‘The Saudis are Going to Fight Tehran to the Last Dead American’

Lambert here: NC readers, this Real News Network segment on our friends, the Saudis, concludes with grounds for optimism, in this exchange between TRNN’s Paul Jay and Larry Wilkerson:

PAUL JAY: [The administration] can’t execute much of anything right now.

LARRY WILKERSON: You’ve got a point. I’ve often said, and from time to time Colin Powell and I would joke about that the best thing going for us was incompetence.

So, “gridlock is our friend” in foreign policy, as well. (By contrast, we were extremely competent at overthrowing Qaddafi and getting his country bombed, and look where that got us.)

* * *

PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay, and we are live on Facebook and YouTube and TheRealNews.com and now joining us is Larry Wilkerson. 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 and Mary and a regular contributor to The Real News. Thanks for joining us again, Larry.

LARRY WILKERSON: Good to be here, Paul.

PAUL JAY: Whether this works or not, I don’t know, but if you look at Flynn’s appearance on RT, and I wish we had the clip. I wasn’t ready for this, but when Flynn went to Russia, to Moscow, and appeared on RT television for an extended interview with a bunch of journalists and Russian foreign policy people, and he was asked about the Syria situation, and essentially said, “We will hand …” This is Flynn. He wasn’t yet the national security advisor, but he was clearly going to be, and he was working with the Trump campaign. He got in trouble for this appearance. I don’t know why, but he got paid for this appearance. He said, “If you’ll just figure out a way to ease Assad out, we can work Syria out with you so that you can control …” It may not have been the exact words, but he essentially says, “You can control the outcome in Syria, but you’re going to have to not save Assad himself.” This is about convergence of interests, is what I’m saying, not just two individuals making a deal.

LARRY WILKERSON: No, I don’t disagree with that. Here’s what I would say, Paul. There’s another version to this, that all these conspiratorial talks and everything that are being pitched by the Democrats as such, for political gain as much as anything else, were in fact something not that much different from what Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon did with regard to the first European intermediaries and then the Pakistani intermediaries with China. Not at all different from that, if we put a more positive spin on it. In other words, Trump and his team, such as it was, saw that Russia-U.S. relations were seriously deteriorating, and they wanted to rescue them for whatever reason. It could have been a private reason, money, heavy debt, whatever. It doesn’t matter. They wanted to rescue it. Geostrategically, that’s not a bad proposition.

All they were doing in these initial meetings was what Henry and Dick did. They just weren’t in office yet. They were trying to establish contacts, some of them out of the regular channels because they knew the regular channels were corrupt as hell, which is exactly what Dick and Henry did. They cut the State Department completely out of the rapprochement with China. I don’t see any fault in that, if that is indeed what they were trying to do, get a situation going where they could have better relations. If they wanted to trade things off, as great powers and others have done since time immemorial, that’s fine too. If they want to trade Assad off, that’s fine too.

Did Putin suddenly decide that he was dealing with idiots, and so he decided to violate the deal, or did he just decide to violate the deal because he likes Assad, or he found himself on more propitious strategic grounds than he thought he would be, and said, “Oh, I’m not living up to the full part of the bargain.” I don’t know, but it’s always dangerous when you make these kinds of bargains with people who are as slippery, as shrewd, and play chess and not checkers like you, like Putin.

PAUL JAY: Yeah. I agree with everything you said. I’m not in any way … I shouldn’t say … There is one way I am critiquing this. Anything that lowers tensions between any of the major powers is a good thing in my mind.


PAUL JAY: But, what I’m getting at, or I guess what I’m asking, in terms of targeting Iran, which I do not think this administration has given up on, far from it, the Saudis I think are aggressive as anything. In fact, a lot of this purge, and I’m not sure enough has been made of this, but the purge of these various princes by the new crown prince in Saudi Arabia, some of that seems to have been princes who were opposed to this very anti-Iranian policy of the crown prince.

LARRY WILKERSON: Yes, opposed to the split with Qatar, which was in my view utterly stupid, strategically inept, breaking up the GCC that way.

PAUL JAY: It’s all about getting ready for an even more aggressive stance towards Iran. What I’m saying is, I’m not so sure Russia will mitigate that aggression towards Iran.

LARRY WILKERSON: I’m not sure Russia will be willing to step into that one, because I think that would be propitious for Putin to stand on the sidelines and watch the United States, mainly because of Israel and its commitment to Israel, and to a certain extent Saudi Arabia, get sucked into it. That’s exactly my expectation, that we are going to, as one headline had it the other day, be the Saudis’ proxy. The Saudis are going to fight Tehran to the last dead American, and the Israelis of course will fight Hezbollah to the last dead American. They’ll do a little bit better of the fighting, but that’s the way it will be. The Saudis are utterly incompetent at military operations. You’re seeing that in Yemen. They drop their bombs from so high altitude because their pilots are scared to death of getting hit by antiaircraft fire that the bombs go everywhere, schools, hospitals, churches. It is going to be, if it is going to be, an extremely brutal war.

Iran will respond probably asymmetrically. They will not exchange hardware with Saudi Arabia. They will send the Quds Force, now highly trained and highly capable, into the oil-producing regions of Saudi Arabia, where Shia mostly work, and they will stoke those Shia, and the kingdom, and Mohammad bin Salman, this consolidating of power crown prince will suddenly have a rebellion on his hands. This could really get bad. It can go bad really fast.

PAUL JAY: We’re in a very dangerous moment in various places in the world. Just to add-

LARRY WILKERSON: Paul, we’re exactly as you just characterized it, and what we have in Washington is a bunch of amateurs with no experience. I include Rex Tillerson in that. That is not what you want on your team when you’re in this kind of situation.

PAUL JAY: And, a very divided Washington. I’m reading reports, I don’t know how credible they are because obviously I’m not so sure of the websites I’ve been seeing them, but apparently a real split between the Pentagon and sections of the CIA, which apparently don’t buy this policy of maintenance of the Assad era, or what should I say, accepting Assad is going to stay in power. There’s sections of the CIA that are continuing to fund and arm anti-Assad Islamic forces in Syria, and that the Pentagon is seriously at odds with these people in the CIA. Have you heard this?

LARRY WILKERSON: I haven’t. My question there as always, and has been recently, does the president know about this? Does McMaster know about this? Is this happening beneath their watch, as it did with Ronald Reagan with the Contras and Sandinistas in South America, Honduras and Nicaragua? Ronald Reagan did not know everything that Bill Casey and his minions were doing, including Bob Gates. There were things going on between the president’s watch, if you will. Who cares what the reason was, dotage, or inattention, or whatever? That happens from time to time with the CIA. When you get these internecine bureaucratic battles beneath it, it gets even worse. I wouldn’t be surprised at all, because I have seen it before in the historical record, in the archives, in testimony. It’s there.

PAUL JAY: Maybe we should welcome it. If everyone in the state, and the deep state, and the Pentagon, and CIA were all monolithic in their view of what to do next, we might be a lot closer to an attack on Iran and Iraq. Maybe this is a good thing. They can’t execute much of anything right now.

LARRY WILKERSON: You’ve got a point. I’ve often said, and from time to time Colin Powell and I would joke about that the best thing going for us was incompetence.

PAUL JAY: Yeah. I think I’ve been saying that. “Welcome the circus and chaos of the Trump show, because the alternative is worse.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
This entry was posted in Banana republic, Guest Post, Middle East, Politics, Russia on by .

About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Disturbed Voter

    There is a natural conflict between statecraft, and democratic ideals. Hence the notion of a republic, with representative (sarc) democracy as a narrative control. Sometimes you can be right, and lose … or be wrong, and win. And in statecraft it only matters if you win … but in democratic ideals it only matters if you are right.

    Strategy is the matter of aligning winning with being right. Not simple, just ask FDR.

  2. Larry

    If the only thing holding back an open war against Iran is the incompetence of the current leadership of the US, then I fear we’ll get dragged into said war quite quickly. Trump is nothing if not reactive and has yet had the chance to unleash the great power of the US military that every president loves to use to drum up the polling numbers. Perhaps when the NFL kerfuffle comes to it’s conclusion after the Superbowl he can turn his attention to #MAGA by bombing some foreign peoples.

  3. Quanka

    This feels like the moment in time when, looking out the side window, you see the wheels shooting down the hill and away from the vehicle you are still traveling in. Thats what the concluding statements from Wilkerson and Jay feel like to me — the coyote, frozen in midair, realizing another force has already taken control of the situation.

  4. Donald

    Wilkerson is being too easy on the Saudis. They aren’t bombing civilians because they are too scared to go after military targets. Or that could be true in some cases, but they are also clearly targeting civilians. The blockade is meant to hurt civilians.

    1. The Rev Kev

      Absolutely. That puts them in the same class as ISIS who they have been financing for years now. I see stories about Yemen on the TV and it drives me nuts as they talk about the blockade but either lie or dance around Saudi Arabia’s part in it. They just won’t come out and say that the Saudies are trying to starve a whole nation to death. The science fiction author Jerry Pournelle once wrote “Conquest is expensive, but extermination is cheap” and I think that this is what is happening here.

    2. Quanka

      I don’t disagree — as good as Wilkerson is he is often too easy on the schmucks — but I think he is making an important point about the lack of resolve among the non-elite factions in S.A. They are essentially not willing to risk their own lives too much … it starts with them making their bombing runs higher in the air and it ends with them not making their bombing runs at all. Maybe.

        1. Wukchumni

          Dresden had an SS headquarters there, where they utilized an electric guillotine until cooler heads prevailed on many thousands of victims…

          Not so innocent of a place~

          Recommended reading: Dresden: Tuesday February 13, 1945, by Frederick Taylor

          1. The Rev Kev

            Errr, think about what you are saying here. Lots of places had SS headquarters all around Europe back then. Does it seem reasonable to kill by fire scores of thousands of civilians – mostly women and children – for a handful of d****? I’m sure that Kurt Vonnegut (https://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?cc=mqr;c=mqr;c=mqrarchive;idno=act2080.0049.111;rgn=main;view=text;xc=1;g=mqrg) could have given you the drum here as he was a GI POW in that city back then.
            The Germans have never, ever forgotten the massacre at Dresden and will never forgive the Allies for it – nor should they. Consider this. The actions of a few in Washington DC has led to hundreds of thousands of people dying all around the planet the past few years but that does not mean that one should be in favour of nuking that city to get that handful. (I’m sure a few surgical strikes will do instead.)

  5. financial matters

    “”the purge of these various princes by the new crown prince in Saudi Arabia, some of that seems to have been princes who were opposed to this very anti-Iranian policy of the crown prince.””

    “”What I’m saying is, I’m not so sure Russia will mitigate that aggression towards Iran.
    LARRY WILKERSON: I’m not sure Russia will be willing to step into that one, because I think that would be propitious for Putin to stand on the sidelines and watch the United States””


    These two statements don’t resonate with me.

    Some of the more prominent and wealthy princes seemed to have been large funders of the Clinton Foundation which would seem to reflect being pro Wahabbi and anti-Iran.

    I think Saudi Arabia has witnessed how successful Russia was in Syria and is taking Putin seriously. I think the Saudi purge is about trying to limit Wahabbi terrorism as a concession to Russia.

    I think this also aligns with Trump’s goal of fighting the deep state of which the Clinton Foundation seems to be a major part.

    I don’t see Russia standing on the sidelines in a war with Iran. They worked together well in Syria and also both are aligned well with China’s new economic policy.

    I think Russia turned the corner in 2015 after what they saw in Libya and Syria and aren’t going to return to the old status quo.

    1. EoinW

      Depends on the definition of “stand on the sidelines”. Russia cannot confront the US military head on simply because the risk of a nuclear war is too great. They can still give the Iranians and Hizbollah much support and I’d expect them to do this.

      It’s clear Putin wants peace in the Middle East. There’s no talk of economic sanctions against any country, no talk of regime changes, no breaking international law just to bomb whomever you like. The man is even talking to the Saudis and Israelis! Now that’s diplomacy for you. Therefore something as insane as an attack on Iran or even an assault on southern Lebanon would end any Russian(and Chinese) illusions of ever being able to work with a rational US again. I’m sure they all wish America would just go away. The US getting out of the Middle East would be the best thing that could happen to the region. Unfortunately America isn’t going away. Therefore it’s up to people like Putin to gradually ease the US out of the picture without having the Americans blow everything up. Provide the empire with as soft a landing as possible while it’s sidelined from doing any more harm anywhere.

      1. Oregoncharles

        Hmmm – I wonder. Russia is a petro-state. If the Saudi oil fields get shut down – discussed just above – Russia benefits, big time. The price of oil would shoot out the roof. The US frackers would benefit, too, of course, but Putin has little reason to worry about that.

  6. EoinW

    If Wilkinson represents critical thinking in America, then America is a problem that will never be fixed. To take a RT interview and conflate it into a deal between Russia and America is ridiculous. Maybe “slippery” Putin never agreed to sell out Assad(a safe assumption). Thus there was no deal to break. It’s especially insulting to my intelligence to suggest you can’t deal with the Russians when it’s perfectly clear that it is the US who can’t stick to its deals.

    Regarding war with Iran, no rational mind would embark on such an adventure. It could easily bring down the house of Saud and lead to Hizbollah missles raining down on Israel. Common sense says: no war. But is the leadership of Arabia or Israel rational?

    I haven’t reached a final verdict on Trump yet. Yes he seems very juvenile. However one year in and he hasn’t really done any harm. The one test was the Syrian alleged gas attack and all principle parties handled that well. Trump fired off his air strikes at an insignificant target(most of the strikes missing). Meanwhile I’m sure Putin and Assad told each other to lay low until the latest American temper tantrum passed. Which they did and no further harm was done. Contrast that to what “No Fly Zone” Clinton’s reaction would have been. Have to give Trump a passing grade, even if I was very angry with him at the time. So he might be walking heavily but he’s yet to misuse the big stick.

    1. fresno dan

      November 27, 2017 at 9:03 am

      I’m also of two minds regarding Trump. On the one hand, much of what Trump does is standard republicanism, and a great many of the outrages are no worse than standard neolib screwings done to the 99%. Trump is merely more transparent at being self concerned…

      But so much of standard republicanism (or more accurately, Americanism) has been foreign intervention, from Bush 1’s limited Iraq invasion to the all out occupation by Bush II. Is the US military (and US intelligence/foreign policy community) really a restraining force? e.g., Libya. (this happened AFTER Iraq!). Does Trump have the backbone to say NO to military intervention? Seems to me Trump could easily be manipulated into military conflict.

      And also, if Trump were to initiate (or merely be the titular commander in chief when this occurs at the behest of others) a major conflict, Trump’s demeanor and behavior, specifically his rashness, could lead to some very ugly consequences. If Trump can’t get rid of Obamacare or pass tax cuts with republican majorities, its hard to imagine him marshaling a coherent military consensus. And Trump doesn’t do mea culpa’s – somebody will have to be found to be the scapegoat*

      *I never thought Trump could have gotten away with insulting McCain or a gold star family during REPUBLICAN primaries – isn’t the military sacrosanct for repubs??? Could, or would Trump say the US military is full of democratic 3rd columnists? Oaths of allegiance to Trump from the military?

  7. Chauncey Gardiner

    Why is Iran being perceived as our enemy? Cui bono?

    In addition to the influence of what is termed the “Saudi Lobby” (See Wikipedia), a book published in 2007 written by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt about the influence of the Israel Lobby over U.S. foreign policy is pertinent as I believe we are seeing the nexus between the current Saudi regime and Israeli right emerge.


    Further, there are domestic elements within the country who are pushing for war, primarily for underlying reasons of economic gain, power and control. As General Smedley Butler said, “War is a racket.”

    Seems to me that the wisdom of George Washington in his farewell address to the American people to avoid permanent foreign alliances, among much other beneficial advice, has again proven prescient. Time to smash some rice bowls.

  8. Matt

    One of my favorite bits from the full interview (paraphrasing): “The US will be in Afghanastan for the next 50 years. It is now our permanent base in the region.”

    Never occurred to me that we wouldn’t be trying to get out of there ASAP. But I guess I’m naive.

    1. wilroncanada

      The US never gets out of anywhere once it is in. It has bases in something like 185 countries.
      The current administration has increased troop numbers substantially in Syria, in Afghanistan, and in central Africa, which seems to have been forgotten by those who claim this administration has been NOT intervening. Its foreign policy is determined largely by its war industries and its intelligence apparatus, both in search of security for the theft of resources, and for the free wealth (in the case of the CIA and the MIC) from the drug trade.

  9. Roland

    It is a bit absurd to talk about Russia “easing out” the USA from the Middle East. The USA is going to be the strongest actor in the Middle East for the foreseeable future. All that has changed is that the time of pure unfettered US unilateralism may be drawing to a close.

    Let’s start by reminding ourselves of how Russia ended up getting dragged into the Syrian War. Russia did not want to get involved in that war, least of all in a direct combat role. But Syria was Russia’s only ally abroad. What was at stake for Russia was not a role in Middle-Eastern affairs, but much bigger and more important questions:

    1. Can Russia ever have an ally of which the Western Powers disapprove? Does Russia need foreign permission to make alliances?

    2. Does an alliance with Russia actually mean anything? Will the Russians just stand by and watch a friendly government get toppled by other powers? If so, why would anyone in the world ever bother to make an alliance with Russia? Why would critical allies, such as Belarus or Kazakhstan, repose any trust in Russia, if the latter is unwilling to suffer losses or take risks on an ally’s behalf?

    Russia did not involve itself in the Syrian War for the sake of gaining influence in the Middle East. Russia involved itself in the Syrian War because their entire foreign policy credibility was at stake, and possibly their future national security, too.

    Nevertheless, the Russian government vacillated for the first two years 2011-13, declining to do anything more than resupply the Syrians with ammo and spare parts for Syria’s various obsolescent Cold War era weapon systems.

    Not until 2014 did Russia begin to supply more modern weapons and upgrade packages. This increased Russian supply took place after the rebels had become openly and officially based in Turkey and Jordan, and after the Turks, Gulf aristocracies and USA had begun supplying rebel factions with more modern anti-tank weapons.

    Russia was responding incrementally to the escalation of the Syrian War by outside powers. Russia only went directly to war when Syria was being threatened with invasion by foreign powers who wanted to use the disorder as a pretext to intervene. Even then, the Russians took pains to reassure the Israelis that Syrians would have no control over the most modern of the weapon systems employed.

    It wasn’t Putin who put the backbone into Assad. It was the other way around: Bashar al-Assad put some more backbone into Vladimir Putin. It was the tenacity of the Syria Ba’ath that encouraged Putin to make Syria a testing ground of Russian credibility.

    The Ba’athist regime in Syria would have put down the rebellions on their own by 2013, if the rebels had not been openly supplied and succoured by other countries. Simply put, the Revolution had failed to overthrow the government. Assad had rallied the various factions of regime supporters. If only things confined within Syrian territory had mattered, the loyalist side was going to win the civil war.

    The various rebel factions were sustained and reinforced by their various foreign allies. Therefore, Assad turned to Putin and asked, “I can see what my enemies’ allies are willing to do for them. Now what is my ally going for me? You can see that the Syrian government has fought, and will keep fighting. If Russia fails as an ally, it won’t be because of any lack of will among the Syrians.”

    The sine qua non of Russian success in the Syrian War was the steadfast nature of their Syrian allies, who were willing to keep fighting through all the war’s vicissitudes.

    There have been governments that have received large amounts of outside military aid, and sometimes full-blown friendly military intervention, and have still fallen, because they lacked internal support or any real will to fight. But Russia was able to succeed in Syria, with a relatively modest intervention, because their Syrian allies did enjoy substantial internal support, and were willing to fight whether or not any aid was forthcoming.

Comments are closed.