Lars Schall talked with Lawrence Wilkerson, a retired Colonel of the U.S. Army, who was in the past, inter alia, the Chief of Staff for then Secretary of State Colin Powell. Wilkerson calls the United States a “warfare state” – and the so called “War on Terror” is its “Raison d’Être“.
By Lars Schall
Lawrence B. Wilkerson, born 1945, is a Professor of Government and Public Policy at the College of William & Mary in Virginia. His last positions in U.S. 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 Richard N. Haass (who is nowadays the President of the Council on Foreign Relations, CFR), 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.
Lars Schall: Colonel, your country is engaged in the longest war of its history, the so called “War on Terror“. Which conclusion do you drew after 16 years of this war?
Lawrence Wilkerson: ACTUALLY, IT’S 26 YEARS OF WAR BECAUSE WE WERE BOMBING THE NORTH AND SOUTH OF IRAQ FROM 1991 TO THE INVASION IN 2003. THIS „WAR“ IS THE RAISON D’ETRE OF THE WARFARE STATE WE HAVE BECOME. EISENHOWER WARNED US IN 1953 –„THIS IS NO WAY OF LIFE AT ALL, IN ANY TRUE SENSE. UNDER THE THREATENING CLOUD OF WAR IT IS HUMANITY HANGING FROM A CROSS OF IRON.“ AND AGAIN, AS HE LEFT OFFICE IN 1961, HE WARNED US OF THE MILITARY-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX WHOSE SHADOW OF POWER HAUNTED EVERY FEDERAL ENTERPRISE, EVERY STATE OFFICE, EVERY HOME’S HEARTH. HE WAS RIGHT, SADLY. WE EXIST TODAY TO MAKE WAR AND THE US CONGRESS, TRADITIONALLY AND CONSTITUTIONALLY THE WAR-DECLARING BODY OF GOVERNMENT, HAS BECOME A WHOLLY-OWNED SUBSIDIARY OF THE EXECUTIVE BRANCH WHEN IT COMES TO MAKING WAR. MOREOVER, IN THE SO-CALLED „GWOT“ WE HAVE SPENT 5.6 TRILLION DOLLARS (US) ON A THREAT WITH THE LIKELIHOOD OF A LIGHTNING STRIKE TO KILL ONE OF US.
LS: The “War on Terror“ started with the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. Are all questions related to those events solved, or are there still some questions you would like to have an answer to?
LW: NO, THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTIONS OF ALL REMAIN UNRESOLVED. FOR EXAMPLE, AS WITH MOST SUCH COMMISSIONS, THE 9/11 COMMISSION TRIED TO PROTECT THE SITTING US GOVERNMENT. AS A CONSEQUENCE, IT SHOVED UNDER THE RUG KEY QUESTIONS SUCH AS THE MATTER OF SAUDI COMPLICITY IN THE ATTACKS AND THE FACT THE CIA WAS–AGAINST US LAW–ATTEMPTING TO „RUN“ ONE OF THE HIJACKERS AND SO DID NOT COMMUNICATE TO THE FBI WHEN THAT HIJACKER CAME TO THE US. AS WITH THE WARREN COMMISSION LOOKING INTO THE ASSASSINATION OF PRESIDENT KENNEDY, THERE IS IMPORTANT GROUND YET UNPLOWED BY THE 9/11 COMMISSION.
LS: With that one hijacker you mean Khalid al Mihdhar or Nawaf al Hazmi?
LW: KHALID AL MIDHAR FROM MY INFORMATION, THOUGH THE AGENCY WAS DESPERATELY – AND UNDERSTANDABLY – TRYING TO GET INSIDE AL-QA’IDA AND THEREFORE MIGHT HAVE BEEN ATTEMPTING TO TURN BOTH OF THEM. MY INFORMATION, HOWEVER, ONLY POINTS TO AL MIDHAR.
LS: Is it strange to launch a war without settling all involved issues before properly? I mean, it could be the case that it turns out that this war is a war of aggression, right? (1) And if so: what then?
LW: YES, THE INVASION OF IRAQ IN 2003 WAS A WAR OF AGGRESSION UNQUESTIONABLY. AS SUCH, IT WAS AN ILLEGAL WAR. BUT AS MAO TSE TUNG INTIMATED, INTERNATIONAL LAW COMES ULTIMATELY OUT OF THE BARREL OF A GUN. AND THE US HAS—FOR THE MOMENT—THE BIGGEST GUN.
LS: What are your thoughts on the so called “9/11 Truth“ movement?
LW: I ALWAYS WANT THE TRUTH ABOUT WAR–AND WE DO NOT HAVE THE TRUTH TODAY, NOT FOR THE GENERAL PUBLIC ANYWAY.
LS: William Binney, former senior official at the National Security Agency (NSA), who supports the goal of having a new, independent investigation of the 9/11 events, said that NSA could have prevented 9/11, but it choose not to. (2) If true, what’s your response to this?
LW: I KNOW OF SEVERAL OCCASIONS WHERE AGENCIES SUCH AS THE NSA, CIA, OR FBI COULD HAVE LIKELY PREVENTED THE 9/11 ATTACKS. SIMPLY AN ADMINISTRATION THAT JUDGED AL-QA’IDA AS THE LEVEL OF THREAT THAT THE PREVIOUS ADMINISTRATION HAD JUDGED IT, AND THAT BROUGHT THE ISSUE BEFORE THE NSC MORE SWIFTLY, MIGHT HAVE LED TO THE ATTACKS BEING PREVENTED.
LS: Why are U.S. troops still in Afghanistan? Could it be that their presence has something to do with resource flows in Central Asia and the Chinese One Belt-One Road initiative?
LW: THEY ARE THERE FOR TWO PRINCIPAL REASONS: ONE, TO GIVE THE US HARD POWER POTENTIAL ALONG THE CHINESE OBOR; AND, TWO, TO PUT US ARMED FORCES IN CLOSE PROXIMITY TO PAKISTAN’S NUCLEAR STOCKPILE. ONLY SECONDARILY ARE THEY THERE TO COMBAT TERRORISTS AND TO STATE-BUILD.
LS: What is your overall thinking when it comes to the One Belt-One Road initiative?
LW: SPLENDID STRATEGIC THINKING AND EFFORT. DONE WELL AND IN COOPERATION WITH RELEVANT POWERS, IT COULD LIFT MILLIONS OUT OF POVERTY AND, EVENTUALLY, MAKE PROSPEROUS A HOST OF AFFECTED COUNTRIES. BUT THE CHINESE MUST ENVISION IT AND MANAGE IT THAT WAY—NOT AS AGGRANDIZEMENT BUT AS TRADE AND COMMERCE, COOPERATION AND REGIONAL AND GLOBAL BETTERMENT.
LS: Will the endless “War on Terror“ bankrupt the U.S. in the long run? (3) You’re on the record, stating that a) your country is “slip sliding into hell“, (4) and b) „We have become a national security state, that means our reason for existing is war and defense contractors are the merchants of death.“ (5) How do you pay for this “Raison d’Être“?
LW: DEBT IS A RELATIVE THING. AS JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES REMARKED, „IN THE LONG RUN, WE ARE ALL DEAD.“
UNFORTUNATELY, THE LONG RUN MIGHT TURN OUT THAT WAY FOR THE AMERICAN EMPIRE. WITH TRUMP AT THE HELM OF THAT EMPIRE, IT IS FAR MORE LIKELY TO HAPPEN. THE US CANNOT KEEP SPENDING THE WAY IT HAS BECAUSE THERE IS NOTHING NOW BEHIND THE DOLLAR BUT OIL AND MILITARY POWER. BOTH ARE NOT LONG FOR THIS WORLD IN TERMS OF MAXIMUM UTILITY.
LS: Regarding your point that the U.S. is “slip sliding into hell“, you referred in the past to Frederick H. Hartmann’s theory of “the conservation of enemies“. Why is this concept of interest here?
LW: NO NATION WANTS MORE ENEMIES THAN IT CAN MANAGE. THE US NOW HAS IRAN, SYRIA, PERHAPS IRAQ, THE DPRK, RUSSIA, VENEZUELA, A PROSPECTIVE ENEMY IN CHINA, AND IS LOSING ITS ALLIES–SUCH AS GERMANY AND TURKEY–FASTER THAN CAN BE MANAGED. ALL BAD FOR THE AMERICAN EMPIRE, IF NOT AT THE END OF THE DAY LETHAL.
LS: In 2001-03, you were involved in the process to invade Iraq. Was it a fateful decision that historians in the future will point to as the beginning of the decline of the American Empire?
LS: Why did your country invade Iraq, and was it worth it?
LW: AS MORE THAN 300 OF MY STUDENTS HAVE POINTED OUT FOR THE PAST DOZEN YEARS, FOR MANY REASONS, DEPENDING ON THE PERSON EVALUATED. FOR CHENEY IT WAS OIL AND MAKING A POINT ABOUT US POWER. FOR BUSH IT WAS PERSONAL. FOR RUMSFELD IT WAS PROVING HIS CONCEPT OF THE US MILITARY AGAINST A STATE ACTOR. FOR DOUG FEITH IT WAS ISRAEL. FOR DOZENS OF OTHERS IT WAS THE CLEAN BREAK STRATEGY, I.E., ULTIMATELY PROTECTING ISRAEL AND BRINGING DEMOCRACY TO THE MIDDLE EAST. TAKE YOUR PICK. WITH AN INEXPERIENCED AND WEAK PRESIDENT–WHO THOUGHT HE WAS DECISIVE—IT WAS EASY FOR ALL THESE VIEWS TO PLAY GAMES WITH DECISION-MAKING.
LS: Would there be ISIS without the invasion of Iraq?
LW: NO. ABU MUSAB AL-ZARQAWI STARTED ISIS AND WITHOUT THE INVASION OF IRAQ HE WOULD HAVE REMAINED THE RELATIVELY UNKNOWN THUG HE WAS AND NEVER BEEN ELEVATED TO AL-QA’IDA STATUS. THERE WAS NO AL-QA’IDA IN IRAQ BEFORE THE US INVASION.
LS: Do the citizens of the U.S. really feel the consequences of the “War on Terror“ – or is the public in your country very much seperated from those who do the actual fighting and the related costs?
LW: LESS THAN ONE PERCENT OF THE US POPULATION DOES THE BLEEDING AND DYING FOR THE OTHER 99 PERCENT. THEREFORE, THE AMERICAN PEOPLE FOR THE MOST PART HAVE NO CONSCIOUSNESS OF WAR. MOREOVER, THERE IS NO WAR TAX, THUS NO KNOWLEDGE OF WAR’S ENORMOUS COST IN DOLLARS.
LS: What are your thoughts on how the U.S. treats its veterans?
LW: THE US HAS ALWAYS TREATED ITS VETERANS QUITE WELL RHETORICALLY AND QUITE POOR IN ACTUALITY.
THIS HAS HISTORICALLY BEEN IN KEEPING WITH THE FACT THAT, WITH SOME RARE EXCEPTIONS SUCH AS FREQUENTLY IN WWII, THE US PUTS ITS POOREST AND MOST “DISPOSABLE” CITIZENS IN THE „FIGHTING RANKS“. STILL, EVEN AFTER WWII, THE RECORD OF TREATMENT WAS A MIXED ONE.
LS: What do you expect in geopolitical terms for 2018?
LW: MORE OF THE SAME– FOR AMERICA A SLOW DEATH’S MARCH. THE EMPIRE’S END OVER THE NEXT HALF-CENTURY OR LESS. THE IMPORTANT QUESTION IS, WILL THE US FASHION A RELATIVELY SMOOTH GLIDE-SLOPE TO ITS NEW POSITION OF BEING A PEER POWER—PARES INTER PARES—OR WILL IT COLLAPSE PRECIPITOUSLY, PERHAPS EVEN BREAK APART?
LS: Thank you very much for this interview, Colonel!
(1) See for example Lars Schall: „From 2001 until today: The Afghanistan War was and is illegal“, Interview with Fancis A. Boyle, published at LarsSchall.com on January 9, 2016 under: http://www.larsschall.com/2016/01/09/from-2001-until-today-the-afghanistan-war-was-and-is-illegal/
(2) Compare Lars Schall: „Plumbing the Depths of NSA’s Spying“, Interview with William Binney, published at Consortium News on November 12, 2014 under: https://consortiumnews.com/2014/11/12/plumbing-the-depths-of-nsas-spying/. See also for this topic Patrick Eddington: “Hayden, NSA, and the Road to 9/11”, published at Just Security on December 7, 2017 under: https://www.justsecurity.org/47632/hayden-nsa-road-911/
(3) According to the Costs of War project at the Watson Center of Brown University, the U.S. spent so far 5,6 trillion US dollars for the War on Terror between 2001 and 2017. Compare Jack Moore: “The Cost of War for the U.S. Taxpayer Since 9/11 Is Actually Three Times the Pentagon’s Estimate”, published at Newsweek on November 8, 2017 under: http://www.newsweek.com/how-many-trillions-war-has-cost-us-taxpayer-911-attacks-705041.
(4) Compare Wilkerson’s speech at a “Veterans For Peace“ gathering in Chicago, published under: – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_lBaV_8tJc&feature=youtu.be (PART ONE) / https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPZug3M_0OU&feature=youtu.be (PART TWO).
(5) Compare Wilkerson’s speech at „Code Pink Conference: Divest from the War Machine“, published under: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zFJIBU-YBsY&feature=youtu.be