“For 26 years we recognized, funded, fueled and helped Iran be the hegemon of the Persian Gulf when it was under the Shah. Demographically, militarily, every way you want to measure hegemony Iran is the dominant power in the Persian Gulf. Reality says that–therefore we have to come to recognize that, we have to deal with that and hope we can shape that to a responsible role, … ultimately, in the world. The only way you do that is through diplomacy, you don’t do that by attacking Tehran or by bombing facilities.”
ZAA NKWETA (VOICEOVER): Retired Colonel Lawrence B. Wilkerson is a Washington insider. A close aide of former Secretary of State Colin Powell since 1989, he served as his chief of staff from 2002 to 2005. Wilkerson remains an outspoken critic of the administration he once served. Real News senior news editor Paul Jay spoke to Wilkerson in Washington.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: Thank you for joining us for part 2 of our interview with Larry Wilkerson. Larry, there seems to be a debate, a fight going on in the military, between the military and the political leaders in the White House [concerning] what to do about Iran. Petraeus and Crocker at the congressional hearings fairly straightforwardly proposed negotiations with Iran to come to some settlement in Iraq, and I think pretty clearly said it may be the only way to come to some kind of conclusion in Iraq with Iran buying in. And Petraeus said very straightforwardly it’s in Iran’s strategic interest to have a stable, democratic, Shia Iraq—and that’s a direct quote from Petraeus. On the other hand, we seem to have other people in the administration who have always wanted regime change in Iran, and there’s no place for those kinds of negotiations over Iraq. Is this a correct depiction of the debate? And what do you make of this?
COL. LAWRENCE B. WILKERSON, FMR CHIEF OF STAFF TO COLIN POWELL: Well, I think General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker and others before them have essentially analyzed the situation in the Persian Gulf the way it actually exists today strategically, and that is that when we moved into Iraq and essentially took over Iraq, we destroyed the balance of power in the Gulf, a balance of power that had been maintained roughly between Iraq and Iran and others over the course of a half-century or so. We even weighed in in the mid-’80s with respect to one of the bloodiest wars ever in the region, the Iran-Iraq war, on Iraq’s side, in order to keep Iran from winning, ultimately, and destroying that balance. And then we come in in 2003 and destroy the balance. We are now sitting on that balance with 156-some-odd thousand American troops in Iraq. David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker and others are simply recognizing the reality of the situation. For 26 years we recognized, funded, fueled, shaped, and helped Iran be the hegemon of the Persian Gulf when it was under the Shah. Demographically, militarily, every way you want to measure hegemony, Iran is the dominant power in the Persian Gulf. Reality says that–Therefore we’ve got to come to recognize that; we’ve got to deal with that and hope we can shape that to a responsible role in the Gulf and in the region and a responsible role, ultimately, in the world. The only way you do that is through diplomacy; you don’t do that by attacking Tehran or by bombing facilities in Iran. I think they’re absolutely correct: we need to talk about the future of the Middle East, a stable Iraq, a stable and secure Iran, and eventually a stable and secure Middle East.
JAY: Well, that means accepting Iran as a regional power. And certainly Cheney and his friends in Project for a New American Century and the Committee on the Present Danger, which seems to be the latest formation of these guys, they seem, fundamentally, won’t accept Iran as a regional power. So where does this lead us, especially when they’re about, perhaps, to lose the White House?
WILKERSON: Well, I hope it leads us to a new regime headed by either the Democrat or the Republican candidate now running for the Oval Office, and I hope it leads us to an entirely new American foreign policy, and within that foreign policy a brand new approach to the Persian Gulf, to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and to Iran.
JAY: How serious a possibility is it that this administration, before leaving office, will want to start some kind of confrontation, military confrontation with Iran?
WILKERSON: I’ve heard that, and it is a fear that I—I have that fear too. But I cannot believe, even though I do believe and reiterate that I believe this is one of the most—if not the most—incompetent administrations/leadership we’ve had in American history, and I think historians will bear me out on that in the future. I still don’t believe that they are that incompetent that they would start yet another war. We’re talking about reinforcing what is every bit of strategic failure right now of huge consequences with regard to our operations in the Gulf. We failed on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. This president’s going to make no progress on that. That’s the central issue to our reestablishing some kind of bona fides in the region that are decent. We failed with regard to Iraq so far, although it looks like that may have a chance of turning around a bit now under the leadership of Petraeus and Crocker. But still the image is of failure. To reinforce all of that failure with yet another bigger failure, using military force against Iran, is just preposterous in my mind. And I hope that that nature of failure would dissuade anyone, even a Dick Cheney, from opening a new front in the Middle East at this time. I hope that they abide by the decision I believe they made a year ago, which is to pass the problems they have now in the Middle East, which they know they haven’t a clue how to handle, to the next administration. I think that was a significant decision the president made. And he then passed North Korea to Condi Rice so she could work on North Korea. So there might be some positive legacy foreign policy-wise for this administration. And that’s it. And I hope that adheres all the way up to the day that Barack Obama or John McCain takes the oath of office and we have a new administration.
JAY: The vice president, you said earlier, truly believes this is a war with Evil. If you believe you’re in a war with Evil, isn’t anything acceptable?
WILKERSON: Well, the vice president is no longer the president. I think after four and half, five, six years, President Bush figured out what his major problem was with regard to international relations, and that that problem centered in the office of the vice presidency. I think that’s the reason you see Dr. Rice moving out smartly without much interference from the vice president with regard to North Korea. I think that’s why you saw her make an effort, at least, to talk to the Iranians. The vice president has reinserted himself in that challenge there, I think. But by and large, I think the president has not got the ear for the vice president that he did have before. Let’s check what he’s lost. He’s lost Rumsfeld, he’s lost Wolfowitz, he’s lost Feith, he’s lost Libby, he’s lost Bolton—he’s lost a whole host of his henchmen within the administration who were necessary to carry out his nefarious plans beneath the president’s view. And I don’t think he can do that anymore. So we’ve got a vice president who’s still powerful. I don’t underestimate him, but I believe he’s been checked, and he’s been checked largely by the person he should be checked by, the Oval Office, the president of the United States.
JAY: McCain just spoke at AIPAC. Prime Minister Olmert just spoke at AIPAC. Bush spoke in Israel. They give a very, very militant line towards Iran, no negotiation, etcetera, which is more or less what Cheney said a few weeks ago in the Middle East himself. Is there not a Cheney-Bush-Olmert convergence here on a more aggressive posture towards Iran?
WILKERSON: I think that convergence is more to try—and I think it’s a futile attempt, but I give him credit for trying—to regain some leverage over Iran in the preface, if you will, to talks. It’s to try and get the United States back in a position of having some leverage other than a military strike over Iran. And that leverage can be built up by consensus—the Saudis, the Egyptians, the Jordanians, the Kuwaitis, the Israelis, and everybody else is, you know, a bloc against Iran, the Europeans on sanctions and so forth. I think that’s what they’re trying to do. I don’t think they’re going to take the military instrument off the table.
JAY: Is Israel pushing for a military strike? Or is Israel participating in this movement of leverage?
WILKERSON: That’s a good question, but Israel? Who? Are we talking about Olmert? Are we taking about Labor? Are we talking about Netanyahu? Are we talking about Barak? Who are we talking about? I think we have to say whom we’re talking about. There are people in Israel who’d like to see military force—our military force, not theirs—used against Iran. There are people in Israel, I think the dominant number of people, especially in the elite, if not at least 65 percent in the body of Israel, that are very much opposed to anybody using force against Iran, who would like to see a very strong position taken versus Tehran and that strong position result in some kind of agreement where Iran maybe has a civilian nuclear program but doesn’t have a nuclear weapon. That, I think, could probably be determined rather readily through polling, both in Israel and in the region. And I think polls do reflect that. But, to get to the heart of your question, is there someone in Israel who would be in favor of and indeed might use military force or encourage us to use military force to the point where we did, who might gain power? Yes, there is. And so I’m watching very carefully what happens with Olmert and his scandal-ridden government that he’s got, or scandal-ridden Olmert, to see if he falls, and if he falls, who replaces him, and ultimately who replaces who replaces him if they have elections. This is a very important time for Israel, politically.
JAY: In part 3 we’ll discuss: does John McCain represent a new foreign policy or a Bush III? Please join us for part 3 of our interview with Larry Wilkerson.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.