In a sweeping interview with MintPress News, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson explains why the U.S. needs to make resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a bigger priority and how partnering with Iran could be the key to achieving greater regional stability.
Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Now an outspoken critic of US foreign policy, Wilkerson told MintPress that you cannot have a strategy if you are constantly buffeted, and buffeted seriously, by the winds of domestic interest.
BEIRUT — One of the most important elections related to U.S. foreign policy is taking place on Tuesday, almost 6,000 miles away from Washington, in Israel/Palestine.
The Israeli election is being held on the heels of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s scandalous visit to the U.S. Congress, and amid the fallout of a letter to the Iranian leadership that has been described as “treasonous.” The letter, signed by 47 Republican senators, locksteps neoconservative geopolitical strategy in the Middle East with that of the national security prerogatives of Israel’s current prime minister.
“The only positive thing I can see right now is the potential for Bibi Netanyahu to lose,” said Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005.
Speaking to MintPress News over the phone from his home in Virginia, Wilkerson added that the damage Netanyahu has done as prime minister has been “unprecedented,” and that Netanyahu and his predecessors, including Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, destroyed their own movement.
“Fifty-one percent of the [Israeli] land belongs to the security complex, either outright or leased. Sixty families in Israel own about 75 percent of the wealth, which is unbelievable,” he explained. “They’re the most predatory capitalist state in the eastern Mediterranean, and that’s saying something because we [the U.S.], China, and Russia have exemplified predatory capitalism in the last 20 years, but Israel outstrips us all.”
Wilkerson also asserts that Israel is a strategic liability for the U.S. government. Israel, he says, is helping Russia, one of America’s principal adversaries. He referenced an internal audit carried out by the Russian military in 2013 and 2014. Through that audit the Russians realized that their unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) were a major weakness on the battlefield. Israel responded by selling Russia state-of-the-art UAVs. “And of course, they sell weapons to the Chinese too!” quipped Wilkerson.
As long as the United States continues to support Israel in this way, explained Wilkerson, “It is impossible to say you have a sound strategic approach to the region.”
“The winds of domestic interest”
Wilkerson is currently a distinguished adjunct professor of Government and Public Policy at William and Mary University in Virginia. His military career began in 1966 during the Vietnam War and spanned up until 2005. Wilkerson became Powell’s “point man” for making a case for preemptive war against Saddam Hussein in 2003. Indeed, it was Wilkerson who combed through the CIA’s information to create the presentation that Powell delivered to the United Nations Security Council in February that year.
Wilkerson later realized that the information provided by the CIA was faulty. That, plus the terrible way the U.S. followed up in Iraq and revelations of torture at Abu Ghraib, an American prison in the country, led him to openly condemn the Iraq War.
He told The Washington Post in 2006: “Combine the detainee abuse issue with the ineptitude of post-invasion planning for Iraq, wrap both in this blanket of secretive decision-making … and you get the overall reason for my speaking out.”
Today, he argues that the U.S. has not been able to put together a clear foreign policy strategy since the end of the Cold War. He describes U.S. foreign policy as reactionary and absent of a clear global vision, attributing this problem to the detrimental effects of warring political parties in a democracy.
“In my 70 years on this planet, or looking back at my reading of the history of the previous 200 years, there hasn’t been a time as dire as this one in terms of domestic politics influencing foreign security policy,” he said.
MintPress made the case that the U.S. does in fact have a foreign policy strategy, which includes realizing the uselessness of invasion and occupation. MintPress argued that the U.S. is attempting to balance regional powers by reaching out to Iran and having a lighter footprint overall in the Middle East, so that it can focus more closely on East Asia.
“You think that’s the case when you have senators and representatives in the House that are doing everything they possibly can, including becoming traitors with this open letter to the leaders of Tehran to start another war in southwest Asia?” he retorted. “You really think that’s our strategy?”
On March 9, 42 Republican senators signed an open letter to the leaders of Iran in an attempt to upend current negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 nations — the U.S., China, Russia, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. The potential deal between the six powers would restrict sanctions on Iran in exchange for guarantees that the Islamic Republic will not pursue a nuclear weapons program.
The Obama administration and many members of Congress, including some Republicans, support this effort. Yet a significant number of other politicians and current and former U.S. officials do not, and they have made it a priority to stop this deal by any means necessary. They have invited the leader of a foreign state (Israel) to speak to Congress without the approval of the executive branch. They wrote the above-mentioned letter and addressed it to a foreign power (Iran) in brazen contradiction to the president’s foreign policy efforts. They have also supported former terrorist groups, such as the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK), that want to overthrow the Iranian government and take power for themselves.
Wilkerson explained that those kinds of domestic politics eliminate the possibility for global strategy. “You cannot have a strategy if you are constantly buffeted, and buffeted seriously, by the winds of domestic interest,” he said.
The strategy is China
Yet Wilkerson did concede that U.S. foreign policy is not entirely devoid of strategy. He explained that the top strategic portfolio for the U.S. is China, and the U.S. is using a mix of tactics to deal with the rise of the emerging power.
He pointed out, however, that this strategy emerged well before the end of the Cold War in the 1970s with then-President Richard Nixon and then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Since that time, he says, both Republican and Democratic administrations have pursued a like-minded approach to China.
Wilkerson says the strategy toward the East Asian giant is to surround it. To achieve this, the U.S. has been opening up to and attempting to create deals with countries in the region like India and Myanmar, solidifying older relationships with countries like South Korea and Japan, supporting Indonesia, and showing concern about political turmoil in Thailand.
Another part of the tactical strategies being employed by the U.S. to confront the rise of China is what Wilkerson describes as “hedging.” He says the U.S. is attempting to ensure that China’s interests are peace, prosperity and stability, so that the world does not see the typical rise of a great power, which usually includes fighting to secure its place among the nations already established as powers.
There is no strategy in the Middle East
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry walks with Saud bin Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, before a visit with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud at Diriya Farm, on Thursday, March 5, 2015, in Diriya, Saudi Arabia.
In contrast, Wilkerson told MintPress, everything happening with regards to the Middle East is strictly tactical and absent of strategy. He likened the way the U.S. deals with the region to somebody opening their email inbox in the morning and having their day controlled by replying to various requests and demands, rather than having a plan for productivity and executing that plan.
The most blatant sign that the U.S. does not have a coherent strategy in the Middle East, and is operating strictly through reactionary tactics, according to Wilkerson, is its support for Israel.
A sensible Middle East strategy, he explained, would include, first and foremost, a plan to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian situation.
Currently, Wilkerson laments, the U.S. is “tactically trying to build stability in a country that’s not even a country [Iraq].” At the same time, it is ignoring the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. He says that if the U.S. were to focus on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and make it better in any way or even resolve it, that would aid the U.S. strategically in every other problem facing the region, including instability in Iraq.
“As long as you leave that long-term festering problem alone, or, worse, you let somebody like Bibi Netanyahu control it, you’ve got no strategy. Your strategy at best is to live through the day, and tomorrow, and the next day to get your inbox clear,” he said.
As long as that problem persists, he warns, none of the other problems are going to be solved, either.
“By the way,” he boomed, “the problems that you’ve [the U.S.] elevated to the top of your list, like ISIS [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria], are ridiculously insignificant in the greater scheme of things.”
To illustrate this point, he compared the number of people in the world to the number that are killed by terrorist groups, noting: “They have about as much chance of being killed by a terrorist attack, or by an attack by ISIS forces, as they do being killed by a lighting strike!”
Despite these inconsistencies, the U.S. is spending trillions of dollars and reacting to what Wilkerson describes as the “incompetent American media.”
He warned that within the next 10 to 15 years, problems related to the Israeli state will grow in magnitude, carrying unimaginable consequences. He told MintPress that if he were king of the U.S. for one day, he would force the Mediterranean country to cease settlement activity.
The possibility of the U.S. and Iran coming to some kind of rapprochement, beginning with a nuclear deal, would be “monumental,” he says.
He explained that a deal with Iran is positive because the country is home to over 70 million people. Half of its population is Persian, representing a national cohesion rate that outstrips anyone else in the region with the exception of Turkey. Plus, they are militarily and demographically the natural hegemon in the Gulf, he surmised.
“You don’t solve Afghanistan, you don’t solve Pakistan ultimately, you don’t solve the increasingly dictatorial Erdoğan in Turkey, you don’t solve Egypt, you don’t solve Syria, you don’t solve Iraq — and by ‘solve’ I mean bring some sort of stability and potential for the future – without Iran’s help,” he asserted.
“It’s not really Iran’s nuclear weapon that Bibi fears, it’s what we just described.”