Iran Review – Retired U.S. Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff from 2002 to 2005, says the escalation of tensions between the U.S. and Iran today is a continuation of two decades of U.S. policy disasters in the Middle East, starting with the 2003 run-up to war with Iraq under the Bush administration. “America exists today to make war. How else do we interpret 19 straight years of war and no end in sight? It’s part of who we are. It’s part of what the American Empire is,” says Wilkerson. “We are going to cheat and steal to do whatever it is we have to do to continue this war complex. That’s the truth of it. And that’s the agony of it.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we look at U.S. policy in the Middle East with retired United States Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005. Wilkerson witnessed and participated in the effort by President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and others to promote lies to justify the disastrous illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. Colonel Wilkerson helped Secretary of State Powell prepare his infamous February 5th, 2003, speech before the United Nations Security Council, where Powell falsely claimed Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction. Wilkerson and Powell would later say the CIA lied to them.
I talked to Colonel Wilkerson and asked him about the parallels between the escalation between the U.S. and Iran today and the 2003 run-up to war with Iraq.
LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Let me say first, Amy, that I find myself agreeing with and really appreciating the history that was given by the Johns Hopkins professor with regard to Iran. We rarely hear the truth about Iran and about U.S.-Iran relations, and she pretty much laid it bare for us.
I was associated the 2003 situation and the catastrophic decision to invade Iraq, which is what produced what we’re looking at today, essentially — all across the region, the chaos that we’re looking at was produced by the United States invasion in 2003.
I watched as the intelligence was cooked, as principals in the George W. Bush government were sold by that intelligence or helped to warp that intelligence, as was the case was with Dick Cheney, and I watched the inevitable march to war, even though I was working for a man who did everything he could, especially after the U.N. Security Council resolution in November, 8 November, 2002, that sent the inspectors back into Iraq — I watched us go to war nonetheless. I’m watching the same thing again.
And let me just say that this morning at 2 a.m. my time, I was on London news with News 4. And the speaker before me was a representative of the U.K.’s Ministry of Defense. He was much more articulate than the warmonger Mike Pompeo. But he tried to make a rational case for the execution of Soleimani. And he said it was a tactical incident and that it would not disturb the current tension that much.
It was not a tactical incident; it was a strategic incident!
Iran now can do any number of things across such a wide spectrum of activities that I shudder to consider. It ranges from unleashing Hezbollah, if Nasrallah will agree, on Israel, to attacks inside the United States, inside Europe, with sleeper agents and so forth. So the initiative is now in Iran’s hands.
That’s what this killing did. It shifted the strategic initiative for this tension to Iran.
If Iran reacts in a very escalatory way, we will have no choice but to up the ante still further, which I would say would probably be executing a bombing campaign from multicarrier battle groups in the North Oman Sea, from Al Udeid in Qatar and so forth, a very devastating bombing campaign.
Indeed, President Trump has suggested it, with his very impolitic remark about 52 sites and so forth. This is a strategic situation, and we caused it. And it’s going to rebound to our disfavor, I think.
AMY GOODMAN: Colonel Wilkerson, on Friday, Vice President Pence falsely attempted to link Major General Soleimani to the 9/11 attacks. He tweeted that Soleimani, “assisted in the clandestine travel to Afghanistan of 10 of the 12 terrorists who carried out the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.”
The New York Times and others have noted the claim lacks evidence. If you can talk about what General Powell did, that speech he gave on February 5th, 2003, that you helped to prepare? Again, this also backs up Secretary of State Pompeo, who said that Iran was just about to attack U.S. personnel again. Where’s the evidence, as you have asked the question back in 2003?
LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Well, Amy, this is laughable. Pence’s words, in particular, are laughable. Soleimani and his entourage were actually helping us in Afghanistan in 2001, early 2002, to fight the Taliban. We got indispensable help from Iran in that regard. And then President Bush made the statement about the “axis of evil” and sort of countermanded all that good cooperation. Nonetheless, they still were cooperating with us, all the way up to the Bonn conference and the selection of Karzai to be the intermediate ruler in Afghanistan. So, this is total falsehood. But this seems to be a practice of the Trump administration, as it was a practice of the Bush administration.
Ever since 9/11, the beast of the national security state, the beast of endless wars, the beast of the alligator that came out of the swamp, for example, and bit Donald Trump just a few days ago, is alive and well.
Those boys and girls who were getting on those planes at Fort Bragg to augment forces in Iraq, if you looked at their faces and, even more importantly, if you looked at the faces of the families assembled to get onto the planes, you were looking at a lot of Donald Trump’s base.
That base voted for Donald Trump because he promised to end these endless wars. He promised to drain the swamp. Well, as I said, an alligator from that swamp jumped out and bit him. And then he ordered the killing of Qassem Soleimani, a member of another national security state in good standing.
Here you have one of the most egregious things of what we did and one of the biggest reasons that neither the two previous presidents decided to do what Trump did. Just as we OKed torture for US military personnel from 2002 to 2008, we have demonstrated to the world that the US is now OK with the killing of recognized members of other states’ governments.
That’s what Soleimani was, no matter how heinous we may paint him. He was a member of an established state’s government – and we assassinated him.
That was a very dangerous precedent to have set. Members of the Russian Duma, Vladimir Putin himself and even China have talked about this dangerous precedent. Had it been the Israelis who did this, they would have done it and sent flowers to Tehran; but it would have been completely covert. There would have been no boasting, no public thumping of the chest and so forth.
The Narcissist in the White House
That’s the narcissist in the White House that caused that to happen. And, by doing it, he sanctioned the killing of other state actors.
Let’s put the shoe on the other foot: someone coming into Washington and assassinating one of our leaders. We have just sanctioned that. We have become the law of the jungle, rather than, as we had been since 1945, the greatest supporter of international law and the rule of law across the face of the globe.
With torture and with killing other state-recognized individuals of other governments, we have become the tiger, the lion, the bear, and the alligator in that jungle. It’s a terrible precedent to have set.
And now we have to steel ourselves for what the reaction might be. And as I said earlier, the strategic initiative is now in Tehran’s hands. They can decide now whether or not it’s a major escalation or just something that sort of fritters away over time and doesn’t compel the U.S. to execute a bombing package against the targets, for example, as Trump has suggested. I don’t want to be in that world, but that’s where we are.
Al-Sistani said it best in Iraq. Al-Sistani, by the way, was a big help to us in 2003 and 2004, when the insurgency was developing, that Donald Rumsfeld, of course, said wasn’t there. Al-Sistani helped. And his statement the other day that he did not want Iraq to be the battleground of settling scores was a perfect description of what is happening. Trump is trying to settle a score, everything from 1) he doesn’t want to do what Obama did to 2) he thinks his maximum-tension campaign is working when it’s not. That’s what it’s all about.
Two Major Diplomatic Failures, Because of Trump’s Narcissism and Lack of Competence
And incidentally, we have another failure in diplomacy perpetrated by Trump developing right now in the Korean Peninsula. We used to have a saying in the Pentagon when we were doing war planning. We hoped that the North Koreans and the Iraqis, at that time, now the Iranians, don’t decide to collude and attack at the same time. Donald Trump has set the kind of strategic situation up now with two major diplomatic failures, mostly because of the narcissism and the lack of competence that he has exhibited, but also because of the national security state and its desire to keep these (profitable) wars going.
What happened in the first days of the Bush over-reaction on Afghanistan was not really a military action. It was a CIA action. Donald Rumsfeld actually got furious with the Army because we couldn’t get into Afghanistan fast enough for him. But if you look at a map, you will see why we couldn’t get into Afghanistan quickly. We had to first go to Pakistan and Uzbekistan and ask them for overflight and logistic rights and so forth in order to even get into Afghanistan.
But what you had was essentially a war between the Taliban, Mullah Omar and his group, what was left of al-Qaeda, and the Northern Alliance, which the CIA had been supporting all along. Al-Qaeda had killed Massoud, the “Lion of Panjshir,” the guy who was really leading the Northern Alliance. So it was really chaotic.
After we got some special operators in, with, of course, precision-guided munitions, we began to turn the tide. And we began to get to a situation where — I can tell you, we were almost apoplectic at the time. One of the groups that helped us the most, as you might imagine, were the Iranians, because the Iranians looked at the Taliban as their enemy, too. You may recall that the Taliban had killed some Iranian diplomats and others in the months prior so the Iranians were all for our eliminating the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, and so they pitched in to help.
Once President Bush had given his speech about the “axis of evil” (and included Iran in the axis), their desire to help was not quite as ardent as it was before. But they, nonetheless, realizing, as Iran almost always does — I hate these people who say they’re irrational. They’re far more rational than we are. Let me say that the leadership in Tehran is far more rational than the leadership in Washington. And they did in fact continue to help us, all the way through to the Bonn conference. And Soleimani was part of that effort.
AMY GOODMAN: You just said Esper, Pence, Pompeo and Trump were lying. Explain what they’re lying about right now.
LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Well, the first thing they’re lying about is that Soleimani was an imminent threat. That claim was laughable. And the fact that Esper and Pompeo (who do have some expertise in military affairs) are saying these things makes them even more egregious liars than otherwise. They’re anything but experts. They are warmongers. They are warmongers par excellence.
“Rapture/End Times Theorists” Appear to be in Charge of Foreign Policy
Mike Pompeo and Vice President Pence both long for the rapture, for the end times, for Jesus coming down to the Earth and killing all the unbelievers with his flaming sword. This is what they are all about. This is why they allowed the embassy to move to Jerusalem. Go back and check the remarks that were made at that time, the prayers that were given and so forth. This is, in a word, a very different U.S. administration, but in the same hands of the military-industrial complex, of the national security state, of all the people who want warfare to be the raison d’être of this empire at the same time.
Incompetent Leadership in the Trump White House
So, you’re looking at an incompetent leadership, coupled with a leadership that’s ruthless and brutal and knows where it wants to go. And with Iran, it’s regime change, period. And if they have to go to war, that’s what they want.
And now they’ve got it to the point where it’s going to be extremely difficult — I’d put the chances at 50-50 — for us to extricate ourselves from this march to war. And this war will endanger Iraq in terms of its consequences in blood and treasure.