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Trump promises “democracy and freedom” to Venezuela, delivered by Elliott Abrams who brought you illegal wars, coups, and support for dictatorships; and Mike Pompeo and VP Pence, both with deep ties to the Koch brothers who need Venezuelan heavy crude to feed their Texas refinery – Col. Larry Wilkerson joins TRNN’s Paul Jay

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

The fight for democracy continues in Venezuela, of course led by the White House, the champions of democracy; Donald Trump, surrounded by other fighters in the democratic struggle like Elliott Abrams, and friends of his. Well, just what is the record of Elliott Abrams and some of the other neoconservatives that Trump has brought in to run his Venezuelan policy? Well, first of all, here’s a little bit of Abrams at the special meeting of the United Nations a few weeks ago when he talked about the aims and objectives of the United States, and their policy to recognize the self-proclaimed president of Venezuela, Guaido. Here’s the clip.

ELLIOTT ABRAMS: This is not about foreign intervention in Venezuela. It is not an attempt to impose a result on the Venezuelan people. Democracy never needs to be imposed. It is tyranny that has to be imposed. This discussion in the council is about the right of the Venezuelan people to direct their own internal affairs and choose the future of their own country democratically.

PAUL JAY: So that was Elliott Abrams. Of course, U.S. policy is always driven by the fight for freedom and democracy. Well, now joining us to discuss the history of Elliott Abrams and some of his collaborators in this fight is Larry Wilkerson. He’s a retired United States Army colonel, former chief of staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell. He’s now a distinguished adjunct professor at the College of William and Mary, where he teaches courses on U.S. national security. Thanks very much for joining us, Larry.

LARRY WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Paul.

PAUL JAY: So first of all, what do you make of these, you know, the talk of democracy, democracy, democracy is what’s driving U.S. foreign policy in Venezuela. And then we’ll get into some of the history of Abrams.

LARRY WILKERSON: You know that I know quite well the history of U.S. relations with Latin America, and in particular with South America. And you know that I was in the administration in 2002 in Washington that essentially started a slow-burning coup d’etat versus Hugo Chavez at the time. And I have no doubt that that covert operation has continued with ups and downs with Nicolas Maduro. And now Elliott Abrams and others seem to be about [saving] to us all that it’s coming to fruition. You also know that I know that no move in our hemisphere that I can recall in our history has ever been about democracy and freedom, though we use those words quite loosely to describe our motivation, because it makes the somnambulent American people feel good. It’s usually about commercialism, whether it’s Guatemala and the United Fruit Company, and bananas, and land, or whether it’s some other country, like today Venezuela, where it’s oil and the 5 percent that we have relations with.

And Paul, you have to understand that U.S. commercial relations with South America–Central America too, to an extent, but mostly South America–have always been that we try to maintain the wealthiest 5 percent, usually the corporate leadership in that country, in power, because they’re aligned with our corporate leadership in profitmaking. Well, what that does, of course, is put the other 90 or so odd percent of the population, particularly those people in the barrios, the ghettos, those people impoverished and poor with no political power no means to get ahead, no hope for the future. What Hugo Chavez did and Nicolas Maduro, in my estimation, sort of colluded and corrupted, but nonetheless, what Chavez did was start to reverse that. As others in Latin America have tried in the past, he tried to give a little political power, a little money, a little prosperity to the lower classes. And that’s not acceptable. You just don’t do that when the Koch brothers, ExxonMobil, Coca-Cola, and a host of other American commercial interests don’t want to do that.

PAUL JAY: Yeah, the commercial interest in Venezuela is very connected to the Koch brothers. Number one, the Koch brothers owned part of 25 percent of a fertilizer company that Chavez nationalized, and the Koch brothers were not very happy about. It’s interesting that one of the partners in that fertilizer company was a guy named Mendoza, who’s on the Forbes list of billionaires. Supposed socialist dictatorship; how is there still a billionaire on the Forbes list who still, not only is he a billionaire, but he controls much of the food supply of Venezuela. The other interest of the Koch brothers in Venezuela is the Koch brothers have a massive oil refinery in Texas that uses heavy crude, as opposed to light crude. And the biggest reserve of heavy crude in the world is Venezuela. So this is all about commercial interest. But talk a little bit about the history of Abrams, and his role in U.S. foreign policy, and his interest in democracy, which is always the words that Abrams uses.

LARRY WILKERSON: The neoconservatives, of which Elliott is a member in good standing, are all sort of that way. They learned a long time ago with Scoop Jackson, Richard Perle, and people like that, who were converted Democrats, if you will. They used to say they were Democrats who’d been mugged by reality, and so they’d become Republicans, neoconservatives more than Republicans. But they found safe haven in the Republican Party. They have always used this myth about democracy, and freedom, and liberty, and human rights, and so forth, when they have to in order to exercise raw American power. Often commercial power, often benefiting them as individuals, or at least their corporations or corporate interests. Stock holdings, and so forth.

So these are people we know quite well, and Elliott is one of them who came to real attention amongst the American public when Ronald Reagan made the largest mistake of his two administrations and tried to sell arms through the Israelis to the Iranians, who were involved in the Iran-Iraq war, at the same time he was selling chemical precursors to the Iraqis, taking both sides, of course. Understandable at the time, perhaps, but nonetheless sort of heinous. And convert the money, the profits he made, after the Israelis stole some of them, into a fund that he could then spend on the Contras fighting the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and Honduras. Elliott was, as I recall, the head of the Restricted Interagency Group that did not just that, but also did El Salvador, that wonderful policy of bringing freedom and democracy to El Salvador, which killed thousands of people.

And Elliott was actually called out during Iran-Contra, and I think was convicted on two counts, misdemeanor counts. Later pardoned by George H.W. Bush, I believe. But in that sense is a person who’s run into the criminal system in the United States. And like so many of these types, Douglas Feith and others, they just keep bouncing back. As soon as a Republican of a really alt-right orientation returns to government, they pop back to government, as he did for George W. Bush, and now he’s done for Donald Trump.

PAUL JAY: And brought back to help run the Venezuela policy, to make use of his experience where Abrams played a direct role in the 2002 coup against Chavez. But Pompeo, who brings back Abrams, is essentially a guy who worked with the Koch brothers. Koch brothers invested in an arms manufacturing company that Pompeo started after he got out of Harvard Law School. And then in 2016, when Pompeo sells that, he goes and starts an oil parts manufacturing company of some kind. Major investor the Koch brothers. And then he is floated as a Tea Party guy to run for Congress, funded by the Koch brothers. So now you’ve got a foreign policy with the Secretary of State being a Koch brothers guy, bringing this neocon fighter for democracy, a neocon operative, that runs coups and malicious foreign policy all over the world, target it on Venezuela.

LARRY WILKERSON: Yes. I mean, you couldn’t make this up. If you were making a Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, or some other type of mystery fiction thriller, police law enforcement type movie, you couldn’t make this up. You couldn’t write this script. It’s just so bizarre and so unbelievable that people like John Bolton and Elliott Abrams and Richard Perle and a host of others would keep coming back after making so many mistakes, after starting so many wars, after not winning a thing in those wars. They keep being brought back. They keep being resurrected. You would think that the well into which people reach for national security elites, for experience, for expertise, would be deeper than this. But it isn’t, apparently. We keep bringing these has-beens back into government.

PAUL JAY: Well, they’re experienced has-beens. I guess over the years you learn how to do dirty deeds. We should also throw the name Mike Pence into this mix, because he’s been front and center, one of the faces of the Venezuelan policy. And who does Mike Pence track back to? The Koch brothers. Another guy who is involved with Koch Brothers money, both electorally and in terms of businesses.

All that being said, there’s another interesting twist to all this, because in the Democratic Party there’s another split, or a continuing split. Why are we hearing from Nancy Pelosi and others who are jumping on this bandwagon to essentially support American intervention in Venezuela? And they are essentially directly associating themselves with the Pompeos and the Abrams and such, without any critique of them, supporting that policy. Now, there are a section of Democrats who are not.

And there’s an important resolution which is getting virtually no coverage in the media to speak of. HR 1004 is a resolution that has been signed on now–last time we looked, at any rate, there were 33 members of the House that cosponsored this resolution, which was Mr. David Cicilline, if I’m pronouncing it correctly, from Rhode Island put forward. And it’s a resolution which says “To prohibit the introduction of United States armed forces into hostilities with respect to Venezuela and for other purposes.” It’s, I would have thought, an important resolution. As I say, no one’s heard of this. I don’t know of any corporate media coverage of this resolution. Maybe there is, but I’ve missed it. But what do you make of this? You do have a section now in the Democratic Party that are standing up, at the very least, for non-intervention, and for international law, and to assert the constitutional right of Congress to say when there’s a war and when there isn’t. But the majority of the leadership of the Democratic Party are gung ho supporting this White House policy.

LARRY WILKERSON: Paul, one of the things I’ve discovered, and suspected for a long time, but I’ve discovered it in great detail over the last year or so as I lobbied for getting the United States out of that brutal war in Yemen, is that, one, you have these progressives, like you just enumerated. And they will continue to harp on the Constitution of the United States with regard to the war power on the latest manifestation of that, the War Powers Resolution from ’72-’73, and the United States not using military force without constitutional approval; that is, the Congress approving it. But what you have outside those progressives in the Democratic Party–we’ve only talked about the Republican Party. They have very few. They do have a few, but very few who are opposed to the misuse of the war power.

PAUL JAY: I think there was one Republican that signed on to this bill 1004, but I don’t have his name.

LARRY WILKERSON: Tom Massie from Kentucky was with us on the Yemen bill, and several others, after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. But what you have in the Democratic Party is what is no different from the Republican Party. Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, Eliot Engel, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. They’re all in the same boat. In fact, Eliot Engel is a neoconservative. They are very much for the military industrial complex, because people like Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon, and Boeing, and Grumman pay them in their acts, giving them enormous contributions. And so whether it’s Hillary Clinton or Nancy Pelosi, they are as big of warmongers, sometimes even more so, than some of these neoconservatives in the Republican Party.

So in terms of the leadership of the Democratic party, the rank and file being somewhat different, particularly amongst the Progressive Caucus and so forth, and the Black Caucus. But the leadership of the Democratic Party, and people like Menendez, and people like Schumer, they are as warmongering as any Republican–in fact, in some cases, for example, Schumer if Israel is involved, even more so.

PAUL JAY: Well, let me add something to the Schumer story, because it’s not just Israel–which I’m certainly not arguing with you about. But if you look at the five largest shareholders of Lockheed Martin, all Wall Street financial institutions. All big funds, investment funds. And Schumer is Mr. Wall Street. So this convergence of the interest of finance and of the military industrial complex, there’s no wall between them, and Schumer has a foot in both.

LARRY WILKERSON: And you mentioned the Koch brothers, Charles and David, and their nefarious attempt to essentially take over the government of the United States through various surreptitious means, mostly aimed at state legislatures and states in general. If you want to read about that, relationship MacLean’s book Democracy in Chains, which was handed to me by a very rich financial consultant in New York City who said “Read this, Larry, and you’ll know what’s happening to our country.” This is a guy who knows what he’s talking about, because the book is full of detail about the Koch brothers are doing things. You mention Pompeo. You mention others connected with Koch. You would not believe how many people are connected with Koch, directly or indirectly; how many allies, both witting and unwitting, that Charles and David have throughout the country who are working against the principal interests of the majority of Americans. Indeed, working against democracy.

And it’s not just commercial. For example, they have 28 states, now–and you tell me what American media is keeping up with this–28 states in which they have passed the right to hold a constitutional convention. They only need, I think, it’s two thirds of the state. So they’re well on their way. When they get there they want to hold a constitutional convention, and they want to transform the nature of the American government. And in transforming it, they want to put the Constitution put together by our founders in the garbage can.

And this is not even reported in our media. These are two powerful billionaires who are shaping underneath the fabric, as it were, the entire future of this country. Not just Venezuela. Not just these other things that we talk about. But the entire fabric of our republic they are reshaping with their money.

PAUL JAY: And it’s important when you talk Koch brothers, you also talk about the Koch brothers’ network of funders, which is a whole gang of billionaires, including Robert Mercer, who sometimes has certain differences with the Koch brothers but is fundamentally in the same orbit. And Mercer’s the guy that makes Trump president. And one shouldn’t underestimate both the extent to which the leadership of the Democratic Party both has their own ties to that Koch brothers network and is terrified of that Koch brothers network, which also informs their Venezuela policy.

LARRY WILKERSON: You have a colossal battle going on right now between two titanic state building efforts. And what I mean by that is the one started in 1947 coming to fruition through the Cold War, and now called by scholars the national security state. The raison d’être of that national security state is through war, and constant war, to keep the military industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about rich and bountiful. On the other hand, you have the Koch-inspired and now well-fueled predatory capital state, which is aiming at making capitalism monopolistic, and so forth, and making billionaires the plutocrats that rule this country. Those two states right now having continuous elements. That is to say, in the military industrial complex, a company like Lockheed Martin will be in the predatory capitalist state, and vice versa.

They are having a titanic struggle, though, both intellectually and realistically on the ground, as to who runs this country in the future. And neither state has the remotest concern for the average American, for the middle class, or about freedom, democracy, and liberty. They only have concern for their state building effort; the one leading to more wealth for fewer people, and the other leading to more war and wealth to their people.

PAUL JAY: Thanks for joining us, Larry.

LARRY WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Paul.

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

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Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government and Public Policy

Lawrence Wilkerson's last positions in government were as Secretary of State Colin Powell's Chief of Staff (2002-05), Associate Director of the State Department's Policy Planning staff under the directorship of Ambassador Richard N. Haass, and member of that staff responsible for East Asia and the Pacific, political-military and legislative affairs (2001-02). Before serving at the State Department, Wilkerson served 31 years in the U.S. Army. During that time, he was a member of the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College (1987 to 1989), Special Assistant to General Powell when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989-93), and Director and Deputy Director of the U.S. Marine Corps War College at Quantico, Virginia (1993-97). Wilkerson retired from active service in 1997 as a colonel, and began work as an advisor to General Powell. He has also taught national security affairs in the Honors Program at the George Washington University. He is currently working on a book about the first George W. Bush administration.