Jerri-Lynn here. Normally, I would not post another Real News Network interview with Colin Powell’s former chief of staff when he was Secretary of State, Tom Wilkerson so close to Yves posting Is the US Headed Towards War in Syria?, another interview with the same subject just last week. Yet given the urgency of the topic, reader interest in last week’s post, and the perhaps Panglossian hope that high-level focus on this issue now might limit the range of future options that hawkish Hillary Clinton can take in future– in what I must admit still looks to be the likeliest scenario, that she is inaugurated come January– I upload this post. Perhaps if the Obamamometer took time off from his rounds of legacy-burnishing interviews and concentrated on this problem, he might have a chance of correcting one specific aspect of his horrendous existing foreign policy legacy before the clock runs out on his administration.
This Real News Network interview with Lawrence Wilkerson, offers some suggestions on what would be necessary to stop the immediate ongoing slaughter and reach a peaceful solution in the longer term. It’s by no means the most comprehensive nor the last word on the subject. I cleaned up the rush transcript as best I could. Please excuse any remaining errors.
SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
As the civil war in Syria rages on, a school was struck in an airstrike in a rebel held area of northern Syria last week. Reports indicate that 22 children died in the attack along with several civilians. The Russians who are supporting Syria’s president al-Assad denied any involvement in the strike. There’s also much speculation that Russians were not reelected to the UN Human Rights Council last Friday because of its involvement in Syria. But this is not known for certain since nations do not need to disclose why they choose to reject candidates for the council. Also last week, Amnesty International released a report in which it estimates that US-led coalition airstrikes in Syria have killed at least 300 civilians. It suggests the US military must come clean on the casualties that they have caused. So far, the war in Syria has cost somewhere between 250 thousand and 400 thousand deaths and has created over 4 million refugees. The highly complicated conflict has increased tensions between the US and Russia and a ceasefire seems more remote than ever.
Joining us now to take a closer look at the conflict and what is required to end this 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. Larry, it’s so good to have you with us today.
LARRY WILKERSON: Thanks for having me Sharmini.
PERIES: So Larry, last week when we talked, you mentioned that Hillary Clinton’s proposal to implement a no fly zone over Syria and what that would probably mean is that it would worsen the conflict. So then, what steps need to be taken by the US to bring this conflict to a peaceful resolution?
WILKERSON: Sharmini, this is going to sound like the impossible but there are two steps that need to be taken right away, immediately. The first is a high-level policy step which says President Obama and his council of elders, his National Security Council, whatever, should decide that Bashar al-Assad does not have to go. I think from what we have seen, the United States continuing to insist that Bashar al-Assad being untenable– that is unacceptable as President Obama said it earlier– is simply a position that now is part and parcel to all this blood and carnage and treasure and lives and diaspora being caused. If you can’t back up from a strategic error like this and count your loses and say okay I made a mistake. You don’t have to publicly say that but you have to say that in the councils of government and you have to be able to say I’m going to rectify that mistake. I miscalculated.
Bashar al-Assad has enormous support. He has support not just outside Syria from Iran and Russia and elsewhere. He has support from inside Syria. Significant support. Then you have to face the reality too that on the other side you are largely supporting your own enemy, Al Qaeda. No matter what you say about the CIA’s ability to differentiate between so called moderate rebels and those of the Al Nusra Front and those of Al Qaeda affiliates, that is pure nonsense. The CIA does not have that kind of capability. It does not have that kind of discrimination. So, most of the people we are now arming to fight Assad look a lot like Al Qaeda to me. So, you’ve got to admit you’ve made two huge errors and you have to rectify those errors. Those are the steps you need to make immediately.
PERIES: Now what’s preventing them from doing that and is what you’re proposing unrealistic in the US diplomatic and military milieu?
WILKERSON: Unrealistic if you don’t have the political will nor the political courage to pursue a rectification of your errors. But what is the consequence? The consequence is more death, more conflict, more destruction, more damage, more tragedy, more refugees, more making Jordan unstable, and so forth. You’ve got to be able to back up from these strategic errors and instead of doing what throughout history, bad leaders have done, that is reinforce the strategic error until it becomes catastrophic, you’ve got to reverse it. And you’ve got to replace it with a better policy. You’ve got to force Saudi Arabia, you’ve got to force the Qataris, you’ve got to force the Turks however way you may do it. Economic, political, financial, whatever, you’ve got to force them to follow you. They don’t have to follow you like lapdogs but at least they do have to recognize your change in policy and begin to at least for appearance’s sake, support it.
If the United States were to leave I think the rest of them would, reluctantly somewhat, follow in domain. What does that mean? That means you quit supplying these opposition forces with the massive arms that we are supplying them with. That includes anti-tank missiles and other elements. They’re just going to make them go on and on and on. After all, Iran and Russia and Syria had an inexhaustible [coffers] of the kind of equipment that they need to oppose us as we do to oppose them. So, what are we doing here? We’re having a great power confrontation over the graves and the blood of the Syrian people. This just simply has to stop.
PERIES: Now in the past, Larry you said that Israel seems to be playing a contradictory role in Syria’s conflict. If one is to believe that Israel actually prefers Assad to be in power than an Islamic regime there, would it not make sense for US to do what you’re saying? To reassess and take a step back and keep Assad in power?
WILKERSON: I think I’d have to say the contrary is operating right now Sharmini. Michael Horne has said point blank, he has that Israel would rather when I say Israel, let me be more precise, Bibi Netanyahu and Bibi Netanyahu’s government would rather see ISIS in command, Al Qaeda in command in Damascus, than they would Bashar al-Assad. So, that’s what we’re up against here. But I don’t think we’re up against the Israeli people. If the Israeli people were confronted with the reality of this chaos and this collapse of nations all around them, it’s more detrimental to their long-term security than coming to some accommodation with these countries and helping them come back to some reasonable degree of stability and political feasibility, I think it’d get a change of attitude in Israel.
But no one’s telling them the truth. Everyone is scaring them and everyone is saying well you’ve got to keep these people in chaos. You’ve got to keep them on the verge of collapse if not collapsing. You’ve got to change these regimes and it would be better to have ISIS in charge in Damascus rather than have Assad. Just think how preposterous that is and yet that’s what’s being said.
PERIES: Now in the last few weeks Larry, we’ve seen the battle of Aleppo covered extensively in the media. However there’s another battle going on in Mosul similar in that sense in terms of the number of people that its attacking and very devastating there as well but very little attention in the media about what’s happening in Mosul. What is going on there and what’s the comparison here?
WILKERSON: Well the media in this country don’t care about this place Sharmini. They don’t care about anything but Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and how big Kim Kardashian is today. What’s happening in Mosul is in one sense a tactical defeat and maybe even an operational and maybe even strategic defeat for the group known as ISIS, ISIL and their ideal of upholding territory. It’s going to happen in Mare’. They’re going to be roundly defeated with regard to that aspect of their strategy. But what’s going to happen in Mosul afterwards is going to refer back to their previous comments just now Sharmini which are going to have happen in Mosul afterwards is going to be the Turks and the Iraqis confronting one another.
Everyone has made it pretty clear that he’s not going to respond to the Baghdad government’s request for him to stay out of Mosul in any real way. You’re going to have Kurds. You’re going to have all manner of different groups that have sufficient power to contest power in Mosul after ISIS is kicked out. Then you’re going to see the proof of the pudding with regard to whether Iraq stays a state as it is currently constituted, however fragile, or it goes into something else. Splinters into two or three or possibly even more states. And you’re going to see whether or not the Kurds can be talked into an autonomous relationship with these countries rather than an independent country of their own or whether everyone in Turkey will bless any of that.
So, you’re going to have the aftermath of Mosul and the defeat of ISIL which I think is going to happen. You’re going to have that aftermath determine the future of several countries in that region if not the future of the region for many years to come and it’s going to be indicative of whether or not we’re going to be able to politically, diplomatically, economically and otherwise forge some kind of stability, some kind of peace, some kind of prosperity for the many young people in the region and bring people home from places like Jordan and Lebanon. And put them back in their own homes in places like Libya and Syria and so forth. The proof of the pudding as I said is going to be in the aftermath of Mosul, not necessarily in the tactical battle occurring there right now.
PERIES: Alright Larry, Ill let you go for now but looking forward to having you back next week.
WILKERSON: Thanks. Take care.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
“How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas masks here because of a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing.” — Neville Chamberlain
He’d forgotten about Versailles already, like a proper little liberal?
Not so fast, Jim: The territorial integrity of Syria is mentioned in the article, and it is a good argument against the depredations of Israel and Turkey. Chamberlain wasn’t concerned about Sudetenland. We seem to be in a different situation here: Yes, the Assad family is bad, but then the alternatives right now are worse. If the U S of A hadn’t blown all of its advantages, we might be asking for a peace conference. But that won’t happen now.
Neville Chamberlain is one of my heroes.
I admire him not for accommodating Hitler when Britain was unprepared for war but for his approval as Chancellor of the Exchequer against all his staff and Bank of England, of the Birmingham Municipal Bank.
The licensing of the bank was part of an attempt by the Chamberlains, father and son, to introduce competition in British banking in replacement of the Treasury’s determined promotion of monopoly. It lasted little longer than its promoters.
The British people today regret the wonderful opportunity they were given but soon lost.
I’m really rather amazed, given that they’ve lost two major wars (Iraq, Afghanistan) and Clinton’s excellent Libyan adventure was a debacle, that The Blob can, even nominally — that is, laying aside
cynicismrealism about ka-ching! — advocate military intervention as a solution to anything.
Why keep reinforcing failure?
There’s an article over at Washingtons blog about the anti-Russia attitude that is prevailing in Washington at the moment that seems to tie in with this interview. I don’t begin to understand enough about all of the machinations going on to even guess who is pulling the strings on all of this stuff. Usually the bread crumbs lead to organizations like AEI whose members start to salivate whenever there is a whiff of conflict.
The Intercept Outs Neocon Democrat’s Smear Against Trump as ‘Putin’s Puppet’
Posted on November
Different strokes for different folks. Obama was embarrassed by Putin in Syria, and then Putin was magnanimous. Putin could have gone to Brussels, Tokyo, Beijing, Dehli, or even looked to African or South American partners to assist in the chemical weapon disposal, but he let Obama back in from the cold. I have no doubt the White House has to be anti-Putin to keep Obama happy.
Then there are the usual war mongers who recognize ISIS didn’t lead to a call for more no bid contracts. Then there is the Hillary campaign’s desire to win “moderate” suburban Republicans who loved anti-Russian rhetoric from Mittens and Palin. The Gulf dictators. Fossil fuel companies. Gazprom is state owned, the horror.
The neoconservatives and the rest of the U.S. rules the world crowd have to recognize China can’t just replace the U.S. China needs a carrot and to offer reassurance China isn’t a traditional imperial power. Enter Putin’s new Russia, too small to dominate and large enough to tell China off. Could you imagine a world where foreign governments went “hey, why do we need an F-35 when S-400’s and retrofitted Cessnas fill our needs?”
I think you mean CSIS. Kissinger and Brzezinski being members emeriti, among other interesting characters.
Correcting myself after a quick look at what AEI is up to. WTF…. Both organizations sure do have beautiful new buildings, packed with technology to disseminate their propaganda.
Accepting that Assad should stay and that as far as possible the territorial unity of Syria should be respected is the obvious ‘least worst’ outcome – any other stance is just prolonging the agony of the Syrian people. Unfortunately, as the article suggests, it requires Obama to reverse course and his history shows that when he’s been shown to be wrong (Libya, Egypt), he just shuffles around and pretends its someone else’s fault. I think the sign of a true leader is someone who takes responsibility for errors and tries to change them. This is not Obama.
As for Mosul, the fight against Isis is only the start. The failure to reign in Turkey from interfering outside its borders will have terrible consequences for the region. There will be a three, four or more-way fight for northern Iraq and the Kurdish parts of Syria. The US, as usual, will end up fighting on the side of two or more of the combatants, depending on which demented theory is currently favoured by the Washington Blob. How long will it be before some bright spark decides Isis isn’t so bad after all and might be a useful force against whoever someone decides needs to be stopped?
We seem not to have taken Mosul yet, although the (presumed) victors have already begun to quarrel over the spoils:
Iraq ‘ready for war’ with Turkey over who should control Mosul after Isis Independent
IMO the solution in Syria and elsewhere is the destruction of the U.S. as a significant power (regime change) and maybe too its military defeat. The U.S. government is the worlds greatest terrorist state and the most powerful nation as a force for evil on earth today and has been for some time. IMO there is zero indication of any prospect for change in policy in the U.S. in the absence of a military capable of withstanding America’s. The only thing saving Russia or China from the U.S. evil agenda that would bring suffering not just to Syria but Russia and China is their military power – NOT as some like Rabbid Ghandi erroneously suggest doing what’s “legal” as defined by the U.N. or whatever. If the U.S. accepts the reality of Assad it will do so only because it fears Russian military power.
An excellent interview. Something all westerners should see. This comment is even more to the point – the ugly reality all westerners avoid because we can’t handle the truth. We are the force for evil in the world(the US and its allies). That won’t change until we are honest with ourselves or we are beaten down economically and militarily, to the point we can no longer terrorize anyone else.
At this point, I am 100% ready to greet any invading army as liberators. Especially if Queen neocon manages to inch out the orange one.
Many years ago when I was in Germany more often, I recall asking some contemporaries how WW2 was presented in the German school system. The answer I got (in a passive voice) was that it was presented a series of facts (this happened, that happened).
I was also told that the victorious Allied troops in Germany were presented less as occupiers but more as liberators of the German people from the government that controlled them. They implied that the people needed to be saved from their own government by outsiders.
History may not repeat, but it does rhyme.
Isn’t the implication of this piece that the US should withdraw its support for the assault on Mosul and rather recognize ISIS as the legitimate government of what was formerly northeastern Syria and nortwestern Iraq?
Thanks for this. It’s fascinating that Wilkerson, who’s probably as knowledgeable as anyone about ISIS, can’t decide whether the loss of Mosul is anything more than a tactical setback. Are their resources and aims really that ill-defined and shape-shifting?
IIRC correctly, holding Mosul gave them control over a lot of Iraq oil money. Probably was funding most of ISIS “needs”, like paying and feeding jihadist_mercenaries and buying weapons from who knows who.
So cutting off the money, for now, is more than a minor setback.
The funding part of all this is as they say complicated, as far as I can tell. Here is a WaPo article from 2015 that indicates just how “nimble” and MBA-type smart the ISIS leadership is: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/11/18/how-isis-makes-its-money/ Some more granularity for context, from Business Insider: http://www.businessinsider.com/r-islamic-state-keeps-up-syrian-oil-flow-despite-us-led-strikes-2014-10
And there are many stories in less prestigious sources that note a number of Israeli entrepreneurs are involved in the ISIS oil trade, and that Israel of all places is a consumer destination for ISIS oil. http://nsnbc.me/2014/06/27/israel-buys-smuggled-iraqi-oil-joins-u-s-push-for-kurdish-state/
Then there are attempts to capture the complexity, or parts of it, like this: “The Silence of the Israelis on ISIS,” https://consortiumnews.com/2014/11/05/the-silence-of-the-israelis-on-isis/
Given that supranational corporations apparently envy ISIS’ freedom of action, vertical and horizontal integration and durability and expansion into new markets, http://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2014-the-business-of-isis-spreadsheets-annual-reports-and-terror/#/ , and the niche ISIS fills in so many scenes of the neoliberal-neoconservative drama, one wonders what set(s) of powers that be are really all that interested in “crushing ISIS:” Which of course is an organization that has purpose and drive and a young energy and organizing principle that seems to be more likely to defeat the failing energies of “the West…”
And by all accounts, the ISIS leadership whether out of cynical gaming or something else, at least appears to be providing a fair amount of what us mopes think of as “governance” in our dreams of a “just society…” Consumer Protection Bureau? Banking? (Of course it’s noted that ISIS is a “two tier political economy” also — “Terrorists” getting the biggest slice of the pie…)
Ah, but “everybody knows” these creatures are Evil Personified and Must Be Destroyed At All Costs (even if our rulers and great military leaders don’t apparently have a clue how to do that, or more important cut off the mechanisms that keep creating more recruits for the ISIS ranks…) Or maybe “we” just leave them out there as a “threat…” After all, they don’t appear to be threatening any destruction of The Glorious Homeland…
I’m leaning towards the “Useful Cockroaches” theory as an explanation.
And from 2014 no less! The US never made a meaningful attempt to wreck ISIS’s oil smuggling operation. It took the Russian involvement to do that.
Regime change ops make for strange bedfellows… Terrorists in Syria, neonazis in Ukraine, murderous juntas in Central and South America, all in the name of freedumb, democracy, and human rights of course.
Sociopaths never conform to reality, they create reality.
Foundational principle as articulated by Rove.
He is certainly right that US has to admit an error – if Assad were really as unpopular as US claims, he’d be long gone by now. The question is does US really want to solve the problem? The truth is that for Syria’s minorities, this is an existential fight (as it is for Russia). The war is incorrectly referred to as a civil war – in fact, it is a mercenary war. (Although it is true that Syria has had an ongoing struggle with the Muslim Bro. – and that a compromise with those guys has never been possible.) In the ME context, Syria was a highly developed country – same as Iraq and Libya. So the question has to be what does US hope to gain by destroying some of the most advanced Arab countries, while indulging medieval monarchies of SA and Qatar (the main culprits against Syria). Who really benefits from the destruction and the ensuing chaos?
On the other hand, it took US 30 years to admit a mistake in Vietnam (involvement from 1945-1975) – so not much hope for a correction now.
(It is strange that Sharmini opens the segment with a mention about an attack on a school – attributed to Russians or Syrians – which has been completely debunked as a lie. No attack on that school happened, since it still stands, intact. TRNN’s Syria coverage has been hit or miss – they sometimes feature a guy who peddles AEI’s talking points. As for explaining this posting by Lynn – no need to do that, since this is one of the most important conflicts right now and more information is better than less.)
Why should any country in the middle east consent to the petro-dollar now? Because organization trumps chaos. So that’s prolly why we are creating such chaos. The Pentagon surely thought that overthrowing 7 countries would destabilize the oil market enough that we could maintain control. Or stg. like that. And in the process maybe get our hands on the Caspian. Mosul is close to the southern Caspian. How close must you be to do horizontal drilling? It sounded like Qatar was horizontally siphoning Iranian gas/oil (a while back when they were saber rattling). Will the middle east become so exhausted with conflict that they say “enough” and sit down with each other to devise a functioning cartel? Or allow each other their own market? Are we really paving the way for our own exit, our own irrelevance? Obama is merely setting the stage for President Clinton to perform her own manipulations. Her own Hillary disasters.
Remember who “they” is — OILigarchs, kleptocrats, the Likudniks… most of them, like that dude Arafat, or all those potentates in subSaharan Africa. There is no way for these grabbers and takers to come together on anything — all about self-serving, self-pleasing, self-aggrandizing. No awareness of negative consequence potential, all in for the “Apres moi le deluge” gravy train.
maybe there is even more method to our madness – just read the link to SCMP article on the squabble at the Tibetan border, which hardly seems worth the effort – and then scrolling down to articles on IS and the Caliphate moving to eastern Afghanistan to continue their skirmishes with western China. That’s gotta be one of the most interesting pieces of info in a year or two.
Frickin’ Chinese and their curse about “living in interesting times…”
The ISIS phenomenon seems to me to be a dark reflection of the whole neoliberal shadow. And is it not interesting, how elastic and nimble and durable a political economy can be when it is wrapped around an ORGANIZING PRINCIPLE, that “missing link” I keep harping about amongst all the picayune compartmentalized intelligent discourse about what “WE” should be doing about this, that, or the other policything…
Nice, decent people, especially when constantly buzzed and seduced by the miasma of combustoconsumption culture (even when aware that something is so very wrong), and the flood of Bernays sauce that we all are drowning in, seem to have a very hard time coalescing with any potency and persistence around the kind of organizing principle that might counter and dissipate the MOREism and “fundamentalism” memes and tropes and shibboleths…
Maybe only the Hordes and “war bands” and neoliberals pursuing personal pleasure and neocons in pursuit of hegemony and looting are capable of such sustained ferocity and intention and persistence. Because of the nature of the Beast. That would be too bad,..
For those wanting to venture into some disturbing source material, try “The Management of Savagery,” by Sheik Abu Bakr Naji, as a kind of tight statement of the overall flow and flexibility and grand plan of the Islamic State people. https://archive.org/stream/TheManagementOfBarbarismAbuBakrNaji/The%20Management%20of%20Barbarism%20-%20Abu%20Bakr%20Naji#page/n61/mode/2up There are probably more accessible versions of the document out there.
Our fokking planners and generals and politicians and statesmen are panty-waist decadent pikers next to that kind of adamant fire. And I hate that such is the case — not that any of “our” rulers gives a sh!t whether the rest of us live or die, or whether ISIS burns or beheads as long as it’s not their pearly a$$e$ in danger…
What is it “we” want from “our” political economy, and what can and will “we” do to to make it happen?
The US has made a strategic error in insisting Assad makes go. Rectifying this mistake is necessary to stop further carnage and bloodshed in Syria and beyond.
long time hypothesis that US policy in Syria is greatly driven by Qatari interests/lobbying.
“Bashar al-Assad has enormous support. He has support not just outside Syria from Iran and Russia and elsewhere. He has support from inside Syria.”
It’s more than that. Bashar al-Assad is the legitimate head of the government of Syria which is a sovereign state. The Syrians are fighting for the existence of their nation –
To run bombing missions destroying a country’s infrastructure and killing its people and its army and to put troops into a country without that country’s invitation or the UN’s authorisation is not a mistake. It is aggression which is a war crime under the UN charter.
Thanks Yves for posting these articles on Syria.
As an ordinary American, I really appreciate Lawrence Wilkerson’s insights which have been published here and elsewhere. He would make a very good Secretary of State in my opinion. And after serving as Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff, I suspect he also knows both the foreign policy and Pentagon crowds, those whose judgment is sound, as well as who welds the long knives.
It would be a nice parting gift if President Obama were to officially admit that the policy of pursuing regime change in Syria has been a miserable failure. He might even privately admit it, but I don’t see much hope for any public statement that might help to hamstring the incoming administration from doubling down on fail (Killary and her neo-con buddies.)
For one thing, it is difficult to admit you were wrong. And even if he did muster the courage, which he should, he would be undermined at every turn by the State Department, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the other neo-cons embedded inside his own administration. They can undercut him and play “run out the clock” now.
As we saw with the nomination of Geithner, personnel is policy. No change will come in DC until the neo-cons are ruthlessly purged from the halls of power.
Conceding on Assad is the wrong thing to do:
I wonder what this person thinks about all the various al qaedas, al nusras, and all the other cannibal jihadi liver-eaters who are not ISIS and never were, but are still a deadly threat and a menace to every non-Sunni minority member living in Syria? Or is this person one of the qaedas and the nusras and the cannibal jihadi liver-eaters?
I wonder if this person peddles the lie that the Turko-Saudi supplied rebel kitchen-sarin false-flag attack near Damascus was done “by Assad”?
The way to bring peace to Syria is to exterminate the rebellion. The way to do that is to keep exterminating every rebel in Syria until the survivors surrender unconditionally . . . or until every last rebel is exterminated. Only the R +,6 can do that.
There is a danger that Clinton will be elected. If she is, she will resupply and rebuild the cannibal jihadi liver-eater rebellion all over again. Hopefully the R + 6 can get the rebellion so exterminated that there is no jihadi terrorist infrastructure left for Clinton to rebuild from.
After their failure was realized in Vietnam the United States still took an inane length of time to stop the bloodshed and go home!