Has the Pentagon Taken Over US Foreign Policy in Afghanistan? (2/2)
Col. Lawrence Wilkerson and TRNN Senior Editor Paul Jay take viewers’ questions during a live webcast
PAUL JAY: Here’s one from Remy Hermes on Facebook. Will the USA empire ever learn to stop its wars or will it have to fail first?
LARRY WILKERSON: That’s a very good question. My inclination is to say it’s going to have to fail first. My concern, deep concern is just how catastrophic is that failure going to be. We’ve seen an example with the British Empire. You could say that the 1956 Suez Crisis was the coup d’gras to the British Empire, finished it off. It started much earlier than that of course.
It was being finished off in World War I quite well, thank you very much. Will we go over time and sort of peacefully like that or will we go catastrophically? Maybe even being dismembered, that is to say will parts of the United States begin to fall off from it because it is so disgusted with Washington’s policies and so forth.
I could easily see the fifth, sixth largest economy in the world, California, deciding to say, “Enough,” and leaving the union. People think that’s crazy and yet if you look across history, one of the most powerful forces in that history is state breakup or monarchical breakup or empire disillusion, depending on the time period you’re looking at. There’s nothing far-fetched about the United States breaking up at all. It very well could happen.
PAUL JAY: Well through climate change into that because over the next few decades, the civil disorder that will come from the effects of climate change, and way sooner I think than anyone ever thought. We’re going to hit the two degree mark probably as soon as 2030, 2035. That’s like, in some ways like tomorrow.
LARRY WILKERSON: Well when we ran simulations with global powers, and we really did them seriously of a course of two years with adjusted scenarios, with each iteration of gameplay, you get to a point in the 21st century Paul, where the peer powers, and you know those powers. They are capitals in Moscow, Washington, London, Berlin, Tokyo, Beijing and so forth. The peer powers are building walls and putting machine guns on the tope of them.
That’s how bad it gets because there are 200, 300 million people in the South who have no water, no food. They’re 50% male. They’re 50% under 30 and they own a Kalashnikov and at least 20 rounds of ammunition. That’s what we’re looking at.
PAUL JAY: Add to that dystopian view, although I think it’s also realistic as a possibility. I think a lot of these, you know the ultra rich, they think we’re entering a new world where you don’t need too many people. You can have robots and artificial intelligence make you what you need. I think they’re taking this quite seriously.
I saw Hillary Clinton interviewed a few months ago, after the election. She was asked what are the great threats facing the United States, humanity, and her answers were robotics and artificial intelligence which means that kind of, the thinking’s already down the road that the world’s going to become increasingly dependent on AI and robots. You don’t need a lot of people in that world and she’s already worried about the threat of AI and robots, not the fact that so much of the world’s population could even be wiped out in this scenario over the next not so many years.
LARRY WILKERSON: I don’t think you’re painting too dramatically catastrophic a situation. I think there are people right now, in the so-called billionaire class who are not only thinking about what it might mean to reduce populations and how that might be a positive development, and to do things like get rid of states where the birth rate is seven or eight per family, like Afghanistan for example. Others who are thinking about means to get off this planet and to do things outside this planet’s atmosphere if you will, and to do them within this century so that at least their children, grandchildren, perhaps even themselves at an old age can do that. I don’t put that past some of these very, very rich people for a moment.
PAUL JAY: Yeah, I agree with you. I mean I don’t think it’s realizable really, but it’s a way for them to rationalize their complete detachment from the serious existential threats facing us. You can kind of play these scenarios out in your head and then go back to making money.
Anyway another question. From the super macro back to a little bit of the micro in Afghanistan, one of the big issues in Afghanistan that we don’t talk about is raised by, haven’t yet talked about today. 2BitRasputin from YouTube, I don’t know why they call themselves 2BitRasputin. It seems to me that would have been a good Steve Bannon name.
LARRY WILKERSON: Good handle.
PAUL JAY: At any rate, since everyone is now claiming the Taliban is now growing the poppies, is the military objective to control the Taliban and use them to control the areas for the cultivation of poppies? I mean 65% or more of the Afghan GDP is poppies and opium and heroin. It’s the major supplier, if I understand it, of opiates in the world. The stuff is leaving Afghanistan in industrial quantities, which can’t go unnoticed by the American military. This is a big piece of this whole puzzle. What do you make of it?
LARRY WILKERSON: I think it is. I think a practical decision was made. It’s bene contested by the Germans, by the Brits and others, even within the US military, but I think that practical decision was that hey, we won’t mess with this except when we absolutely have to, when it’s in our face and we have to do it, because if we do, we will do just exactly what you said. We will be reducing and perhaps even doing significant damage to the GDP creator for the state of Afghanistan and so we dare not do that.
PAUL JAY: It’s an interesting question from IJVO1951, from YouTube. I don’t get some of the names people make up, whatever. It says, “Why isn’t the Congress reigning in the military industrial complex?” When has the US, why, I’m paraphrasing. Why isn’t there something like the Church Committee Hearings? I think it’s kind of interesting.
The Church Committee, for people that don’t know, came after, there was a lot of exposures about secret, really conspiracies between the different American intelligence agencies and the FBI trying to destroy the Black Panther party and other anti-war movement. There were a lot of shenanigans going on in the intelligence agencies, and you had a committee that really opened up and revealed a lot of this. It’s hard to imagine such a committee now. Why? If you agree with me, why do you think that is?
LARRY WILKERSON: Well I think it’s very difficult to imagine either the Select Committee in the Senate on Intelligence or the House Permanent Committee on Intelligence in the House doing anything because they’re cheerleaders now. They have become cheerleaders for the CIA and for the other intelligence community members.
That’s kind of the way bureaucracy works though. Back to your other question though about, and it’s connected of course, this is the way you get influence. The reason Congressmen don’t do anything and Congresswomen don’t do anything about this by and large is because all you have to do is look up the people who contribute to their political action committees and to their campaigns. Lockheed Martin is right there on both sides of the aisle, Democrat and Republican. So is Raytheon. So is Boeing.
Just like big pharmacy, just like big food, just like big oil, they own Congress members. I just get a big kick out of Senators and Congressmen looking at me in my eyes and telling me in their office that they’re not influenced by this campaign donation. I looked at one recently and I said, “You believe that Kellogg’s or General Motors or Toyota who advertise on that television screen, don’t understand that if they spend a billion dollars on advertising that they’re going to get something back for it? And yet you are going to tell me that you get hundreds of thousands of dollars from the defense contractors and don’t give them anything back for it?” That’s nonsense. They’re buying influence and they buy it quite copiously and well.
PAUL JAY: Here’s a question from Steve Justino on Facebook. How much can we cut the military budget tomorrow without compromising US safety? Let me add to that, certainly one of the, the perhaps major argument for the reason for staying in Afghanistan is that the American military cannot allow it to once again become a safe haven for terrorists that could use it to attack the United States. The reason for the Afghan policy is safety of Americans. That’s the thesis. Then add to that, if you don’t agree with that, how much could you cut the budget without affecting American people’s safety?
LARRY WILKERSON: Those are two good questions, one strategic in its answer and the other really tactical. Right now, the possibility that the Taliban would let al Qaeda or some other al Qaeda like group willingly back into Afghanistan is zero. They know what happens if they do that. They’ve seen dramatic proof of that.
That’s not to say ISIS or al Qaeda wouldn’t come back if the area became basically ungovernable, which would be a possibility but we could go back and eradicate them again if we had to. I see a much bigger danger developing in what’s happening in Yemen and what’s happening in Syria. If you look at one little area of Syria right now, it’s where Ayman Al Zawahiri has reconstituted al Qaeda and reconstituted them in a way that looks a lot like Afghanistan pre-2001.
If you look at Yemen, al Qaeda in Yemen is growing in power and reach and capability because of the civil war there, or the war there. I hate to call it civil. It’s really Saudi Arabia and a bunch of other nuts trying to kill Yemen’s people.
The biggest threat right now to the United States from a terrorist group with global capability, al Qaeda, is in Yemen and in Syria, right next to the Turkish border where I would bet you Erdogan is keeping al Qaeda in his back pocket, just so if we try to establish an autonomous Kurdish state in either Iraq or Syria, he can unleash them on us. This is a NATO ally, mind you. This is how complex this situation is getting.
PAUL JAY: All right a question from Genevieve Salem on Facebook. I’m kind of paraphrasing a big, but what’s the role of Saudi Arabia in Afghanistan and how does its interests play out? We know historically the Saudis were very involved in helping finance jihadists in Afghanistan. They finances most of the madrasas in Pakistan that gave rise to a lot of the jihadists and later the Taliban. What do you make of the current Saudi role in Afghanistan.
LARRY WILKERSON: Well Saudi Arabia’s current role in …
PAUL JAY: Okay we’re … We got a little hiccup here with Larry. We’re going to have to reconnect. Sorry, what’s that? They’re talking to me here. Yeah, okay. So we’re going to get Larry back in just a second. Let me just say that the Saudis of course were very much involved in Afghanistan during the time of the “Brzezinskian-Carter Strategy” of sucking the Russians into their own Vietnam they called it.
The Saudis paid for a lot of the weapons that went to the jihadists. As I said, they financed the madrasas and of course, they provided a lot of the ideological hook. When I was in Afghanistan, the general Islam in Afghanistan, particularly in the south, in the Pashtun areas, it was not Wahhabism that later came with the al Qaeda forces and Taliban, as pushed through by the Saudis into Pakistan and to Afghanistan.
It was more of a, you could say a sort of a pagan, traditional culture that had some elements of Islam. For example, the center of worship was not the mosque. It was not imams. The center of worship were the shrines. In the film we’re going to play over the weekend, Return to Kandahar, we have film of one of the shrines in Kandahar where people go and they pray. In fact, most people had no idea what was in the Koran because they didn’t speak Arabic. The Korans that were in Afghanistan were all in Arabic or mostly … I believe there were almost none in Pashtun.
The role of Saudi Arabia was extremely powerful in Afghanistan. As the growth of the Taliban, nurtured by the Pakistani ISI and the Saudis, the imposition of Wahhabism over the traditions of the Pashtun … In fact, they used to have, I guess they still have, it’s just been somewhat decimated. The traditions in Afghanistan was called Pashtun Walli. It was the word dance and poetry was appreciated. A much flowering, female poets were venerated in Kandahar.
All of this was destroyed by the Taliban and by al Qaeda forces, and all with a driving force of the Saudis. Now, do we have Larry back yet? Not yet. Okay. Well I’ll keep talking. In fact, many of the tribal leaders in Afghanistan, village leaders, elders, who were very opposed to the rise of the Taliban, especially the al Qaeda influence in the Taliban, many of them were assassinated.
If an elder that had been elected by a jura, the elder’s council, village leaders, who opposed and stood up to this Wahhabization of Afghanistan, were simply assassinated. Many, many. The Saudis had a very nefarious role in Afghanistan, as they have in many other areas. I’ll see if I can handle any of these other questions. I know you’ve all tuned in to hear Larry and we’re going to get him back as soon as we can, but I’ll see if I can deal with some of these.
What does Iran benefit from turmoil in Pakistan? Well I’ll see if Larry comes back and deal with that. Can the Colonel please comment on Trump’s policy against trans service members. Again, a good one for Larry. Do you think those comments about India and Pakistan were an attempt to rebalance the power in the region? This is the idea to rebalance the power between Indian and Pakistan. I think Larry dealt with this pretty well.
This is the idea of inviting India to come in and make more investments in Afghanistan. I think it’s a threat against Pakistan. I think the bottom line of what this strategy is meant to be is that you better choose China or the United States. We are going to threaten the billions of dollars of military aid that go to the generals in Pakistan and help reinforce the position of the Pakistani military as the defacto rulers of the country that always, the hidden hand beneath the civilian elected leadership, but that general military, generals and military leadership are very dependent on American support and American dollars.
Threatening them with that, threatening them with an increased role of India in Afghanistan which is the whole thing, the reason the Pakistanis were afraid of the disintegration of Afghanistan in the first place. A disintegration caused by US policy, of sucking the Russians in, a civil war that followed, very much were Pakistan participated, but they did … Pakistan wanted to stabilized Afghanistan because it’s an important buffer state on Pakistan’s border and they certainly want to keep the Indians out, so it’s a great to threat to Pakistan that Trump made in this speech.
I don’t know if you call it any kind of balance. I think he’s … They’re just playing with fire. I think the idea that Pakistan will simply cave and give up on China and pick the United States over China, it seems to me kind of nutty. If you look at the Pakistani press after the Trump speech. It was filled with outrage at these threats. At least in the next foreseeable phase, it looks like it’s actually going to push Pakistan closer to China.
The underlying issue is here, I don’t think the objective is balance. I don’t think the objective is peace. I don’t think the objective is the interests of the people of the region. The objective is assert American power and as Larry has said in previous interviews, American power cannot be separated from commercial interest. What they really want to do is assert commercial interest. There’s a lot of forces at play here and they want to make money.
Geopolitical power isn’t for its own sake. It’s not geopolitical power for the sake of world peace, and it’s not geopolitical power for the sake of progress. It’s geopolitical power for commercial interest, to make more money. That’s what drives it. It’s not about even one personality or the other. It gets mitigated. One, President Obama, maybe mitigates a little in one direction, maybe Trump goes further in another direction, but the underlying forces don’t change.
The only thing that will change it, if the American people decide that they’re going to have a different kind of power, a different kind of control of wealth and a different kind of distribution of wealth and they’re going to change who has power. If you look around the United States obviously some people are benefiting from this militarization. Some people are benefiting from the extent of financialization, but most people are not.
Well, where are we with getting Larry back? All right. I think Larry may have had some internet problem. He is in West Church, Virginia, which is very near the CIA, so who knows? Maybe they’re using up all the bandwidth at the moment.
Do you think the Taliban is a more nationalist group than oriented towards Islamic fundamentalism today? Okay, so I will try to take a stab at this, but I’m not, by far I’m not the best person to do it because it’s been a while since I’ve been in Afghanistan. I can talk a little bit about its roots. I think for people that don’t know the history, when Brzezinski and Carter sucked the Russians in, in the late eighties, and the war breaks out, and then the Russians withdraw, and Afghanistan is left in complete chaos and warlords emerge, many of whom were funded by the Americans and the Saudis in the first place.
A free for all breaks out. Warlords simply in gang warfare, fighting over who was going to control the growing drug trade, who was going to control all aspects of life. There was outright war. Bombing and artillery shelling of Kabul. It was total chaos. The Taliban itself, I think the story is more or less true. I’ve heard it from enough places that it sounds correct.
Some mullahs, religious leaders in Kandahar, in the midst of this chaos and disorder, Mullah Omar, who became the leader of the Taliban, they heard of a young boy who had been abducted. Two warlords were fighting over who would have the chance to sexually exploit this young boy. This is another sort of unspoken thing. There is quite a culture of this amongst warlords, of sexual abuse of children, particularly young boys.
This group of of imams gathered some fighters and they went and they freed the boy and the executed the two warlords. It really sparked a very popular uprising against the warlords, most of whom were connected with the Northern Alliance, who later, the people that get brought back into power by the United States.
There was such chaos and such disorder, that people wanted some force to institute some kind of laws and stop the terrible level of killing that was going on. A number I heard was close to two million people died in that civil war. Entirely the product of US deliberate policy. Let’s not forget that if you want to search our site, I interviewed Brzezinski and I asked him about this. Do you think this was worth it? Getting the Soviet Union in. Supposedly bringing the Soviet Union down with the war, which I don’t think is entirely the case anyway.
He justified it all even though it completely destroyed a country. This is why it’s kind of ironic about Trump saying no longer are we going to do nation building. Afghanistan is a case of absolute deliberate US policy of nation destroying. The Taliban emerged in the course of creating some sense of order, so that even very sophisticated urbanized people in Kabul who had no idea what was really coming with the Taliban, actually supported the Taliban because it at least looked like they were going to create some law and order.
Of course their law and order was also quite horrific, but some people thought, at least for a time, better than the complete mayhem that existed under the warlords. Nationalistic, the Taliban was even in the earlier times … I think it’s changed now and I’m not as up to date with what it is now, but even back at the time of Mullah Omar when Bin Laden was in Kandahar, the Taliban had different forces in it. Some of the leadership, especially Mullah Omar, as far as I understand it, was very close to Bin Laden and al Qaeda, but much of the Taliban was not. They were quite nationalist. They didn’t like the role of the Pakistani ISI interfering in Afghan affairs.
They really wanted what they said they wanted. They want an Islamic state with Sharia Law and like it or don’t like it, they didn’t have bigger ambitions, certainly not international ambitions. There was a very definite sense of Afghan nationalism, Pashtun nationalism wrapped up in all of this.
We interviewed a guy from the Central Council of the Taliban in 2002, when we were there, and after 9/11, a big debate broke out in the Central Council, whether they would hand Bin Laden over, arrest Bin Laden and hand him over or not. According to the guy we interviewed, as I said, a member of the Central Council, they voted to hand him over. They were going to hand Bin Laden over to an Islamic country that could try him. They wouldn’t hand him over the United States.
The Islamic country they would hand him over to, perhaps Saudi Arabia, perhaps Egypt. It wasn’t clear, but something that wasn’t American. Mullah Omar was against handing Bin Laden over, according to the guy we interviewed. Anyway, the vote’s taken and the vote is against Mullah Omar and it is to hand Bin Laden over. Well a couple of weeks over, Mullah Omar recalls the vote, and at that time, according to him, a Pakistani cabinet minister is at the meeting and pleads for them not to hand him over.
You can check, you can verify much of this through the Guardian newspaper that was doing good reporting at the time. There are Guardian reports of the initial vote, and then another Guardian report a couple of weeks later where the Foreign Minister of the Taliban goes to Pakistan and announces that they will not hand over Bin Laden.
Much of the Taliban was quite nationalist. Other parts were increasingly tied up with the al Qaeda vision of the world. Hey, we will dig into all this stuff a heck of a lot more. It looks like we’re having a lot of technical problems at the moment with Larry. Am I right? Larry’s internet is still not working? All right, well, I got a feeling. I think we’ll call it for today.
We’ve been doing this for about an hour. A lot of other questions people are trying to get to. Somebody just … All right, this has got nothing to do with Afghanistan. Someone just said I should tell everybody that we’re, The Real News is opening a restaurant. Well, it’s a little too … It’s, these are too big weighty topics to do that, but if you are anywhere in the Baltimore area, we are, next week we’ll be opening a restaurant called Ida Bea’s Table. We’ll tell you more about that another time.
Question for Paul. When and where are you going to open the next Real News? Ah. All right this is another thing. We’ll do a session just about The Real News and what we’re up to if people are interested in that. Let us know. We’ll do that sometime in the next few days. Also let us know if you like these live broadcasts. They’re a lot longer than we usually do stories, so you got to let us know if the format works for you, and I promise you we’ll bring Larry back. We’ll do it again soon. We’ll be able to, we’ll spend the whole time doing the questions and answers with Larry.
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