ever fought. We have not used the real abilities that we have, we’ve been restrained. We have to get rid of ISIS, have to get rid of ISIS, we have no choice.

PAUL JAY: So Trump says the U.S. military’s been restrained in fighting ISIS. It’s somewhat a similar argument McMaster gave in his book, Dereliction of Duty, that you can’t fight incrementally. That in the Vietnam war because of partisan and personal political agendas from President Johnson and others associated with him, this incremental build up in Vietnam is what led to the defeat in Vietnam. That if you’re going to fight, you’ve got to go all out. And you and I talked off-camera that McMaster’s not the only one that makes that argument. And there’s a certain logic to it, if you’re going to fight you go all out, then you could debate about the “if”. That being said, what does this mean in terms of Syria and Iraq. If Trump and McMaster, if they’re on the same page, that if you’re going to fight you fight without restraint, what does that mean for Syria and Iraq in terms of American military involvement?

LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Well, I’ve just done a three-hour case study with my students on Vietnam so I won’t go there. Let me say that what alarms me about what you just played and what Trump has said in other venues, is that he thinks ISIS is a number one threat. Even a number two or a number threat, when he’s got things like China, North Korea and so forth to look at. Just the fact that the Iraqis are handing ISIS its writ to leave the whole region, is enough for me. The Iraqis, Paul, the Iraqis are beating ISIS right now. And could have beaten them before had they gone about it right and had some leadership. So ISIS is no monumental threat, it’s not even a third or a fourth order threat. Even if it sends fighters into Europe and into the United States with bomb-making capacity and everything else, there is no way ISIS is going to eliminate Europe or eliminate the United States. It’s preposterous to say they would. All this is hype spoken to that 10 to 15% of Trump’s followers who are certifiable, it’s hype spoken to the male Talebanic(?) Christian, racists in his ranks, of which there are quite a few. That’s what it is. My concern is whether or not Trump actually believes these things. Because if he does, this country’s in deep trouble.

PAUL JAY: Well, one of the arguments could be about the rhetoric about ISIS is that combine that with what he announced on Monday about a 10% increase in the military budget. That if you create this whole atmosphere that you need to have this build up to defend against ISIS such threats. Where is McMaster on the question of this massive buildup of arms?

LAWRENCE WILKERSON: I have no idea, but I suspect that, like the other generals in the military right now, himself having become one of them, he’s probably more or less in favor of it because he wants to continue the status quo and work on the edges of that status quo which is, after all, a very conservative approach to things, a very understandable approach to things, rather than to go off into the wild blue yonder, if you will, and experiment with what will be the weapons of the future. Imagine, if you will, someone like H.R.(?) or like Jim Mattis or like John Kelly or others in the administration with service, imagine them confronting Billy Mitchell and Billy Mitchell was saying that aircraft could sink the main battleship of the navy. The main platform of the United States Navy. Well, that’s exactly what Billy Mitchell proceeded to do. And then they proceeded to court martial Billy Mitchell. I mean, this is nothing new. People like to stick with that which they know rather than to go off into the dangerous wild blue yonder, save money and build something that might really be effective for the next 30 or 40 years. And I don’t expect H.R. McMaster or any of the others to be any different. But someone needs to be different. One would hope it would be the President of the United States/Commander in Chief. But I don’t think we have a prayer in that regard either.

PAUL JAY: Now the underlying assumption of the whole need to build up the military is, while ISIS may be the language, the real underlying assumption is the necessity to maintain the American empire. That America should simply have overwhelming military force, should have hundreds of bases around the world and should have this kind of dominance. Where is McMaster? Is this part of his outlook?

LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Oh, I do think he, like, as I said initially, like Colin Powell has basically this imperial outlook. I think most military officers do. Not all, I hasten to add, not all, but most do. That they’re going to follow the orders of their vested leaders in order to improve on, extend and even deepen the empire’s holdings. That’s just the nature of the beast, I think, that’s what we’ve become. And, to a certain extent, you get off that tiger, as it were, only at the risk of the tiger turning on you and eating you. So it’s understandable in that sense. It’s not necessarily the best course of action the state should be pursuing though, and it’s certainly not the best course of action we should be pursuing given our allies and friends around the world who are looking to us for leadership and support. I hope that what we see is just what I think it is, it’s a handout to the military by a president who’s very insecure, who doesn’t like being insecure, who loves the military trappings and all the military around him and wants to pay them sufficiently to keep them around him. I hope it’s not because he wants to use them.

PAUL JAY: All right, thanks very much for joining us, Larry.

LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Paul.

PAUL JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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