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Col. Lawrence Wilkerson and Paul Jay discuss the US Senate resolution condemning Mohamed Bin Salman for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi; there is concern amongst the neocons of both major parties that MBS is undermining the strategy to weaken Iran

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PAUL JAY: Hi, everybody. I’m Paul Jay at The Real News.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia issued a strong condemnation of a bipartisan Senate resolution which passed last Thursday that named Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as being directly responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Saudi Arabia’s official response was that the accusation consisted of “unsubstantiated claims and allegations,” and contained blatant interference in the kingdom’s internal affairs, undermining the kingdom’s regional and international role. The statement went on to reject any interference in its internal affairs, and the accusations that disrespect its leadership.

Now joining us from Williamsburg, Virginia is Larry Wilkerson. Larry is the former chief of staff of Secretary of State Colin Powell; currently an adjunct professor of government at the College of William and Mary. Thanks for joining us, Larry.

LARRY WILKERSON: Good to be with you, Paul.

PAUL JAY: So as, you know, people that watch The Real News know I’ve been pretty scathingly critical of Saudi Arabia, but I think I’m with the Saudis on this one. You know, if the United States has been OK with mass murder and atrocities, perhaps genocide in Yemen, been OK with the Saudis executing internal dissenters and suppressing the Shia, and nurturing terrorists all over the world, and so on and so on, what the heck is the United States so concerned about this one guy for? So maybe this is just messing in their internal affairs in an inappropriate way. What do you think?

LARRY WILKERSON: I don’t really have a position one way or the other, except as a member of the human race. I guess I should say I’m appalled at the way Jamal Khashoggi was taken out, with regard to that single homicide. I certainly have a position with regard to the tens of thousands that are taking place, homicides, killings, murders, whatever you want to call them, in Yemen. And the deaths that accompany those deaths from bombs, and so forth; from cholera, from starvation, and so forth.

So I’m very much in favor of anything that alerts this purblind sleeping Congress to the fact that since Harry Truman made his response to the Korean War they have abdicated their war power responsibility. So anything that wakes this Congress up, I’m for.

PAUL JAY: Yeah, I was being obviously a little bit sarcastic.

LARRY WILKERSON: Oh, I understand.

PAUL JAY: But that being said, Lindsey Graham and some of the real neocon war hawks are in on this condemnation of MBS when they’ve been quite OK with a litany of crimes by the Saudis over the decades; not the least of which, a direct accusation of the Saudi leadership involved in 9/11 by the Joint Congressional Committee of Congress. So now all of a sudden they’re upset about MBS involved in this murder. And I think Lindsey Graham, when he spoke about this a couple of weeks ago, he made the point that that MBS was already out of control before the killing of Khashoggi; that he was already a rogue kind of operation in a sense, which to me means he ain’t doing what he’s being told by the Americans. So what do you make of this, the Lindsey Graham types? What’s motivating them to get so outraged at this when they have been quite OK with so many other outrages?

LARRY WILKERSON: Well, I would never be as outspoken as to say that I can determine whatever motivated my South Carolinian colleague Lindsey Graham. He’s kind of like Donald Trump to me; I never know what’s going to come out of his mouth. But I would say that the relationship we’ve had with Saudi Arabia over the years has been fraught with problems like this, perhaps not quite as intense as they are right now, and is part and parcel with sidling up to and being even conversant with, let alone being so close to, an authoritarian, despicable regime like that regime in Riyadh. It’s the price you pay for being so close to such regimes, whether they’re oil-bearing or otherwise. We’ve been associated with regimes in Honduras, in El Salvador, in Nicaragua, in a lot of places in the world that are as bad or worse than the Saudis, without maybe the overall power that the black gold the Saudis own gives them.

This is part and parcel of doing business with these people. So you hold your nose, and you close your eyes, shut your ears sometimes, and you continue to march. That said, this is a new leader in Saudi Arabia. And the purpose of this new leader, ostensibly, was to ensure that what the old people thought was going to be an entirely contentious and perhaps disruptive and even kingdom-ending squabble over who would be the next king amongst all the young royals, it was supposed to end that. And to do away with it, and establish a young royal in the position, and one that would be there for quite some time, and thus give the kingdom some stability.

It has backfired. It’s backfired big time. And no matter what MBS spouts about women’s rights, and I’m a reformer, and I’m a moderniser, and so forth, he is one of the most awful cretins the kingdom’s ever produced. And on top of all that, if you even subscribe to the realpolitik that we do with regard to these tyrants like Saudi Arabia, he is a disaster strategically. He’s opened up one flank to this brutal war which he’s losing in Yemen, and the other flank with Qatar and the blockade thereof. Turkey, his principal ideological enemy, Turkish troops are in Qatar. I’d love to see Riyadh, MBS, now order the same kind of thing for Qatar that he ordered for Bahrain, you’ll remember, some years ago, because that’s what he was contemplating till Tillerson went over there and talked him out of it, or compelled him out of it. I think that’s one of the things that got Rex Tillerson fired. Kushner and others didn’t like people who talk to the UAE and Riyadh the way Tillerson did.

So this guy is a strategic idiot. He’s got Saudi Arabia boxed in on both flanks. He has made enemies all across the region. He is trying to foment, along again with his mentor in the UAE, a war in Lebanon to unseat Hezbollah from any position of power. This guy’s an idiot. And so it’s very dangerous. He’s very dangerous.

PAUL JAY: It seems to me every so often Donald Trump says something that’s true in spite of himself. And one of the things I think he said was true, he said the Saudi regime, MBS, wouldn’t last two weeks without us. Now, maybe two weeks is a bit of an exaggeration. But the fact is there is a Saudi regime because of the United States. The whole Saudi royal family has been dependent on American military power. And it’s been part of a strategy that began with Roosevelt, and Eisenhower really codified it. Because I think it’s important that when Lindsey Graham–and some of these others in the Democratic Party, too. It’s not just Republicans who, you know, are so outraged at this killing. They’ve been in on this strategic plan that the Saudis are an extension of the way the United States tries to assert a hegemony over the region, to control the outcome of the region. Whether it’s Saudi Arabia with the alliance with Israel. Certainly it used to be with Iran when the Shah was there. And to some extent Turkey, which is in NATO.

The underlying thing here is you can create the idea of some moral high ground about oh, the killing, and this and that. But the Saudis are part of the American strategy in the region.

LARRY WILKERSON: Unfortunately, the latest element in that strategy, and it might make the–I don’t know if MBS was the architect of this, but if he was then it might make me re-evaluate at least somewhat my appraisal of him–the tacit alliance between Saudi Arabia and Israel. This is one of the most dangerous alliances of convenience the region has ever seen, because what it does is it gives Saudi Arabia not only the patina of protection that it’s enjoyed, that you just elaborated, ever since FDR, but it now gives it the additional more modern, and more powerful at the moment, cosmetic of being allied with Israel. Because that is what makes U.S. policy in the region. As Gideon Levy of Ha’aretz said the other day, U.S. Middle East policy is not made in Washington. It’s made in Tel Aviv. He is absolutely right. And now it’s made in Tel Aviv-Riyadh because of this tacit alliance between Netanyahu and Mohammed bin Salman.

This is extremely dangerous for the United States. And I dare say there aren’t five people in the government currently in Washington who understand what I just said.

PAUL JAY: And it seems to me that the real reason Lindsey Graham is so concerned–and I use Lindsey as a symbol for a whole stratum of people, as I say, in both parties–is because the real foreign policy agenda of the Trump administration, of the Lindsey Grahams of this world, and to some extent the Chuck Schumers of this world, is to go after Iran. And when Lindsey Graham says MBS is not a reliable ally–but I think that’s what he’s talking about. He’s screwing up our plan to go after Iran with all this crazy shit.

LARRY WILKERSON: Exactly. And Saudi Arabia, of course, as Bob Gates said so eloquently, wants to fight Iran to the last dead American. I wouldn’t accuse Israel of that. Israel would, for example, put its soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines on our C17s and fly to Iran tomorrow morning and fight them in the streets. So at least Israel’s got that going for it, a little bit of courage.

But Saudi Arabia wants us to do the job for them. We just might do that with this current regime, for the reasons you just briefly mentioned, and also for other reasons that I’m not even sure the President is aware of, but John Bolton is vividly aware of. So this is, as I said, this is an extremely dangerous situation. And the position that the tacit alliance between Riyadh and Tel Aviv has put the United States in is one of extreme danger.

PAUL JAY: How concerned are you that between now and 2020, given how important this attack on Iran is, whether it’s–I’m not talking about invasion attack, but whether it’s bombing infrastructure, something to really weaken Iran and try to bring down the regime.

LARRY WILKERSON: That’s just it; you can’t do it with bombs, Paul. You know, this is a very inexperienced regime even with regard to the military members that are in it, like Joe Mattis. Joe Mattis is a Marine. Joe Mattis might think–I don’t think he does, but he might think–that bombing would be adequate. I don’t think he wants to do anything with regard to force in Iran. But he might think if he has to do something, bombing would be OK because it wouldn’t put any lives in danger other than the ones on the end of the bombs.

PAUL JAY: Where I was headed with this is when you have somebody like Bolton having such influence and all of this and others, how concerned are you that we might see a, quote-unquote, some kind of terrorist attack on American soil blamed on Iranians that’s really, you know, to use the term, some kind of false flag operation?

LARRY WILKERSON: That’s always a fear, especially now that we’ve got so much of this going around the world, and we’ve got so many people saying things every day that are untrue and yet believed by at least a third or more of Americans. And we made lying just a routine in Washington. So yes, it is somewhat to be feared. I don’t think, though, that that would make major military operations kick off unless it were a 9/11-like attack on the United States, and then all bets are off.

I don’t think we would be able to sell that sort of thing with respect to Tehran, though, as easily as we sold it with respect to Baghdad. I just don’t think we would be that big of dupes again. And when I say we, I mean the majority of the American people. I may be wrong, and I may be proven wrong. But I think there will be the kind of hue and cry that I saw stop President Obama from putting troops on the ground, major formations of troops on the ground, in Syria. And I think that hue and cry would be directed at the Congress and the White House. And I think some of the people who’d be crying the loudest would be Trump’s base.

PAUL JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Larry.


PAUL JAY: And 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.