Lawrence Wilkerson is a retired United States Army soldier and former chief of staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell. Wilkerson is an adjunct professor at the College of William & Mary where he teaches courses on US national security. He also instructs a senior seminar in the Honors Department at the George Washington University entitled "National Security Decision Making."
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore. And welcome to this week's edition of The Wilkerson Report with Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, who now joins us from his home in Virginia.
Larry was the former chief of staff for U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. He's currently an adjunct professor of government at the College of William & Mary.
Thanks very much for joining us.
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON, FMR. CHIEF OF STAFF TO COLIN POWELL: Thanks for having me, Paul.
JAY: So what caught your attention this week?
WILKERSON: I was just up in Maine, just north of Portland, Maine, at something called the Mid-Coast Forum foreign policy conference. And while I was there to talk about the presidency and fateful decision-making, their main questions were about and their focus was on Iran, because they've been paying attention to what had been happening in the Congress here the last few days. And they were very concerned that the Congress--and I think their concern is well placed--is closing down the options for diplomacy, which just seemed to have reopened again with some degree of promise from the Iranian side and the U.S. side. And so Iran is back on my agenda big time.
JAY: Well, talk about what's happening in Congress. What are they trying to pass?
WILKERSON: Well, you know, we started negotiations again in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and they looked like they had a different atmosphere, which is what we needed. That is to say, we didn't have the Iranians reciting a diatribe of sins of the U.S., nor the U.S. doing the reverse. It looked like the atmosphere was good. It looked like we might make some progress. We set up some technical talks to take place between now and the next set of big talks. And the atmosphere just looked good.
So what does the Congress do? If I were kind to them, I would say that Lindsey Graham and others like him are trying to increase the leverage on Iran, increase U.S. leverage on Iran by essentially saying that if Israel declares war, we'll be [incompr.] you know, letting Israel bring us into a war that we don't need to be in, and saying other things, like let's make Israel a major strategic ally and let's tighten the sanctions on Iran.
That's an absolutely wrong reading of what happened in Almaty. The atmosphere's right. The leverage is adequate. The Iranians are willing to talk. They're even willing to do the things that we want them to do. And on the other side, we seem to be willing to actually offer them something substantial, basically sanctions relief in some of the categories of our sanctions. So this is really good.
And here's the Congress in there, as it almost always is with foreign-policy matters, mucking it up. So it's absurd, it's even obscene, what the Congress has done, particularly things like Graham's joint resolution to urge the United States to follow Israel no matter what Israel does--in other words, we're to follow them into Hell if Israel goes there.
JAY: And what's driving Graham?
WILKERSON: I don't know, Paul. I really don't. I thought I knew what was driving him with regard to his rather inept performance with Senator Hagel in confirmation as SecDef, personal venom, trying to emasculate Hagel before he comes before the Congress to testify. I don't know what's driving him now, other than I'm told that back in my home state, his home state, South Carolina, he's got a potential Tea Party opposite--in other words, an opposition coming from the Tea Party--that he's trying now to really go to the right wing on so that he's got a better chance of winning his seat.
This takes me back to my father--he's deceased now, but my father's last exclamation about Lindsey: I'll never vote for him again because he violated his promise. He promised the citizens of South Carolina he'd be term-limited. And now he's going to the extreme right to win yet another term, breaking that promise, of course, and making himself a fool in the process, as far as I'm concerned.
JAY: Here's again that little exchange between Lindsey Graham and Hagel when Graham asks Hagel, name one senator who's intimidated by or working for Israel and AIPAC. Here's the back and forth.
LINDSEY GRAHAM, U.S. SENATOR (R-SC): You've explained this a bit. You said the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here; I'm not an Israeli senator, I'm a United States senator; this pressure makes us do dumb things at times. You said the Jewish lobby should not have been--that term shouldn't have been used; it should have been some other term. Name one person, in your opinion, who's intimidated by the Israeli lobby in the United States Senate.
CHUCK HAGEL, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE NOMINEE: Well, first--.
GRAHAM: Name one.
HAGEL: I don't know.
GRAHAM: Well, why would you say it?
HAGEL: I didn't have in mind a specific person.
GRAHAM: Do you agree it's a provocative statement, that I can't think of a more provocative thing to say about the relationship between the United States and Israel and the Senate or the Congress than what you said?
WILKERSON: And, of course, all that Hagel had to say--and maybe ruin his chances for confirmation, so he didn't--but all he had to say was, I'll give you an example, Senator Graham: you right now. And I'll give you another example: me right now, because I'm shutting up. I mean, it's insanity.
Lindsey Graham needs a history lesson. Go back and look at Ronald Reagan trying to sell weapons to the Saudis and AIPAC stopping him. Go back and look at Ronald Reagan, Ronald Reagan trying to sell weapons to the king of Jordan and AIPAC stopping him. [snip] cited at least a dozen major instances of Israel's influence on decision-making in the United States. But of course Senator Hagel wasn't going to do that, because he knew it would jeopardize his chances for confirmation in this Congress that, incidentally, when Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed them, not a single soul that I saw wasn't standing up and applauding a prime minister of another country who wants to bring this country into war with him.
JAY: Yeah, more standing ovations, I think, than anyone ever has received addressing the joint houses, and at a time where it was a particular moment where Netanyahu was actually trying to embarrass President Obama, and one would think even just on pure nationalist basis Congress wouldn't have played along with that.
WILKERSON: You would have thought so.
JAY: So you think this resolution's likely to pass.
WILKERSON: I think it probably will, because he's done two things. He's made it not a joint resolution now. It's just a Senate resolution--65, I think. And he's also made the language non-statutory. That is to say, he's used words like "urge" the United States, "recommend" the United States, and so forth. So it's not binding, if you will, like the AUMF was with regard to the global war on terror in Iraq.
So at the same time that it's basically just language and not statutory and binding, it still is the kind of language that in Tehran will be read as, once again, the perfidious Satan isn't really willing to negotiate; what it really wants is regime change. I just hope the Iranians have become smart enough about the U.S. Congress that they understand that this is not really what's going to be the binding agent for them if they do come to some favorable negotiations.
JAY: Right. Alright. Thanks for joining us, Larry.
WILKERSON: Surely. Thanks for having me.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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