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Lawrence Wilkerson joins TRNN’s live inauguration coverage to discuss Trump’s call for the world to unify against ‘radical Islamic extremism’

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SHARMINI PERIES: We have Larry Wilkerson on line, that we’re going to bring on to discuss both Mike Pence’s Vice Presidency, as well as Donald Trump’s speech. So, joining us now is Larry Wilkerson. Larry Wilkerson is a former Chief of Staff for the Secretary of State, Colin Powell. And welcome, Larry, are you there? LARRY WILKERSON: Yes, I’m there. I’m here. SHARMINI PERIES: Welcome, Larry. LARRY WILKERSON: It’s good to be here. SHARMINI PERIES: Well, let’s begin by getting your first reaction to the Inauguration, and which you have been watching, I’m sure. LARRY WILKERSON: Well, I love the part where the female pastor gave a prayer in the name of Jesus Christ. I guess that meant that Trump’s message to, “all Americans,” was a lie. Because, I dare say, there are many Americans out there who don’t worship Jesus Christ. So, that was a real raw moment, if you will. One planned, no doubt, by the people behind Trump. But the speech itself was mercifully short, and I won’t say mercifully, but I will say substantially, lacking in anything that really meant anything. A bunch of shibboleth, all kludged together, none of them resonating like some of the rhetoric, for example, that we’ve heard from Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, John Kennedy — a host of other Presidents, even Ronald Reagan. But covering all the points, and with absolutely no suggestion whatsoever of how he’s going to achieve what he said he’s going to achieve, which everyone in the country knows is impossible. I mean, he essentially has said he was going to do it for everyone, whether it was jobs, or good schools, or safe streets, or drug-free country. He said he was going to do it for everyone. We all know that’s impossible. So, one can dismiss the speech as nothing more than rhetoric. SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Larry, one of the key things that he focused on towards the end of his speech, was about the notion of America first, that America will be first. I was always under the impression that America has been first. What does he specifically mean by any transition that might change things? LARRY WILKERSON: I think what he means by that, he’s speaking to the — and let’s just be clear about this — less than one in four eligible voters in America elected Donald Trump. It’s even a misnomer, I’d say, to say elected, because that’s not a democracy when you have less than one in four elect your principal leader, when you only have two people running in the election in the first place. So, he’s not representing every American. He’s representing a certain group of Americans who happen, through the idiosyncrasies of a slavery-invested Electoral College, made his way into the White House. So, that’s something we should be clear about right away. Second, the thing in his speech that really frightened me the most, and that ties into the question you asked, was when he talked about protect America. I know what that means economically. And I know what America First means economically. It means protectionism. And I’ve heard enough of what Trump has said in the past about that particular matter. That it worries me greatly, because the last thing a power like the United States, that still has 20, 21, 22% of the world’s GDP, needs to do to help itself, and ultimately to help the world — which after all has been our philosophy, basically since 1945 — is protectionism. Tariffs, and things like that, that come along with it, abrogating trade deals, simply because those trade deals share the wealth with other countries, as well as with America, is not the way we should be going. I’ll be the first to say that things like TPP, NAFTA and others, had great flaws in them, but those flaws could be worked out, and make the deals even better, not abrogation of the deals. We’re looking at the potential for becoming a protectionist nation, economically speaking, and that’s not going to be just partial disaster for the globe. It’s going to be partial, if not major disaster, for the United States. We’ve seen it in the past. We saw it produce the Great Depression. That, probably, of his remarks, was the most frightening to me. SHARMINI PERIES: And what did you make of the other very important thing that everyone’s been waiting for, in terms of the jobs. He said jobs — that was going to be his focus — and that that was something that was lacking, which is true. And that people, you know, made in America — actually this is the slogan that Modi, in India, also uses. Not only made in India, but buy in India, made in India. So, this kind of emphasis we saw in Trump’s speech, as well. Can you elaborate on that? LARRY WILKERSON: If we want to revise the entire world economy, and to shift away from what has been the philosophy of the past, imperfect as it is, that’s one thing. But that’s a major enterprise, and needs the cooperation of at least the G20, and I would say probably 40 or 50 countries in the world. Operating in rough synchronicity and coordination and cooperation. I don’t think we’re going to get that. So, if we’re going to do more of the same, with a little better for America. A little better for others, it’s hard to get away from what a new analysis has demonstrated about the Obama administration. And I was rather shocked when I read this analysis. But it’s very reputable, and it essentially says that during the eight years of the Obama administration, in terms of pace and numbers, there was a historic creation of new jobs. Now, while a lot of Americans might not have been touched by that historic creation, it nonetheless is an objective fact. So, if we’re going to back away from the kinds of things that he was doing, and not amplify those things. Not make those things even better. We better think about it hard and long, because we’re talking about revamping and revising the way we’ve been operating in the world since 1945. Not just economically and financially, but also security-wise, foreign policy-wise, and so forth. If you’re going to do that, I think more cooperation and coordination with the world is probably a positive thing, rather than less. So, don’t believe you can make that kind of a major overhaul of the global economy, and your national economy, without having cooperation. So, that’s why the aspect of America first, America first, protectionism and so forth, frightens me. If we all do this individually, if India does it, if Brazil does it, if Russia does it, if China does it, and the United States does it, we’re going to wind up in a real mess, because we’re going to discover what we discovered in the ’30’s. And that is, that this sort of approach to economics and finance simply does not work. SHARMINI PERIES: Right. And Larry, speaking of foreign policy, and coordination and collaboration that’s required to have a peaceful geo-political situation, I’m going to throw to Paul Jay here, he’s got something to say in terms of the foreign policy, and maybe you can respond to that. PAUL JAY: I think, maybe the scariest part of this whole speech, because I think everything else we’ve heard before, and perhaps even what I’m about to say, we’ve heard before. But is this call to unite the world against radical Islam, radical Islamic terrorism. And now we’ve heard that before, but its link to the next sentence or two, which comes afterwards, which is, why would the United States be successful? Because, he says, the United States will be protected by God. It’s an American jihad against what he would… an Islamic jihad. And it goes with what Larry said earlier about invoking the role of Jesus, and all of this, this is a Christian war. Unite the world, against radical Islamic terrorism, but it’s not just about ISIS, though. It’s very important that these people consider a part of radical Islamic terrorism by these people. I mean, Trump and his team. People like Sheldon Adelson, who financed him, and certainly Netanyahu and the Israeli Likud, and the Israeli right, they consider Iran part of Islamic radical terrorism. So, when they’re talking about uniting the world against this, they’re not just talking about ISIS. They’re including Iran, and that’s the most dangerous piece of the Trump-Pence Presidency. LARRY WILKERSON: I think you’re onto something there, security-wise, foreign policy-wise. And my wife and I were looking over the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, not a… every face was white, every face. And we were thinking, “That’s it! That’s this Presidency.” When Trump tries to dispel that by saying he’s for all Americans, that he’s for brown, white, yellow, whatever color, that we need to be unified and so forth, we see that as just rhetoric. What he’s really for, is that group that voted for him, and that’s the group that includes those people that you just described. Those people who are all for the settlements in the West Bank. All for a greater Israel, all for Israel spreading itself out across the region and becoming more and more powerful, and doing it at the expense of its own democracy. At the expense of all citizens, other than the Jewish citizens, and increasingly, at the expense of Jewish citizens who disagree with this kind of grandiose war-like policy. And we’re talking about nothing but problems for the United States as this happens, because on the one hand, you’re talking about something that’s impossible. But something that has to be at least brought to a manageable level, and that’s dealing with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaeda in Yemen, al-Qaeda in Iraq, everywhere else. ISIS and ISIS-like organizations, you’re never going to destroy them, as Trump said he would. That’s preposterous. But bringing them to a manageable level, that’s going to be exacerbated and made almost impossible, if not impossible by this support for Israel and this greater Israel, and all that goes along with it. This is really a recipe for disaster. PAUL JAY: Yeah, I’d just add to that, one of the fundamental principles of U.S. foreign policy in its alliance with Israel, is the need to maintain the military superiority of Israel in the region. And the, one of the, if not the real threats to Israeli military superiority, is not ISIS; it’s Hezbollah in Lebanon. And anyone that knows the situation there, knows Hezbollah. There’s many things wrong with Hezbollah, not the least of which is they actually buy into a lot of this kind of neoliberal economics. But they were the defenders of Lebanon, and they stood up to the Israeli military. And Hezbollah is very dependent on Iran and Syria for weapons and for financing, even though they have a great deal of popular support in Lebanon. The real challenge to Israel has not been a nuclear-armed Iran. I think that thing gets greatly overblown. There’s no evidence that Iran’s actually ever wanted, or certainly since 2003 had a program, and it’s not really clear whether they really had one prior to 2003 anyway. That’s one of the reasons I think they were able to make this deal, and many people are surprised how much Iran gave up in this deal. But if you don’t actually have a weapons plan, then it’s not hard to give a lot of stuff up. The real threat of Iran is that it’s such a big country. There are so many people. It’s a real major power, and of course, the war in Iraq took out the main thing that was blocking Iranian power in the region, and that was Saddam Hussein in Iraq. So, that crazy strategic blunder, it’s not really a blunder, it’s part of a crazy vision. It actually made Iran stronger in the region, and this is what Israel doesn’t like. LARRY WILKERSON: Well, I think you’re right. But I also think there’s a tactical component to it, if you will, that bleeds into this strategic picture that you just painted. And you named it — it’s Hezbollah. Let’s look at Hezbollah for a moment. It’s the only non-state actor; so far as I know, and have researched, that has used lethal drones in combat. Nineteen countries now have lethal drones. Eighty-six countries have drones, unmanned aerial vehicles, like Predator and Reaper. Eight of them have used those drones lethally — countries like the United States, United Kingdom, Nigeria, and so forth. Hezbollah is the only non-state actor. Now, that gives you some indication of how good Hezbollah is. I remember getting a briefing at Fort Bragg, in late 2002. The Army Colonel who gave the briefing told me afterwards, we were briefing on al-Qaeda, he told me afterwards, Hezbollah made al-Qaeda look like pikers, and that we didn’t want to ever take them on if we didn’t have to. And he didn’t see that we would, because they had no interest in attacking the United States. Their sole interest was the Palestinians and Israel. And you might remember that Hezbollah handed Israel, and its vaunted IDF, their rear ends a few years ago. So, Israel is after Hezbollah through Iran. That’s the real problem. PAUL JAY: Yeah, I think that’s the real issue. LARRY WILKERSON: Yeah, if you check out our Congress, the few of them who have brains and think about these things, you’ll understand that’s why they are opposed to Iran also. It’s their support for Hezbollah. They see that link through Syria, the logistic link, and ultimately Iran, as the answers to getting rid of Hezbollah. In other words, you’ve got to get rid of Syria, and you’ve got to get rid of Iran. PAUL JAY: And I think it’s very important to add, that when Hezbollah, as Larry said, handed the Israeli IDF their rear ends, it was because the Israeli Army had invaded Lebanon. There is absolutely impossible, in any stretch of the imagination, that Hezbollah is some kind of existential threat to Israel. Hezbollah is able to defend itself in Lebanon. It is able to give — even now they’re supporting Assad in Syria, and you know, that’s quite debatable why that might be, if it’s any good or not but. SHARMINI PERIES: And even in the recent peace… truce that had been called, the Israelis did try to attack Hezbollah targets in Syria to weaken them. They look for every effort to weaken Hezbollah. PAUL JAY: I’m just trying to make the point that Hezbollah is not a threat to the existence of Israel, but Israel just doesn’t like the fact there’s a military of such prowess on its border. SHARMINI PERIES: Yes. LARRY WILKERSON: Yeah, and there is a prospect for Hezbollah defeating Israel, if you will. It’s the same prospect of al-Qaeda defeating the United States. What you do — and it’s interesting to read what some of the more intellectual leaders, like Sulahry(?), have written about this with regard to the United States. The only way you bring an empire down, the only way in Hezbollah’s case you bring Israel down is you make them do it to themselves. And that’s a pretty good strategy, if you have the long view. If you have the view that, I will make this entity, which I cannot beat, conventionally. I cannot go after them, because they are so strong militarily. Not only that, they have the United States behind them. But I can work on them over time, at length, and bring them down through their own inability to deal with what I’m doing to them. And that’s a very long-term strategy. That’s a Sun Tzu-like strategy. And it has worked before in history. It has brought down empires before in history, the barbarians at the gate, if you will. I think that’s more in line with what Hezbollah, and even al-Qaeda, and maybe even Lashkar-e-Taiba, in Pakistan, that’s more how they feel about it. They’re never going to defeat these powers militarily, but they might make them so rotten at their cores, in their attempts to deal with them, that they defeat themselves. That’s not an outlandish concept, if you have the long view. PAUL JAY: I’ll add something to that, if you unite the world against radical Islamic terrorism, and knowing they include Iran in that. There’s another set of motivations here, because these are pretty complex processes. And geo-politics work for a lot of motivations, a lot of interests that converge. It’s, you know, I don’t think it’s ever just one thing. But one big thing, and this certainly speaks to Secretary of State Tillerson and ExxonMobil — the price of oil. If you own a lot of oil, and the Koch brothers own a lot of oil, and so does Tillerson’s former company — I don’t think you’re all that happy with the price of oil right now. And a confrontation with Iran would be the fastest way to raise the price of oil. Now, of course, Russia would like that too. And it’s a complicated situation for Russia, because while Russia has a sort of, I don’t know if you can call it an alliance, but a working accommodation with Iran; although, the Chinese, I think, have more investment in Iran than the Russians do. I don’t think the Russians have such a big deal, that they would defend Iran against, for example, at the very least, reasserting sanctions, which takes Iranian oil off the markets. Does it get as far as even bombing a few places, even if it’s just to create high tension? Which also is a nice way to raise the price of oil? LARRY WILKERSON: I think it’s a little more complex than that though, Paul. I’ve had, over the last three or four weeks, I’ve had some very detailed discussions, even profound discussions, with leaders of private, and with some of the, at least two, really three, leaders of national, what you might call oil conglomerates, and also experts around the periphery thereof. And what we’re looking at right now, is we’re looking at an effort orchestrated by various people, Putin being one of them, but a wild card in the deck. Probably the most stable card in the deck is the Saudis, and perhaps others too. And the Iranians are watching this carefully, and even in an observer status, occasionally participating. And that is an effort not only as the Saudis have been trying to do, ’cause their get-out-of-the-ground costs are cheaper than anyone else’s in the world. And they had made a decision that they were going to get everything that they could out of the ground, and sell it, because they see the moment coming. They see the moment when you won’t be able to sell oil for a penny. And so they wanted… In some cases it only costs them $2.00 a barrel to get it out of the ground. Everybody else’s cost is in the $20’s or the $30’s. So, Russia’s got some low costs in some areas, $12, $13 and so forth. But the Saudis have the cheapest, and so they were going hell bent for leather. Didn’t care, were just pulling it all out of the ground because they didn’t want a drop to be left in the ground that they couldn’t sell. Now, they’ve changed their mind a bit, and they’ve gotten into this consortium, if you will, that’s trying to figure out what to do with regard to the future. This consortium recognizes that the point is coming too, where the oil will be worthless. But they also understand that if oil gets too high, then it incentivizes all manner of alternatives to oil. And so, that would bring about that point where the oil is worthless, that much quicker. So, they understand that there’s a range in there, and there’s a debate right now over that range. Is it 78 to 88? Is it West Texas Intermediate at 82, and Brent Crude at 85 — the benchmarks? What is it? Once they’ve decided on that, and I think the range, having talked to experts, is going to shift of course, as costs rise in the world, but, and as supply and demand dictates some moves. But it’s probably somewhere between say, $80 and $100, for West Texas Intermediate, and maybe a couple of more dollars or so, for Brent Crude. If they can achieve that kind of equilibrium, even for a ten-year period, or a 15-year period, then they get the money they need to do their development plans, and keep their own power. And they don’t incentivize in a major way, all these other possibilities that would accelerate the point where oil is no longer worth a penny. This is going to be a really delicate dance by a lot of people in the world, and we’re going to be watching it. And the United States is playing in it too, because at 50, or 55, or 56, we re-energize fracking. And we re-energize shale haul extraction and so forth. And that’s a component that might be a little bit dicey, and a little bit volatile, because no-one in the world, including us, I think, really knows just how much of that there is, or could be. If we really put a full bore into looking for it. So, this is going to be interesting to watch this, but it’s not quite as simple as we might think. It’s much more complex, and it’s not just looking for all the money they can get, it’s looking for that equilibrium price, which won’t incentivize too rapidly alternatives, but will let them fulfil their own economic development plans. PAUL JAY: Right. I think there’s another ingredient here, which, when you mentioned the Saudis, and of course they need to find this balance on the price of oil, but the Saudis, are very committed at least, they certainly always have been, that they want the Iranian regime gone with. LARRY WILKERSON: Yes. PAUL JAY: They’ve been perhaps more militant about regime change in Iran, than even the Israelis, which I think is sometimes a good card for domestic Israeli public opinion. Whereas, I think the Saudis are far more serious about really wanting to spur the Americans to attack, or at least weaken Iran. LARRY WILKERSON: It explains, right now, at a tactical level, the Tel Aviv-Riyadh alliance, and at a higher level, what you’re suggesting, I think, with the Saudis, is Sunni-Shia. Whereas, with the Israelis it’s simply Riyadh or… PAUL JAY: Well, I wasn’t suggesting Sunni-Shia. I think it’s, again, I’m no expert in the region. But having talked to a lot of experts, I think the Saudis have never gotten over the fact that a monarchy gets overthrown, and what precedent that establishes. LARRY WILKERSON: Well, that’s correct. PAUL JAY: And the Sunni-Shia thing is kind of a used thing, to try to– LARRY WILKERSON: But had it been a Sunni revolution, and a Sunni religious theocracy, whatever you want to call it. I think the Saudis would have been a little more comfortable with it. And I call your attention to the fact that they’re taking refugees. Most people don’t know this. They’re taking hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria, and treating them really well. But they’re making sure they’re all — all Sunnis. PAUL JAY: Well, add the Christian fanaticism to this mix, and it’s rather dangerous. LARRY WILKERSON: Yeah. Yeah. ————————- END

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