Why is the US Media and Foreign Policy Establishment Targeting Russia?
The antagonism towards Russia by U.S. media and foreign policy elites goes far beyond allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. elections
The antagonism towards Russia by U.S. media and foreign policy elites goes far beyond allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. elections
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay, and we are live on Facebook and YouTube and TheRealNews.com and maybe some other places, and we’re actually live here in the studio. Thanks for joining us. We’re going to talk about U.S. foreign policy, and Larry Wilkerson will be joining us momentarily.
After World War Two, it’s been a strategic objective of U.S. foreign policy that this should be a single superpower world. Ideally, the United States should have utter, full-spectrum, sometimes they use that language, domination from nuclear weapons to cyberspace to media and such. With the emergence of the Soviet Union as a rival superpower, it became a fundamental objective to undo that Soviet Union and get back to a single superpower world. That was successfully done.
Now we’re back into a world where the U.S. is the ultimate power, but not as ultimate as it would like. The United States does not like the rise of regional powers, especially regional powers with a certain amount of global reach, any regional power, like a Russia, or a China, or an Iran that is not under the control of the United States. They don’t mind regional powers like Saudi Arabia that are more or less under the control of the United States, but ones that are not are considered threats, not just to regional hegemony but countries like a China, perhaps a Russia at some point can become real global competitors. Certainly Russia has become that in Syria.
What is U.S. foreign policy, and why is it so antagonistic to Russia? I suggest the reasons I just gave. The alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. elections, to the extent that turns out to be true, certainly is secondary to these bigger strategic reasons. Just why is there a division between the Trump administration, certainly on Russia at least, and the preponderance of U.S. foreign policy establishment?
Now joining us to talk about this and really how dangerous all this is is Larry Wilkerson. Larry was the former chief of staff for U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. He’s currently an adjunct professor of government at the College of William and Mary and a regular contributor to The Real News. Thanks for joining us again, Larry.
LARRY WILKERSON: Good to be here, Paul.
PAUL JAY: There’s no doubt that the U.S. elites are upset about Russia interfering in the U.S. elections. I still don’t know what’s true or what isn’t true. There seems to be some evidence that there were troll farms and such sending out messages to the U.S. public that could have influenced some of the election. There’s allegations about the Wikipedia stuff. Not Wikipedia, I’m sorry. WikiLeaks.
All that being said, it didn’t change the outcome of the election. This seems to be more something that’s being used to try to attack Trump from the Democrats generally, because they would like to weaken Trump, and then as I say the preponderance of the foreign policy establishment, the neoconservatives, do not like Trump entertaining the idea that it’s okay for Russia to have saved the Assad administration in Syria, and it’s okay to start wheeling and dealing and perhaps lifting the embargo on Russia. That seems to be a serious internal fight within the American elites.
Anyway, let’s start with that big question, and then we’ll go from there. Pretty soon, we’ll be taking viewer questions. If you’re watching live, you can comment on YouTube, comment on Facebook, or at TheRealNews.com. If you have any questions, comments, we’ll try to work them into the show. Larry, what’s your take?
LARRY WILKERSON: Just flowing directly into what you just said in your opening statement, I think there are two really irritating factors out there for the new Rome, if you will, that the United States became in 1945. One is Russia, as you ably pointed out, but that’s in a more or less military, covert operation, clandestine activities, propaganda vein. Russia is not really that powerful economically.
The other is China, extremely powerful economically, by purchasing power parity the number one economy in the world, and by all measurements probably in another decade or decade and a half, the number one economic power in the world. China just scared South Korea significantly with its economic power and the sanctions they brought to bear on the Republic of Korea. South Korea is going to nix any more Theater High Altitude Air Defense deployment for the peninsula. That shows you the power that China has.
It’s a two-pronged enemy out there, if you will, in the vein that you just described. Of course there are others, other irritants, but those are the two big ones.
PAUL JAY: Let’s start with Russia, because right now in the American news, the media, and in culture, movies, television shows, the big bad guy is Russia. I do want to add, Russia is a big capitalist power, as in China. They don’t have different agendas than the United States do, in the sense that if Russia could be the global single superpower, I think they would love it, and they would be just as aggressive and perhaps more so than the United States. The same thing goes with China, but they’re not. They’re secondary. They’re second-tier powers, at least at this time.
Nothing I’m saying is suggesting as if the Russians are somehow good guys in all of this. In fact, I’ve been surprised that the American elites are not making more out of not just Putin’s support for Trump but Putin’s support and Russia’s support for the far right in Europe, receiving Marine Le Pen before the French elections, the French fascist.
All that being said, the more aggressive player right here is certainly the Americans. Here’s an example of something that’s happening in American culture. This is a Sunday night show called Madam Secretary. The woman who’s the secretary is the American secretary of state, and every week she comes in and saves the day with her humanitarian interventions, and of course America in this TV show has nothing but benign and wonderful intent, and the rest of the world has bad agendas. Here’s a little scene from the show just last Sunday, where they’re having a serious discussion and debate about whether Russia has deliberately engineered this guy to have smallpox, and then come to the West, and create a smallpox pandemic in the world. Here’s the scene:
Secretary Elizabeth McCord [from Madam Secretary]: Russia didn’t know Markovich was headed to America. I don’t think this is a calculated biological attack.
President Conrad Dalton [from Madam Secretary]: Calculated or not, we’re going to the UN. I don’t want international sanctions against Russia. They can’t play around with infectious diseases without consequences.
Secretary Elizabeth McCord [from Madam Secretary]: I think we should hold off for a moment, sir. For Russia to do this, they’d have to know it was a declaration of war not just with the U.S. but with the world.
Russell Jackson [from Madam Secretary]: Time is not on our side here.
President Conrad Dalton [from Madam Secretary]: Have them check with the IC, find out if there’s any chatter about Russia weaponizing smallpox.
Ephraim Ware [from Madam Secretary]: Yes, sir.
President Conrad Dalton [from Madam Secretary]: Reach out to the Russian foreign minister. See what he has to say. I’m going to hold off on the public rebuke for now, but if there’s any indication that the Russians are flirting with a global pandemic, our response will be unequivocal.
PAUL JAY: As the show plays out, it turns out the Russians in fact were not deliberately causing a global pandemic, but how the storyline goes is interesting. It turns out the smallpox is coming from the thawing of permafrost, and these were people that had died of smallpox, were stuck [in the permafrost somehow, and the smallpox was being released because of global warming.
Then you have the situation, it’s completely ironic given who’s in office in the United States in real life. The Americans want to somehow deal with the global warming and want to deal with the thawing of the permafrost, and the Russians are resisting it because all they care about is fossil fuel extraction. While in fact maybe the Russians do only care about fossil fuel extractions, it’s clear a lot of the United States only cares about that, too. You wouldn’t know that from the show.
Anyway, Larry, this is really just one example. In fact, many examples in American culture and movies, it’s far worse than this. The Russians are completely demonized. That kind of cultural message usually goes with a real foreign policy.
LARRY WILKERSON: It does. It’s been that way ever since we started fighting the British, or for that matter and more seriously, our own Native Americans in this country, whom we pilloried and made look like heathens. Indeed, some people actually thought that way, to the blacks in the South who were slaves and so forth. We always try to create the other, particularly when we contemplate war with that other. We make them other than human. We dehumanize them and so forth. That’s just part of what we do. That’s basically part of what any country does that is contemplating war or in a war with another country.
The more serious component of your comments there, and even that little vignette, is whether … I’m not saying it’s ever right to do this. It’s just the thing we do. If you want to make sure that if you are doing it, and it’s effective, you want to be doing it against the right enemy. I can’t see anywhere in our playbook these days where we have picked the right enemy at the right time with the right strategy and outmaneuvered them. In fact, what’s happening right now, and I could do it with China, I could do it with India. I’ll pick up on Russia and I’ll say, “Look at what has happened since what you described,” and I’ll pick up on that and go a little further than you did in terms of history.
Since H.W. Bush decided that NATO and the collapse of the Soviet Union in the face of NATO would not be exploited. In other words, Bill Clinton, and Bob Rubin, and Larry Summers and a host of other people came along, and Barack Obama didn’t finish, and George Bush accelerated it, and said, “We’re going to push this NATO alliance all across the face of the Earth.” Had I been Putin, I’d have done exactly what Putin did in Georgia, in Crimea, in Ukraine. He found out he could be very successful against this superpower. He found out that with very little input in terms of resources and blood, he could really exacerbate the situation. He may have influenced the Brexit vote in the U.K., and therefore begun the first substantial breakup in the European Union.
He may have indeed influenced our vote here. I don’t know, either. I agree with you. There is no smoking gun and there is no real hard evidence, but I daresay since the Soviet Union did that, and he was a very good member of the KGB, that they’re doing that today. The Russians are far better at it than we are at playing these games with everything from social media to the traditional mechanisms of what we call black propaganda. Putin has infinitely more successful than the United States has been either in initiatives or in countering him. It’s marvelous to watch what he’s been doing and to see how little we have in response to him, whether it’s Syria, whether it’s in the Balkans, it’s in the Baltic states, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, or whether it’s in the new feelings that the Nordic states have. Everyone’s doing a little bit different dance today because we’ve had a power shift in the world.
The United States is probably the only leadership. The leadership in Washington doesn’t recognize it, and that shift is moving faster than even I thought it was going to move. It’s changing things. Great powers like us, status quo powers basically, don’t like that, but you have to look at the different status quo powers throughout history to see how well they’ve dealt with it. Some did well. Some didn’t do so well. Some did middle of the road. We’re not even doing middle of the road. We’re getting whupped by almost everybody else in the world right now, and I do not see a coherent strategy at all from this administration to deal with any of these things, whether they be pinpricks, and pinpricks as we all know can bring you down eventually, or whether they be big issues like those China and from time to time with Russia.
PAUL JAY: The Syria situation. It was pretty clear that the United States, the Saudis, Qatar, Turkey, all the American allies in the region more or less, Israel, they wanted the overthrow of Assad. This was a neoconservative agenda.
LARRY WILKERSON: The Saudis started it. In my considered view, the Saudis started it.
PAUL JAY: It, one of the most devastating civil wars since World War Two.
LARRY WILKERSON: Yep. They began pumping the arms and eventually the foreign fighters in there. They took everybody’s side, Al Qaeda, Al Nusra. You name it, the Saudis were willing to back them, as long as they were against Assad. They were the instrument of our getting sucked in there, and just as they’re the instrument of our being sucked into Yemen, now in its third year, brutal, deadly, bloody war, we have no business being in. The Saudis are the instrument of our fate in the Middle East. I always thought it would be Israel, and it may indeed still be ultimately Israel, but right now, it’s the Saudis.
PAUL JAY: In 2015, Putin made a speech at the United Nations. He said, “If the Assad regime is not protected and defended, it’s opening the gates of hell of ISIS and other sorts of terrorists.” The Russians started bombing, and the Russians successfully defended the Assad government. The Assad government is now certainly in a strong position. There’s no sign of it going anywhere.
This really defied U.S. foreign policy objectives. At least under the Trump administration, I think they now acknowledge that the Russians are essentially going to be the power that’s going to determine the outcome events in Syria. The foreign policy establishment does not like anyone other than the United States being in a position to determine the outcome of these kinds of situations. Has the American state, other than the Trump administration, come to terms with Syria, or is this not over yet for them?
LARRY WILKERSON: I was convinced towards the end of the Obama second administration that they had reluctantly come to terms with a reduced role, to include a pushing away from Saudi Arabia. The Trump administration has clearly, incoherently but clearly in the sense that we see the initial moves like the sword dance in Riyadh, switched that policy, and put us back ostensibly for the duration in what is truly developing to be a God-awful mess in the Middle East, one that I might hasten to add we started with our invasion of Iraq, and we’re still seeing the ramifications of.
That said, let me back up a moment and get back to Russia. I marvel at Putin’s capability, like a virtuoso, to play us. He looked at Syria, and he said, “This is not like Ukraine. This is not like Crimea. I do not have interior lines. I have better lines than the U.S., but I don’t have interior lines, but they still have longer lines than I do,” that is to say, distance to get the theater of battle if you will, and difficulty in moving assets. “I do have some interests in Syria. One is staying in the Middle East, and that’s the only place I can do it. Two is I’m already there. I have some facilities there, and I want to protect them. Three, I’m worried about terrorists coming up into my own problems like Chechnya. By the way, my biggest reason, I think I can beat the United States at its own game, and in the process be the legitimate power rather than the illegitimate power,” which is what the United States has been all along.
We have never had a government in Syria recognized by the United Nations and the majority of countries in the world invite us into Syria. We just went, like we went into Iraq. They’re the legitimate power, having been asked by the legitimate government in Damascus to come and help them against ISIS and other forces that want to unseat that legitimate government. Putin is a virtuoso up against idiots, as far as I can see, in the U.S. administration.
PAUL JAY: I think Putin is the inheritor of, product of 100 years of experienced KGB culture, which is very sophisticated.
LARRY WILKERSON: Please, go all the way back to Catherine the Great.
PAUL JAY: Ran rings around the American intelligence agencies all through the Cold War.
LARRY WILKERSON: Yeah. I said just go all the way back to Catherine the Great. The Russians have always been better than we have at this, the short time that we’ve been practicing this sort of thing.
PAUL JAY: How much does what’s happened in Syria change the whole balance in the Middle East, or is it more confined to Syria?
LARRY WILKERSON: The balance of power in the Middle East, Paul, was changed dramatically when the United States changed its policy of over three plus decades and took out Saddam Hussein and destabilized southwest Asia. The balance has not been restored by anyone since. It’s been teetering back and forth. Russia’s been playing with it. Iran’s been playing with it. Saudi Arabia and the GCC have been playing with it. We’ve been playing with it from time to time. Until that balance is restored, and I think it’s going to take a recognition of the principal balancer because of all manner of things, demographics, history, cohesive society, and so forth, is Iran. Until we recognize that, it’s going to stay out of balance and we’re going to have a mess.
Right now, Putin has recognized that. Putin has stepped in and put his foot on the scales, put Russia’s foot on the scales with air power, ground power, naval power to match that foot. While he can’t match us globally, he can certainly match us in this spot on the map. He has done so, and further, he’s got Iran and Syria itself, and the armed forces thereof, who never did fall apart, he’s got them on his side, too. If the balance is for a moment tentatively restored, it’s because of that new coalition between Moscow, Tehran, and Damascus.
PAUL JAY: The coalition, I wonder how serious a coalition it is. It is in Syria, but the real agenda of the Trump foreign policy has always been to strengthen the American position in Iraq, regain what was lost in Trumpian language, which is particularly the Iraqi oilfields, and destabilize and undermine the Iranian regime with a hopeful and certainly overtly articulated hope for regime change in Iran. If that is their strategy, and I don’t think it’s an if, it’s more an if how well they execute on it, but this is something they say quite openly. There’s nothing secret about it. Can one actually see the Russians trying to obstruct this, or was this part of the Trump deal-making? I always hypothesized that Trump’s deal with Putin was essentially, “You have Syria. We’ll get the embargo lifted and start investing in Russian energy. You may scream when we do stuff with Iran, but you’re not going to do anything serious.” Could Russia do anything seriously to stop the Americans in Iran anyway?
LARRY WILKERSON: You’re assuming that there is some sort of collusion between Moscow and Washington, and that collusion is based expressly on the two characters. I’m not ready to buy that yet, first because I’ve seen no hard evidence of it. Second, because I’ve had a lot of people who know the situation better than I, some of them much better than I, who have dissuaded me from it. Third, because it just doesn’t comport with my idea after 50 years in public service of how things work in the world. It’s too clean. It’s too easy. Let’s back up for a minute.
PAUL JAY: Can I just jump in for a sec?
LARRY WILKERSON: Sure.
PAUL JAY: Whether this works or not, I don’t know, but if you look at Flynn’s appearance on RT, and I wish we had the clip. I wasn’t ready for this, but when Flynn went to Russia, to Moscow, and appeared on RT television for an extended interview with a bunch of journalists and Russian foreign policy people, and he was asked about the Syria situation, and essentially said, “We will hand …” This is Flynn. He wasn’t yet the national security advisor, but he was clearly going to be, and he was working with the Trump campaign. He got in trouble for this appearance. I don’t know why, but he got paid for this appearance. He said, “If you’ll just figure out a way to ease Assad out, we can work Syria out with you so that you can control …” It may not have been the exact words, but he essentially says, “You can control the outcome in Syria, but you’re going to have to not save Assad himself.” This is about convergence of interests, is what I’m saying, not just two individuals making a deal.
LARRY WILKERSON: No, I don’t disagree with that. Here’s what I would say, Paul. There’s another version to this, that all these conspiratorial talks and everything that are being pitched by the Democrats as such, for political gain as much as anything else, were in fact something not that much different from what Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon did with regard to the first European intermediaries and then the Pakistani intermediaries with China. Not at all different from that, if we put a more positive spin on it. In other words, Trump and his team, such as it was, saw that Russia-U.S. relations were seriously deteriorating, and they wanted to rescue them for whatever reason. It could have been a private reason, money, heavy debt, whatever. It doesn’t matter. They wanted to rescue it. Geostrategically, that’s not a bad proposition.
All they were doing in these initial meetings was what Henry and Dick did. They just weren’t in office yet. They were trying to establish contacts, some of them out of the regular channels because they knew the regular channels were corrupt as hell, which is exactly what Dick and Henry did. They cut the State Department completely out of the rapprochement with China. I don’t see any fault in that, if that is indeed what they were trying to do, get a situation going where they could have better relations. If they wanted to trade things off, as great powers and others have done since time immemorial, that’s fine too. If they want to trade Assad off, that’s fine too.
Did Putin suddenly decide that he was dealing with idiots, and so he decided to violate the deal, or did he just decide to violate the deal because he likes Assad, or he found himself on more propitious strategic grounds than he thought he would be, and said, “Oh, I’m not living up to the full part of the bargain.” I don’t know, but it’s always dangerous when you make these kinds of bargains with people who are as slippery, as shrewd, and play chess and not checkers like you, like Putin.
PAUL JAY: Yeah. I agree with everything you said. I’m not in any way … I shouldn’t say … There is one way I am critiquing this. Anything that lowers tensions between any of the major powers is a good thing in my mind.
LARRY WILKERSON: I agree.
PAUL JAY: But, what I’m getting at, or I guess what I’m asking, in terms of targeting Iran, which I do not think this administration has given up on, far from it, the Saudis I think are aggressive as anything. In fact, a lot of this purge, and I’m not sure enough has been made of this, but the purge of these various princes by the new crown prince in Saudi Arabia, some of that seems to have been princes who were opposed to this very anti-Iranian policy of the crown prince.
LARRY WILKERSON: Yes, opposed to the split with Qatar, which was in my view utterly stupid, strategically inept, breaking up the GCC that way.
PAUL JAY: It’s all about getting ready for an even more aggressive stance towards Iran. What I’m saying is, I’m not so sure Russia will mitigate that aggression towards Iran.
LARRY WILKERSON: I’m not sure Russia will be willing to step into that one, because I think that would be propitious for Putin to stand on the sidelines and watch the United States, mainly because of Israel and its commitment to Israel, and to a certain extent Saudi Arabia, get sucked into it. That’s exactly my expectation, that we are going to, as one headline had it the other day, be the Saudis’ proxy. The Saudis are going to fight Tehran to the last dead American, and the Israelis of course will fight Hezbollah to the last dead American. They’ll do a little bit better of the fighting, but that’s the way it will be. The Saudis are utterly incompetent at military operations. You’re seeing that in Yemen. They drop their bombs from so high altitude because their pilots are scared to death of getting hit by antiaircraft fire that the bombs go everywhere, schools, hospitals, churches. It is going to be, if it is going to be, an extremely brutal war.
Iran will respond probably asymmetrically. They will not exchange hardware with Saudi Arabia. They will send the Quds Force, now highly trained and highly capable, into the oil-producing regions of Saudi Arabia, where Shia mostly work, and they will stoke those Shia, and the kingdom, and Mohammad bin Salman, this consolidating of power crown prince will suddenly have a rebellion on his hands. This could really get bad. It can go bad really fast.
PAUL JAY: We’re in a very dangerous moment in various places in the world. Just to add-
LARRY WILKERSON: Paul, we’re exactly as you just characterized it, and what we have in Washington is a bunch of amateurs with no experience. I include Rex Tillerson in that. That is not what you want on your team when you’re in this kind of situation.
PAUL JAY: And, a very divided Washington. I’m reading reports, I don’t know how credible they are because obviously I’m not so sure of the websites I’ve been seeing them, but apparently a real split between the Pentagon and sections of the CIA, which apparently don’t buy this policy of maintenance of the Assad era, or what should I say, accepting Assad is going to stay in power. There’s sections of the CIA that are continuing to fund and arm anti-Assad Islamic forces in Syria, and that the Pentagon is seriously at odds with these people in the CIA. Have you heard this?
LARRY WILKERSON: I haven’t. My question there as always, and has been recently, does the president know about this? Does McMaster know about this? Is this happening beneath their watch, as it did with Ronald Reagan with the Contras and Sandinistas in South America, Honduras and Nicaragua? Ronald Reagan did not know everything that Bill Casey and his minions were doing, including Bob Gates. There were things going on between the president’s watch, if you will. Who cares what the reason was, dotage, or inattention, or whatever? That happens from time to time with the CIA. When you get these internecine bureaucratic battles beneath it, it gets even worse. I wouldn’t be surprised at all, because I have seen it before in the historical record, in the archives, in testimony. It’s there.
PAUL JAY: Maybe we should welcome it. If everyone in the state, and the deep state, and the Pentagon, and CIA were all monolithic in their view of what to do next, we might be a lot closer to an attack on Iran and Iraq. Maybe this is a good thing. They can’t execute much of anything right now.
LARRY WILKERSON: You’ve got a point. I’ve often said, and from time to time Colin Powell and I would joke about that the best thing going for us was incompetence.
PAUL JAY: Yeah. I think I’ve been saying that. “Welcome the circus and chaos of the Trump show, because the alternative is worse.” Some questions from viewers here. Mr. Wilkerson, do you think Europe is going to break with the United States over the attempt to isolate Russia?
LARRY WILKERSON: I think Putin is doing a real fine job here in terms of Russian interests. He’s getting Erdogan to the point where I think Erdogan’s going to probably break out of NATO. I’m not totally sure that’s going to happen, but it’s looking ominous. That would be the largest, most capable land force in NATO outside the U.S., leaving. That would be, in my mind, the beginning of the unraveling of NATO.
He’s also making significant progress in a little place called Mitrovica, the northern province of Kosovo, where UN and U.S. forces in small numbers are. He’s infiltrating the northern part of that province, Mitrovica, which is the northern part of Kosovo. We’ve all forgotten about Kosovo since Bill Clinton bombed it for 180 or so days and Milosevic went to the International Criminal Court, and died in the process, but it’s still there, and the Serbs still very much want it back. As Putin is wont to do, and he’s crafty at this, he’s moving his pawns, and he’s moving his knights, and he’s moving his bishops on multiple chessboards. One of the things he’s doing in Kosovo is threatening to take it back over for the Serbs and the Albanians.
We’re talking about all manner of things going on right now. I wonder if they’re even on the agenda of the National Security Council.
PAUL JAY: What does Putin and Russia get out of this? I would have thought that Putin’s primary objective should actually be to try to ease the tensions with the U.S. in order to get the embargo lifted and get these big energy plays going on that Tillerson, Exxon, and others want to do. Why poke the American eye here?
LARRY WILKERSON: Two reasons, I think. One, he discovered this early on and he’s maximized it, it is what Russians want. Not every one of them, but a majority of them, and so he’s staying very high in the polls, and he’s staying very politically successful with the Russian electorate because of what he’s doing. That’s probably his primary reason.
His secondary reason is he’s having fun. I mean that. I think he’s actually having fun poking his fingers in the eyes of the superpower, and doing it where he can do it and when he can do it, and not risking anything really on his own behalf. He can pull back almost anywhere where he is if he has to. The only place where he’s really exerted himself in a way that sort of exposed some flanks was Syria, and yet even there, he had Damascus on his side, he had Tehran on his side, and I think ultimately he had Turkey on his side. He’s about to strip Turkey away from NATO. He’s already seen the United Kingdom stripped away from the Union. I’d be chalking up my blackboard. I’d be going, “That’s another one. That’s another one. That’s another one.”
You say, “Why is he doing this?” None of this threatens a global conflagration. What it does is threaten the hegemony of the United States, and particularly where it makes Russia vulnerable. He’s doing it the same place the Soviets did it, on the plains of Europe. That’s where I’d be doing it if I were he. I wouldn’t be in Vladivostok. I wouldn’t be looking for the Japanese or the northern territories or whatever. Maybe I would eventually, but those things are probably unmanageable, undoable. Besides, the Chinese are taking over the far east of Russia, if you’ve looked lately.
He’s got European Russia. He’s got NATO as his enemy. All the exercises the Russian military has conducted since 2012, 2013, 2014, the scenario they conduct those exercises is an invasion by NATO. That’s what Putin uses to mobilize, raise the morale of, conduct the training of, and write the doctrine of his armed forces, a NATO invasion. We say, “NATO’s not going to invade Russia.” That’s not what Putin and his generals think, and if you were in their shoes, you probably would guard against it, too. That’s what their doctrine, their exercises, and everything reflects. You’ve got to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and I think too, as I’ve said, you’ve got to understand how shrewd Putin is.
PAUL JAY: Yeah. It’s not so different than the American shoes. He’s got his own military-industrial complex.
LARRY WILKERSON: Yes.
PAUL JAY: They make enormous amounts of money, not just producing weapons for Russia but selling them abroad. There’s enormous competition with the West.
LARRY WILKERSON: Oil and arms. That’s Russia’s economy.
PAUL JAY: Let’s not forget the wealth that has flowed up to a tiny handful of Russian oligarchs. It’s pretty good to have an external enemy you can focus on and not have focus on how much wealth your friends have made. Very much like the United States.
LARRY WILKERSON: Yeah. If Putin has a problem that I imagine is on his agenda almost weekly if daily, it’s the flight of capital out of Russia into better investments because a lot of those oligarchs don’t necessarily trust the situation to endure.
PAUL JAY: All right. I’ve got a lot of questions here from people watching live, so let me try to get another one. Here’s Laudon1780 on YouTube: Colonel Wilkerson, do you see any moves to further drawn eastern European countries into the Russia-U.S. conflict, such as Moldova, and do you expect sudden changes of governments there?
LARRY WILKERSON: In a certainly way I do, but I think it’s probably going to happen, what we’re calling in the academic community, in a democratic way, but that democracy’s going to be illiberal, not liberal. That is to say, they’re going to use elections, more or less, to bring in more or less right-wing types. We’ve already seen that in some of the countries. We’ve seen Germany’s AfD, for example, increase its membership in the German legislature. I think that’s the shrewd way it’s going to happen.
I think we’re going to see … Because of this social media, and because of other means of communications now, this is something that probably has never happened before, not in the modern world anyway. We actually have Nazis in Europe communicating with Nazis in America. We have alt right in Europe communicating and planning in some cases with alt right in the United States. This is a global movement of fascist-like, Nazi-like tendencies, and Putin is going to play that. I’m not saying he’s that kind of person. He could be, I think, but there are plenty like that. Ukraine is full of them. Ukraine has got people who would love to go back and put the swastika back up.
PAUL JAY: Just had an essentially pro-fascist protest or rally there of about 60,000 people a few weeks ago.
LARRY WILKERSON: Yeah. Of course, sometime ago, our CIA was supporting some of those groups because they opposed the Russians. This is a new phenomenon, I think, to have this kind of global communication and global propaganda amongst people from Charlottesville, Virginia, and people from Kiev, Ukraine.
PAUL JAY: Here’s a question from Joseph Ballin on Facebook: What is the U.S. and Chinese interest in Zimbabwe, and can China continue to keep the U.S. out of Zimbabwe since Mugabe was outed by his own ruling party? How much of this coup, or essentially a coup in Zimbabwe, is just internal politics, or does it reflect any U.S.-China contention there?
LARRY WILKERSON: I think it reflects mostly the had to go nature of Mugabe. I think he had to go, and the forces that were gathering were going to get rid of him. What happened, I think, and we may get as bad a replacement because of this, is that we had some people consult the Chinese, and the Chinese probably said, “America plays this game all the time. Russia is back in this game. We don’t play this game much. Let’s give it a shot, and let’s give it a shot in the region of the world where we’re trying to spread our capital, and to interest countries in being more not subservient, but more in the line of Chinese succession than that of America, or Europe, or anyone else.”
Most of this is for economic reasons. I was talking to a Chinese scholar the other day, and I said, “They’re playing their hand there, seeing what it’s like to be like the United States, seeing what it’s like to court another government, to maybe assist a coup, and maybe bring a more favorable government in their own interest into being.” I don’t know if it’s going to pan out that way, but I can see President Xi, and I can particularly see some of his security advisors, being more likely to do some of these things in the future. After all, these people have more money than you can shake a stick at. They have their land route going across central Asia, their sea route coming out of the South China Sea going all the way to Iran.
The other day, I’m reading a National Geographic, Paul, and the guy is walking across central Asia. He’s a photographer. He’s a travelog guy. He’s walking. He says, “One of the things I encountered the most, and everywhere I went, was the BRI, the Belt Road Initiative.” Signs of it are everywhere, from just small traders, to oil and gas pumping lines, to trucks, to you name it. The language similarities with Xinjiang province and Turkic languages in general, he said, “This is incredible.” He said, “This is what’s happening.”
The Chinese have so much money. Most of it they got from us buying their products, of course, them and others in the world. They’re investing it everywhere. We can’t possibly compete with the Chinese. When we do, Paul, we have to go to the mint, we have to get the paper and the ink, and we have to print the money.
PAUL JAY: All right. A couple of Saudi questions here. I’m going to combine them. Greg Underdahl, I’m probably mispronouncing Greg’s name: What is Colonel Wilkerson’s take on former Senator Bob Graham, who co-chaired the Congressional investigation into 9/11? Graham’s assertion that the FBI is aggressively covering up Saudi Arabia’s role in 9/11. Then Christopher Thomas Collier on Facebook asks, “You’ve said previously that Saudi Arabia may not last more than a few decades. Do you think Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s recent actions will accelerate that?” Start with the 9/11, and then we can get to the future of the Saudis.
LARRY WILKERSON: Yeah, I following former Senator Graham’s remarks. Not every remark, but most of his substantive ones. I don’t disagree with him strongly. I think that there was some coverup. I think the 9/11 Commission itself did some coverup. My god, it had to write Powell’s testimony. It had to work with Condi Rice’s writer, too, to get her testimony together. I had to look into it quite extensively, and I think there was a coverup, just as there was with the Warren Commission and probably almost any blue ribbon commission, as it were, that would study something like that. There are always political considerations, and in this case, I think one of them was to protect Saudi Arabia.
The thing I can’t figure out from the intelligence, not definitely anyway, is whether there were major figures in the Saudi government who on a consistent basis not only supported Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden but were cheering him on, on a consistent, extended, sustained basis with money and even support in other ways, like intelligence and so forth. That’s what I can’t find. I have no doubt in my mind the Saudis helped, no doubt. When I say the Saudis, I don’t know exactly who that was.
PAUL JAY: I’ve interviewed Graham a few times, and he certainly points the finger at Prince Bandar, which was the Saudi ambassador to the United States.
LARRY WILKERSON: No doubt.
PAUL JAY: It’s interesting. I think most people who know the situation think that Bandar orchestrated the Saudi role that really starts the Syrian Civil War. It’s Bandar that’s funneling all the money to the extreme Islamist groups, pro-Saudi manipulated groups in Syria. Bandar is the orchestrator of that, as well. Graham certainly thinks that Bandar doesn’t do 9/11 or various things without the king. He says directly it’s the king. Bandar can’t be freelancing. That’s a whole other conversation.
LARRY WILKERSON: Yeah. Let me get to the second part of the question there. I think Mohammad bin Salman, if he has a positive aspect to what he’s doing, not only the economic, the public offering of Aramco, and the other details of that futuristic look at Saudi Arabia and what they need to do to meet that future. Those are positive, I think, women driving and so forth, liberalization in general, all positive. When you look at the war in Yemen, you look at what they did with Prime Minister Hariri, whisking him away from Beirut, you look at what they might be going to do with Iran, you look at what they’ve done in Syria, and I think you’re right about Bandar managing that operation for Saudi Arabia in Syria, then you have to say, “Wow, I don’t know whether MBS is good for Saudi Arabia or not. In the long run, he might be the disruptive thing that brings the kingdom down.”
PAUL JAY: This is a big historic question actually I should have asked you ahead of time, Larry, so I’m going to ask you now. How much more time you got, because we got lots of questions coming?
LARRY WILKERSON: I can do 45 more minutes, and then I’ve got to be on the road back to Washington.
PAUL JAY: Okay, let’s do it. Here’s a question from Alfonso Fernandes: Why did the United States so enthusiastically support the Yeltsin administration during the worst of what he calls its atrocities?
LARRY WILKERSON: That’s a long, long answer that I don’t know everything about. What I do know about it is that when Yeltsin literally emulated Lenin and stood on or in front of that tank, and we made a decision not to join the generals, not to overthrow him, but to back him and to make sure everyone knew that, including those generals, and Yeltsin then put down the coup attempt and then became at least the titular at that time if not eventually the leader of a newly collapsed Soviet empire, now Russia, losing everything as fast as it could, I’ll never forget how fast the Warsaw Pact fell apart, that we didn’t have a whole lot of choice, except as George H.W. Bush spoke it at the time. Jim Baker carried this out to a letter.
That was essentially, “We are not going to exploit this. We’re not going to take advantage of it. We’re not going to do anything to stick our fingers in Soviet Russian eyes. We’re going to do as much as we can to support the leadership, although we know it drinks a bottle of vodka about every hour. We’re going to do everything we can to take this situation turn out peacefully,” to include inviting Russia to be an observer of NATO, with every expectation it would eventually probably be asked to be a member of NATO, including when we reunified Germany and kept it in NATO, the most incredible diplomatic achievement of the latter 20th century, saying to Moscow, “If you accept this, we’ll not move NATO one inch further east.” Then along came Bill Clinton, of course, and moved it all the way to Georgia or almost. Those were troubled times, but I think H.W. Bush handled it extremely well, and Jim Baker, and all the rest of that administration. I think they handled it extremely well. Brent Scowcroft was right there in the middle of it.
Then along came Bill Clinton and a very inexperienced team. I was there. I was still working for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs in the first year of Clinton. The most inexperienced team I’ve ever seen. Couldn’t find their ass in a windstorm that first year, indeed for the first 18 months. Everything went to heck, as we enlarged NATO, largely to sell F-16s and other arms to more and more countries, and make Lockheed and Boeing and everybody else much richer, and largely to, in very apoplectic terms, stick our fingers in Moscow’s eyes. We did it in the Balkans. We embarrassed Boris Yeltsin majorly in the Balkans. We had Major General Sir Michael Jackson I think it was Pristina in Kosovo, being ordered by Wes Clark to stop the Russian paratroopers. Jackson had the good sense to say back, “I’m not about to start World War Three, general.” These were troubled times with inexperienced people dealing with them.
We made a mess of things, and we’ve been making a mess of things ever since.
PAUL JAY: We were talking a little earlier about Putin’s motivation in Kosovo and otherwise. Is it true for Russia, and for the United States, that to a large extent this is all about domestic politics? Maybe that’s true with most foreign policy. It starts with domestic politics. Certainly in the United States, this seems to be more about domestic politics than any real concern about what Russia’s doing in various places.
LARRY WILKERSON: I think the Russian foreign minister, when Trump failed to certify to the U.S. Congress that Iran was still in compliance with the nuclear agreement, the German foreign minister said, “This is all domestic politics. It’s become a plaything of domestic politics.” I think he used the word I think, or it is apparently, or something like that, but he summed it up. You’re right. One of the elements of my framework of analysis for my students in determining why certain national security decisions were made is domestic politics. I will tell you that we look at both the United States and whomever it happens to be, Chile in 1968, Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, and so forth, we look at them too from the point of view of politics. I can say with some accuracy, I think, that domestic politics drives democracies nuts far more than it does totalitarian states. In the case of the United States of America, with our rather unwieldy democracy, it really does impact foreign and security policy, sometimes in very, very injurious ways.
PAUL JAY: shultsy100 on YouTube asks, “There appears no end to any ceasefire in Afghanistan.” I’m not sure what he means by no end. There seems to be no beginning of a ceasefire. Bin Laden is in the past. There’s no resources there, except opium. When can we leave that place?
Let me add something to that. On this television show “Madam Secretary, there’s another storyline going, which is the Russians have hacked into the American embassy in Kabul, and that led to an attack on a CIA safe-house. In this television show Madam Secretary, some of the CIA people evacuate. I think one maybe gets killed. Then there’s some innuendo there that the Russians are collaborating with the Taliban. They don’t give any reason, but I suppose if there’s any actuality to any of this, maybe the Russians would like Afghanistan to do to the Americans what Afghanistan did to the Russians. What do you make of the Afghan situation, and particularly the U.S.-Russia rivalry as it expresses itself in Afghanistan?
LARRY WILKERSON: I think there’s legitimate intelligence that reflects Russian and Iranian support for some elements of those forces we’re ostensibly fighting in Afghanistan. It probably has different reasons than we might think, might even have something to do with Russia’s efforts to infiltrate those organizations and ensure they don’t come north.
Let me tell you about Afghanistan. You know this, Paul. I’ve said this before. Afghanistan is no longer about the Taliban. It’s not even about the stability of Afghanistan, except as it serves the larger purpose. That larger purpose is now twofold. One is to keep hard military force in Afghanistan for the next 50 years if necessary, in order to have hard military force somewhere close to China’s one belt, one road across the land. The second reason is so that we don’t have to come back a vast distance and establish a military force in the area in order to take care of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, should that country suddenly destabilize. That’s why we’re in Afghanistan, not to fight the Taliban, Al Qaeda, ISIS, or anybody else, and we will be there for another half-century.
PAUL JAY: Okay. Here’s a question back to Saudi Arabia. This is Loudon 1780 again. Colonel Wilkerson, do you think that Saudi Arabia’s alliance with Israel will destabilize their own countries with regard to what the people of the Gulf states are told about Israel and Jews in general?
LARRY WILKERSON: This is probably one of the strangest alliances for a person like me, even though I study how alliances change like the winds, in my lifetime, because what I remember was Ronald Reagan trying to sell F-15s and AWACS to the Saudis, for example, and the Israelis just going apoplectic. They were ready to throttle Ronald Reagan because he wanted to do that, or other presidents too who took a more balanced attitude toward Israel and at the same time tried to maintain relations with Saudi Arabia, basically with arms sales, which always irritated Israel.
Now to see these two powers in an alliance of convenience is quite interesting, particularly when I remember too that the Israelis were in a sort of tacit alliance with Iran when they were the third party, if you will, during Iran-Contra affair. When we were sealing Hawk missiles and TOW missiles to Iran during the Iran-Iraq War, Israel was playing our middleman. Israel goes wherever it thinks at the moment its interests rest. Israel right now has an extremely right-wing, I would call it alt right-wing government, led by Bibi Netanyahu who’s not quite that way, but some of the people in his coalition are, and he is increasingly obeying them.
What we have is any enemy of my enemy is temporarily my friend. Right now, Bibi Netanyahu is maintaining political power to a certain extent by keeping people frightened about Iran, particularly about its possibility of getting a nuclear weapon. That’s all domestic politics too, if you will. Saudi Arabia and Israel might be getting ready to do a twofer, Mohammad bin Salman and Saudi Arabia doing something with respect to Iran in terms of hard power at the same time that Israel is doing something to Hezbollah, maybe in Lebanon, maybe in Syria, maybe in both.
Two of the largest exercises they’ve ever conducted … We’ve just established our first military base in Israel. Since 1948, we have never had a real military base in Israel, for a lot of reasons. One was because it would be, we thought, so destabilizing amongst 400 million Arabs, and it wouldn’t be very useful. Now we’ve built an air defense base inside of an Israeli air force base, but we announced publicly that it was the first U.S. military base in Israel. Things are changing fast, and in my view, not changing why any strategic purpose that I can detect. They’re changing with enormous danger for this country.
PAUL JAY: The purpose seems to be … I read Haaretz, and from the sense I get from the Israeli press, Israel’s war with Hezbollah is just a question of timing. There seems to be no question that Israel wants Hezbollah to suffer a massive defeat, and what I clean from what I’m reading is that the Americans will support even further anti-missile defense on Israel’s part.
LARRY WILKERSON: That’s what this base is. This base is an air defense base.
PAUL JAY: Then Israel can then take on Hezbollah with less concern about Hezbollah rockets, and the Saudis are cheering this on. This seems to be rather imminent.
LARRY WILKERSON: I’m going to conduct my simulation on Monday with this very scenario in mind. It’s a three-hour simulation, a mock National Security Council meeting for my students. I told my students yesterday in seminar, “I don’t even have to prepare the media or the intelligence input for this exercise, which is usually a pretty big task, because it’s all there in the New York Times, in Politico, in Salon, in Haaretz. It’s all there.” You should see my first day early bird for this exercise. It’s all real press.
PAUL JAY: If you want to see who articulates all of this most openly, and I guess clearly, go back to Steve Bannon, who has called for and with President Trump called for in his inaugural address, and Bannon elaborated it, a bloody affair, a bloody war that would target Iran. You could see this breaking out with Israel attacking Hezbollah, some kind of American incursion into Iraq, the Saudis with Iran. There’s such a dangerous situation unfolding, and it boggles the mind that the American media is talking about some Russian supposed interference in the U.S. elections that may have happened, but if it was, didn’t matter very much.
LARRY WILKERSON: I’m hoping that we’re both wrong, Paul. I’m hoping that either the incompetence of this administration keeps us out of it, or the lack of swift movement of this administration keeps us out of it, or that we’re just wrong about what’s happening with Mohammad bin Salman, the GCC in general, Tehran, Beirut, Tel Aviv, and so forth. I don’t think we are, but I’m hoping that one of these things, all of them negatives, but that might turn out to be positives, keep us out of this. I don’t count on it.
PAUL JAY: All right. I’ve got a final question for you, from Aidan Moloney on Facebook: What would Larry do if he was appointed DOD secretary? I think I’m going to have to add something to that, because if you’re DOD secretary under the Trump administration, number one, you’re never getting appointed, and number two, you’re getting fired before the first day is even over. Let’s imagine a more rational, a little more progressive to some extent, and by that I do not mean Clintonesque … Let’s say there was a somewhat more progressive president, administration, and you actually get some input on foreign policy and defense policy. What would you do? What would you recommend in this situation?
LARRY WILKERSON: Actually, that’s not a very difficult question to answer in a substantive, early blush way. The very first thing I would say to the president is, “Fire me. I don’t care. Fire me. Mr. President, we have too many enemies. We are partly responsible for creating many of these enemies. I am going to lay out for you a way to extract ourselves from some of these potential engagements. This ranges the gamut from Russia to the North Koreans. I’m going to show you ways where, without the use of hard military power or Treasury assets that are exhausted, because we’ve got a $21 trillion debt, I’m going to show you ways that we can limit these enemies.
Once I’ve done that, I’m going to show you who the principal ones are, and I’m going to give you some policy recommendations and some strategies to go along with that policy to deal with the ones we should be dealing with, because Mr. President, we are no longer the new Rome. Our power has dissipated majorly. We’ve gone from having in 1945 51% of the world’s gross domestic product to having about 21% today. That alone is a humongous diminishment in power. We have $21 plus trillion of debt. That’s about $24,000 for every American coming down the road. We have a $5.6 trillion debt to the last 16 years of war. We have an interest payment on that debt now that is bigger every year than our defense budget, which is far too big too, and I’ll get back to you on that, Mr. President, because I’ve got ways to cut that majorly, maybe $1 trillion over the next 10 years. By the way, Mr. President, knock out all that nuclear crap.”
When I got through with that substantive overbrush, if you will, conversation and the president said, “Come back and give me some specifics,” I’d be happy to.
PAUL JAY: Who are, in your opinion, the real enemies, and why define them as enemies?
LARRY WILKERSON: There’s one big one. There’s one humongous one, and I wouldn’t describe it as an enemy. I would say, “Mr. President, do you know about the Thucydides trap, the thing Graham Allison talks about all the time? Do you know about how rising powers and great powers are inevitably going to fight one another? We need to stop that from happening.” I’m not telling you we’re going to stop China from ultimately replacing us as the number one economic power, but I’m going to acquaint you a little bit with Chinese ideology.
I’m going to acquaint you with a little bit of what the Chinese believe and what was just exemplified by the 19th Party Congress, with President Xi Jinping. The Chinese believe that you go through these cycles. You come to an apogee of power, and wealth, and influence, and then you collapse, and then you rise slowly back up again, and you do the same thing again. Xi Jinping knows that China is coming to that apogee. It’s not imminent, but it’s going to happen in the next 20 to 25 years. In other words, China’s going to replace the United States in almost every parameter of state power, if global climate change doesn’t kill us all first.
Xi Jinping is going to be very careful about how he approaches that apogee, that zenith. The Chinese are going to be very careful. They’re going to deal with that in economic and financial terms, and they are going to rue dealing with it in hard military power terms. The United States needs to be smart, and to take advantage of that, amplify that, help China do that. At the same time, we step down from some of our global responsibilities and convince the Chinese that they ought to help us manage them so it’s a little more equitable situation in terms of power. We bring other countries who are what I would call peer powers, and I would include Brazil, and India, and Russia, and Japan, and maybe a unified Korea even, because I have a plan for that too, into this game.
We’d all be managing power in the world a little bit better, a multi-power world if you will, and we’d all be focusing on what we’ve all got to focus on. Are we even going to be here? That’s global climate change, which by the end of this century or earlier, and the things I’m hearing right now from scientists scare me to death that it’s going to be much earlier. It’s going to be in my grandkids’ and my kids’ lifetime. We’re going to see sea rise. We’re going to see hurricanes. We’re going to see earthquakes. We’re going to see all manner of things, flood out of proportion to anything we’ve ever seen before, that are going to tackle all our resources, all our talents, all our competencies, in a way that will put us to shame if we’re engaged in these otherwise internecine wars and battles and so forth, because we’re going to lose this Earth. We’re going to lose this planet.
By the way, the planet isn’t going to give a damn. The planet threw the dinosaurs off without any concern whatsoever. The planet will throw the human race off without any concerns whatsoever. We have a responsibility to our grandchildren, their grandchildren, and so forth to do a better job of that, and it’s going to come to haunt us in a year or two, if not sooner in some respects.
PAUL JAY: It seems to me that 2020 elections are rather critical.
LARRY WILKERSON: They are.
PAUL JAY: I don’t think you get a rational foreign policy … By rational, I mean rational in the interest of the majority of people, not rational in the interest of the people who make money out of-
LARRY WILKERSON: Did you-
PAUL JAY: Just one sec. Who make money out of this. Whether it’s a question of war and peace, or whether it’s a question of the climate change, if we don’t undermine, break up, take out the political and economic power of arms and fossil fuel, you can’t get to those kind of policies.
LARRY WILKERSON: No, I agree with you. I’m just as frightened of the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the potential use of nuclear weapons that leads to an escalation of that use as I am of climate change, and on a shorter-term basis.
PAUL JAY: All right. Thanks for doing this, Larry. Let’s do it again in a few weeks, and we’ll focus a little bit more again on what a foreign policy that’s actually in the interests of the majority of people looks like. Thanks very much, Larry.
LARRY WILKERSON: Okay. Take care.
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