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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization on Monday, upping the economic war against Iran, the rift with Europe and China, and preparing conditions for a “military option” – Col. Larry Wilkerson joins Paul Jay

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PAUL JAY: The Trump administration on Monday upped their economic war against Iran, and perhaps it’s a step towards a military war. That’s next on The Real News.


PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, known as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, a terrorist organization. We’re about to play the clip of that. But keep in mind as you’re hearing him speak the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is part of the Iranian government. So they are essentially–it’s if someone declared the Marines a terrorist organization. You can’t do that without essentially declaring the government terrorists. But that’s exactly what the Trump administration has done. Here’s Mike Pompeo today.

MIKE POMPEO: The United States is continuing to build its maximum pressure campaign against the Iranian regime. I am announcing our intent to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, including its Quds Force, as a foreign terrorist organization in accordance with section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. This designation will take effect one week from today. This is the first time that the United States has designated a part of another government as an FTO. We’re doing it because the Iranian regime’s use of terrorism as a tool of statecraft makes it fundamentally different from any other government. This historic step will deprive the world’s leading state sponsor of terror. The financial means to spread misery and death around the world.

PAUL JAY: Now joining us to analyze what this means for Iran and the world–because in my opinion it’s a rather dangerous upping of the Trump administration’s policies towards Iran–is Larry Wilkerson. Larry is a retired American army colonel. He’s the former chief of staff to the United States Secretary of State Colin Powell, and he’s now a professor at William and Mary College. Thanks for joining us, Larry.

LARRY WILKERSON: Good to be with you, Paul.

PAUL JAY: So, why now? I mean, nothing–what’s changed in Iran’s behavior that all of a sudden now the Revolutionary Guard is designated as terrorist? And what do you make of this issue of how do you designate part of their armed forces terrorist and not the Iranian government? Because the implication of this is no one can do business not just with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, but you can’t do business with anyone that does business with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which one would think means the entire Iranian government.

LARRY WILKERSON: Well, you’ve just touched on a number of aspects of it, Paul. Start with the number one aspect for me, and I think for American security in the world, and that is that we just are sanctioning everything that we don’t like, and the world is getting sick and tired of it. These sanctions have repercussions second tiers and third tiers. Friend, ally, neutral, and enemy is going to detest the United States of America. And that’s not a good development.

The second level I would address these sanctions on is–and by the way, Secretary Pompeo didn’t know his history very well–we might not have called them a foreign terrorist organization, but we did declare a part of a government a criminal organization in World War II, the Waffen SS. The Schutzstaffel. Now, if you want to argue to me that the Waffen SS and the IRGC or Quds Force in Iran are equivalents, I’ll tell you you are a fool. So, Secretary Pompeo, you register as a fool. I knew that beforehand, but I’ll state it again.

The third level it bothers me on is for the U.S. military, the U.S. Foreign Service, CIA, in stations equivalent, or in our embassies around the world, who are not in Washington safe and secure like fat old Mike Pompeo, or some of these other people who are doing this, and are going to have to suffer the repercussions of this. We had the leader of the IRGC, when was it, 2017 or so, he actually said that he was going to consider the armed forces of the United States as being the equivalent of ISIS. That’s probably the way Iran is going to look at it. And while their reach is not nearly as wide and deep and long as ours, still we do come in contact with one another. Case in point, the last two or three ambassadors Iran has sent to Baghdad have been Quds Force officers. There are IRGC officers in similar capacities operating in the region. So we’re going to treat these people as terrorists? What is Mahdi, the prime minister in Iraq, going to say about this?

These are just very stupid moves, and they’re aimed at one thing and one thing only, and that is so contracting the contacts that Iran has with the world, and that we have with Iran, that we wind up bringing the regime down if for no other reason just for the fact that it can’t function in the world. Now, that’s the purpose of them. There is a repercussion of this, though, that we’ve seen before and we’re going to see again in Iran, I suspect. And that is that the people we are actually sanctioning, the organizations were actually sanctioning, get richer, get more powerful, because of the sanctions. Because they will run around and buy up their already multipronged operations in Iran’s economy that are run by the IRGC and the Quds Force. They will run around and buy up things that shrink because of sanctions at fire sale prices, and they’ll be even more powerful when we get to the end of this. Unless, of course, as you insinuated before, we are looking for ultimately going to war for Saudi Arabia and others in the region, like Israel, who want us to go to war with Iran. That seems to me to be what we’re designing.

And knowing John Bolton, the national security adviser, and the attention span of the president, I would say that John Bolton is running this administration.

PAUL JAY: And Bolton has wanted regime change by any means necessary for quite a long time. Now, China has major investments in Iran. Germany has had major investments in Iran. I’m not sure where they’re at now with the current sanctions. But a reporter asked Pompeo at this news conference where Pompeo announced this declaration. Here’s what the reporter asked. Because the question is how is this going to affect Europe now with these upped sanctions? Let’s roll that.

REPORTER: …this affect EU trade, oil waivers, since the IRGC is involved in most parts of the Iranian economy. So the question–including banking and everything else. So how does this affect those relations?

MIKE POMPEO: If you’re the general counsel for a European financial institution today, there is more risk. It is absolutely the case that the IRGC amounts to a significant piece of the Iranian economy through pure kleptocracy. And it is also the case that it is sometimes difficult to know whether the IRGC is involved. That is, the diligence effort is an enormous undertaking. I think this–I think this will require more diligence to be done by every business that is considering doing things that are even now second and third orders removed from what you might think of as a traditional connection to the Iranian economy.

PAUL JAY: And it goes even further than that, because it’s not just you have to do diligence, according to my understanding of the act, that whether the Revolutionary Guard is involved in such and such specific sector of the economy. But one can extend it that anyone who just does any business with anyone that does business with a Revolutionary Guard is implicated.

LARRY WILKERSON: That’s why these sanctions work. And unwinding them, Paul, when a sane and sober administration finally comes into the White House–which it will, one day–unwinding these sanctions is a nightmare. And Department of Defense and others in the security business have been against this for a long time. Department of Defense is against it because you just look at this, we’re sanctioning, we’re calling a terrorist group a military that operates under the orders of its sovereign government. No matter what we may think about that government, that’s how the military operates. So we are declaring this military operating under the direction, guidance, and orders of its government as terrorists. This is preposterous. And it’s extremely dangerous. It sets a horrible precedent in the world. And it’s supposed to be the country that believes in the rule of law that’s setting it. This is a horrible precedent.

PAUL JAY: In 2007, Senators Kyl and Lieberman put forward a resolution in the Senate which called for what’s taking place now, to declare the Revolutionary Guard as terrorists. It passed as a resolution but didn’t get through as a–it never became enforced. President Obama, at that time Senator, was against it; Joe Biden was against it. Interestingly enough, Hillary Clinton was for it. But now there’s a seven day window here, it seems awfully small, where Congress could block this. Should they? And do you think they will?

LARRY WILKERSON: Absolutely they should, and no, I don’t think they will. And “We came, we saw, and he died” lady, Hillary Clinton, was despicable, especially with regard to that crisis in Libya. Look at where we are now. We’re having to come out of Libya because the situation is so dicey, so dangerous, that we can’t even stay around anymore. We created an absolute nightmare in Libya. So anybody that voted for that was just what Lieberman was, a person who had to stand up for Israel under any circumstance whatsoever, even if that circumstance were against the national security of his own country. That’s what it’s all about, Israel.

PAUL JAY: The upping of this pressure, it’s going to cause great contradictions both with China, with Europe, with Russia. They don’t seem to care. There’s floods now in Iran. The current sanctions, apparently, are obstructing aid relief of foreign international aid organizations are saying they can’t bring aid because of these sanctions. The administration seems to think that they can create such an economic crisis in Iran, which is essentially create economic war against Iran; that internal forces will create such destabilization they get the regime change they were hoping for. But how possible do you think this may be accompanied with some kind of bombing, or some kind of military action?

LARRY WILKERSON: I don’t think so. I just wrote two letters today, one to Senator Risch, who is the new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and one to Senator Romney, who is the subcommittee chair on the Middle East. And in those letters essentially said if you want to demonstrate to the Iranian people how corrupt their government is, then you need to let the humanitarian assistance that is waiting at the border, as it were, go through–OFAC is blocking it right now, Office of Foreign Assets Control–go through and get to the Iranian people. The floods are still happening. The problem still exists. It is demonstrating the corruption of the Iranian government. It’s demonstrating how little it is able to do. IRGC, Quds Force, the government itself, the military in Iran. They can’t get the right aid in, they can’t get the assistance in that needs to go there.

So if you want to get the people of Iran energized about the corruption in their government and to do something about it, don’t drop bombs. Don’t sanction people. Deliver humanitarian assistance, as we did in 2003 from the Bush administration. Didn’t even have to convince George Bush to do it. We started shipping things in, we started helping organizations get there during that terrible earthquake in Bam in 2003 when thousands of people were impacted. Now look at what we’re doing. Instead of taking action, humanitarian action to help these innocent people who are caught up in these ravages, these floods, we are blocking that. We’re keeping that humanitarian assistance from getting there. We’re unconscionable. This administration is unconscionable.

PAUL JAY: And let’s put this into a little bit of a historical context. Whatever the Iranian government might have done that is “supporting” some kind of terrorist group, and even that is I don’t think very clear that there was much of anything. Perhaps in Iraq you could say there were some. But what the United States did in Iraq was so much more significant, was a war crime, was an illegal war, the invasion of Iraq. Nothing Iran has done is anywhere on that scale. The use of allying with terrorist groups and the destruction of Syria, the United States allying with Saudi Arabia directly and encouraging all kinds of various terrorist groups there. The use of terrorist groups has been part of U.S. foreign policy for quite a while, not the least of which in Afghanistan, inviting bin Laden to come to Afghanistan and create which leads to the creation of al Qaeda. It goes on and on. Whereas what–why are they so upset at Iran? Because of support for Hezbollah. And Hezbollah essentially, one, it’s part of the Lebanese government. It has seats in the cabinet. And the Hezbollah armed forces has primarily been in a defensive posture in Lebanon. So what is the terrorism?

LARRY WILKERSON: You just stated it all yourself. I don’t know whether I’m interviewing you or … The bottom line, to at least 3 million people in the world, is that the United States in Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, and Syria, has, conservatively speaking, killed 300,000-500,000 people as human beings. No telling how many we’ve sent into an almost endless diaspora where they will never be able to come back to their homes. So if Iran operated on that scale for the next two decades, I doubt very seriously if they could in that sense do what the United States has done to make the rest of the world truly fearful of them, truly marking on a pole, for example, that the number one threat to their and their family’s future is the United States of America.

Ronald Reagan used to say, or people around Ronald Reagan used to say, one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist. Well, this kind of distinction that we’re making now in the law, so to speak, is being made because we have the power. We have the power, and we’re doing it. It doesn’t make it right, and it doesn’t make it lawful. What it makes it is a hegemonic action by a superpower that is operating in the thrall of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and Jerusalem, Israel and the Saudis, who will very, very much love it if we take Iran out. And we’re just like a vassal state operating as their lackey in this regard.

And I put this directly at the feet of the National Security Adviser John Bolton, because I know that has been one of his purposes for a long time, arguably since he learned to speak and walk. This is John Bolton. This is John Bolton wading into the absence of any real political skill, talent, or direction, certainly no strategic direction, of President Trump, and orchestrating the administration as he sees fit. And as Mike Pompeo, the sycophant Secretary of State, saying “Aye, aye, sir, three bags full, we’ll do whatever you want us to do. How high do you want me to jump tomorrow?” This is an incredibly bizarre administration. And God knows where they’re going to lead us.

PAUL JAY: I’ll push back a little bit on one thing, Larry. This is the vision of the neocons from the late 1990s, if not earlier. You know, this group we keep referring to, the Project for a New American Century, this aim of regime change of Iran has been their passion for a long time.

LARRY WILKERSON: PNAC is FDD. The new PNAC is the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, which is laughable when you think about they were created, exist, and will exist, probably, for the defense of Israel.

PAUL JAY: Well, I think it’s not just the defense of Israel. It’s very much American interest to assert U.S. dominance in the region. Which–Israel is a piece of that, and so’s the Saudis.

LARRY WILKERSON: These people aren’t stupid. If this were for American interests they wouldn’t be doing half of what they’re doing. Now, if you want to tell me that it’s for the interest of a few Americans, I might reconsider.

PAUL JAY: Oh, definitely, that’s what I would say. This is very much the vision of the far-right of American foreign policy and military establishment. It’s certainly to make money for the arms manufacturers. And it certainly–but to assert the U.S.–I don’t think the United States has ever gotten over the overthrow of the Shah of Iran.

LARRY WILKERSON: [Inaudible] other things, too. I mean, you just look at the track record. And just think about this for a moment. This is a small example, but think about this. Remember when the Iranians captured some of our people who ventured into their waters, and gave them back within 48 hours or so?


LARRY WILKERSON: What do you think they’re going to do now?

PAUL JAY: If the Middle East becomes in flames as a result of this there is a lot of money to be made if you’re in fossil fuel or arms.

LARRY WILKERSON: Absolutely. If you’re Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, or any of these other defense contractors, you salivate at the prospect of your production lines just running endlessly.

PAUL JAY: And oil probably goes to I don’t know what, $200, $300? Who knows.

LARRY WILKERSON: That just depends on how much it’s threatened.

PAUL JAY: All right. Thanks, Larry. Very good.

LARRY WILKERSON: Sure. Take care.

PAUL JAY: Thank you for joining 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.