PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay, and we are live on Facebook and YouTube and TheRealNews.com and now joining us 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: 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.”