Is the US Headed Towards War in Syria?
Yves here. This Real News Network interview with Lawrence Wilkerson, not surprisingly, is pretty sobering. The rush transcript didn’t have apostrophes, so I added them as best I could, but there are sure to be some spots I missed.
SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
The Obama administration is currently considering a proposal to send more arms to CIA backed anti Assad forces in Syria. According to the Washington Post, Obama has not made a decision yet and could leave it up to whoever wins the election in November. This of course raises questions of what would a President Hillary Clinton or President Donald Trump do in Syria? This has also been the topic at the presidential debates, recently.
Joining us to discuss the Clinton’s and Trump’s approach as to foreign policy is Larry Wilkerson. Larry is a retired United States army soldier and former Chief of Staff to the United States Secretary of State Colin Powell. He’s also just published an article in National Interest, written together with Gordon Adams about this topic. Larry thank you so much for joining us today.
LARRY WILKERSON: Thanks for having me Sharmini.
PERIES: So Larry in your recent piece titled No Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy Judgment Isn’t As Good As Everyone Says, you argued that a case for Clinton as a better foreign policy president on the basis on knowledge and experience. Now factoring all of this in, what’s going on in Washington in terms of how they should behave or what foreign policy actions or military actions need to be taking place in Syria. How do you think Hillary Clinton would act?
WILKERSON: I’m very concerned about it. I can tell you that right up front. Her posture with regard to Syria in general when she was secretary of state and some of the remarks shes made during the campaign, lead me to believe that she’ll be very bellicose with regard to Syria. I hope I’m wrong. I hope a better judgement prevails. But as I said in the National Interest article, I,’m not all that convinced of it. That’s based primarily on her track record with regard to Libya which is now a disaster, and it’s my understanding that she was one of the if not the principle advocates of action in Libya when President Obama somewhat reluctantly decided to do it, following NATO into that country. And she was also an advocate of the war in Iraq and regime change there. So in those two instances, her judgement was flawed, seriously flawed you could argue, and based on her rhetoric with regards towards Syria, I certainly don’t want to see that kind of judgement continued in that regard.
PERIES: And in the recent debate, she was advocating a no fly zone over Syria. What does that mean and what implications will it have in terms of geopolitical allegiances at this time?
WILKERSON: We’re not dealing with a Libyan air force or an Iraqi air force or indeed a Syrian air force. What we’re dealing with here is Russian air forces perhaps even as you and I were discussing eventually Chinese air forces, so they’re not there now I don’t think, and the Syrian air forces. So if we go in to establish a no fly zone and were serious about it, the first airplane that penetrates that zone is all important because youve just about got to shoot it down. If it’s a Russian airplane, youre in trouble because youve now performed an act of war against Russia and Syria. What that means, well just have to wait and see but I don’t think itll mean anything good for either side, or ultimately for Syria.
So we’re talking about if we lay down something like a no fly zone and say this is it as of midnight on such and such a time, no aircraft can fly through here. And suddenly 5 minutes later even, a Russian aircraft flies though, we have two choices. We shoot it down and risk war with Russia and that has all kinds of ramifications that are outside Syria as well as in Syria. Or we back off our claim and look like ineffectual boobs. I don’t think either of those outcomes is conducive to US national security interests so I don’t think we should go there in the first place.
PERIES: Larry recently I did an interview with former CIA analyst, Ray McGovern and he said that President Putin in Russia, sees the next few months before potential Clinton presidency as a window of opportunity for consolidating Russia’s position in the Ukraine and in Syria. Now many world leaders are predicting that a Clinton, as you have just done, will likely to escalate the situation particularly in Syria that this is an area that President Obama has been restrained with. Do you think that Ray is correct, that Putin consolidating his power and will Hillary Clinton in her assessment, go ahead on with Putin?
WILKERSON: I’m concerned about it, as I said before because of her previous actions and because of some of the people she has advising her that look a lot like the people who were advising George W. Bush in his first administration from 2001-2005 of which I was a rather intimate member. So I am concerned about it. I hope that once she is in the Oval Office and if she indeed shes elected and she gets all the briefings and is brought up to speed and so forth. And she gets the council of her military leaders, she will be more circumspect and be more rational let us say than she is sometimes compelled to be on the political circuit and on the campaign trail. That’s my hope. But as I said, based on her track record, I have some concern. Perhaps not as much as Ray but I still have some concern.
PERIES: Now there’s been a number of other defense analyst in recent years who argue that the president has relatively little room to maneuver because the intelligence community, the Defense Department and the State Department are the ones that really policy strategy. To what extent is that correct, science youve been at the center of all of this?
WILKERSON: Defense Department does have an enormous amount of influence on the national security decision making process. There’s no question about that. As do other nefarious influences like Lockheed-Martin, Halliburton and all the usual suspects weve heard about who influence congressional decision making and ultimately influence where the money goes and so forth. I think probably in this particular instance though with regard to Syria, what I’m hearing is the military and particularly the joint chiefs of staff are reluctant to enter this trade with potential for starting a shooting war with Russia.
So I hope that what I’m hearing is correct and that they will act as a break on anything precipitant military action that secretary, then President Clinton or President Trump for that matter, would be willing or want to order.
Let me just say that Trump has been all over the sheet of music if you will on this. But the remarks I have heard that resonate with me are those that would keep us out of these small wars on the periphery of empire if you will. They cost a fortune in blood and treasure and don’t really promise to and rarely do solve anything. They certainly don’t bring peace to instable regions and regions in conflict that Syria is today. They just make things worse.
PERIES: Then finally Larry, when Hillary Clinton became the Secretary of State and then there was this very public pronouncement of resetting relations with Russia, what went wrong? Why are we where we are now where shes accusing the Russians of hacking into emails and as you know there’s controversy over what she actually said in the debate in terms of the Russian involvement in all of this. Why is she escalating this and what went wrong with resetting the relations with Russia?
WILKERSON: What went wrong with resetting the relationship was us. The US of A. We have wasted no opportunity to make Mr. Putin more powerful politically in his own country. As soon as he figured out that sticking his fingers in Washingtons eyes was a winning political formula, you could guarantee you were going to get more fingers in our eyes. More so than that, geopolitically and geostrategically, that is to say in the heart of Russia’s near abroad we have been making moves from Ukraine to Georgia. And we have been making moves that anyone including myself, being the ruler of a country first erstwhile great power and seeing it happen would be responding to and responding to with the elements of national power which I have that can compensate for weakness that I have too.
By that I mean Id be responding with everything from cyber warfare to little green men, to whatever I had that was competent and powerful in my arsenal that I felt like I could win with against the United States and ultimately against NATO. That’s precisely what Putin has been doing. You could almost sit down and map it. Every time we make a mistake they capitalize on that mistake. I don’t just mean mistakes as in execution or mistakes in being in somewhere where we shouldnt be at in a particular time. I mean policy mistakes. The policy mistake most glaringly pushing ourselves into Russia’s near abroad and NATO along with us with ballistic missile defense, with exercises and so forth.
If I were Putin I wouldve responded the same way. I think that Id have been just as smart as he has and Id capitalize on my streets against weaknesses and I wouldve gained the political capital that hes gained in the course of this time. It’s not all totally our fault but a whole lot of it is.
PERIES: So if we are collecting our thoughts here, Larry Russian, Chinese now, possibly Iranian collaboration over Syria are serious times.
WILKERSON: And Russia exercising for the first time since the death of Anwar Sadat with the Egyptians. Russia selling major armaments to the Egyptians for the first time since I think about that same time period. The world is changing. Power is shifting and the United States needs not to be fearful of such changes but it needs to be a lot smarter of how it plays those changes to its own benefits.
One of the things it needs to be most hard about is fear of deployments of its own military forces to get engaged in things like weve been engaged in for the past 20 years. Things like Afghanistan, things like Iraq, things like Syria and so forth. We really have no capability to influence these conflicts, these basically civil wars and so forth. Trying to do so from the opening as we did in Afghanistan with Mujahideen for example by having the CIA essentially arm everybody that we can find that looks like he might be a freedom fighter, only to discover months or maybe half a year or so later that they’re anything but freedom fighters.
Indeed, they’re using some of the weapons that we sold them on our troops or on our own formations is just not the answer. It simply doesn’t work clandestinely or openly to the support elements in these conflicts that we know basically don’t have a hares breath chance of winning. The mistake in Syria has been as I said all along. That is our attempt to get rid of Bashar al-Assad. We need to face up to that mistake. We need to be more receptive to his remaining in power and some guys. The best we can probably get at the negotiating table is that maybe hell be gone sometime in the unspecified future.
But we need to understand that sometimes we have to give a little too, especially if we want to stop the bloodshed in Syria which is reaching proportions where everyone in the world ought to be appalled at.
PERIES: Alright Larry. I look forward to your report next week as things really escalate and intensify over Syria. Thank you for joining us.
WILKERSON: Well lets hope that no one else decides to throw in their lot with the forces in Syria. China and Russia are quite enough, thank you very much.
PERIES: Indeed. I thank you again and thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.