Reacting to Trump administration blocking of a UN investigation into Israeli military’s killings of Palestinians, Col. Larry Wilkerson says the United States is “in the back pocket of Israel like we have never been associated with any other country in the world.”
Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government and Public Policy Lawrence Wilkerson’s last positions in government were as Secretary of State Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff (2002-05), Associate Director of the State Department’s Policy Planning staff under the directorship of Ambassador Richard N. Haass, and member of that staff responsible for East Asia and the Pacific, political-military and legislative affairs (2001-02). Before serving at the State Department, Wilkerson served 31 years in the U.S. Army. During that time, he was a member of the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College (1987 to 1989), Special Assistant to General Powell when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989-93), and Director and Deputy Director of the U.S. Marine Corps War College at Quantico, Virginia (1993-97). Wilkerson retired from active service in 1997 as a colonel, and began work as an advisor to General Powell. He has also taught national security affairs in the Honors Program at the George Washington University. He is currently working on a book about the first George W. Bush administration.
TRNN video & transcript:
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.At an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Friday the Trump administration blocked a vote calling for an international investigation into Israeli defense forces killing 17 and wounding 1500 Palestinians last Friday. The government of Kuwait had proposed the resolution. The killings took place in the context of a massive peaceful march of Palestinians near the Gaza Strip’s eastern border. They called for a return of expropriated land and commemorated the killing of six Palestinians at a demonstration in 1976. Here’s what Taye-Brook Zerihoun of the United Nations, the Assistant to the Secretary General for Political Affairs, had to say.
TAYE-BROOK ZERIHOUN: There is fear that the situation might deteriorate in the coming days. We will continue to underline that it is imperative that civilians, in particular children, not be targeted, and that all actors refrain from putting children at risk at any time. Israel must uphold its responsibilities under international human rights and humanitarian law. Lethal force should only be used as a last resort, with any resulting fatalities properly investigated by the authorities.
SHARMINI PERIES: The Pope at his Easter service on Sunday in Rome had this to say about the violence.
POPE FRANCIS: We beseech fruits of reconciliation for the Holy Land, also experiencing in these days the wounds of ongoing conflict that do not spare the defenceless. For Yemen, and the entire Middle East, so that dialogue and mutual respect may prevail over division and violence.
SHARMINI PERIES: After taking life of so many Palestinians, Israeli military tweeted: “We know where every bullet landed,” implying that the killings were intentional and targeted. The tweet had been deleted shortly after it appeared. Joining me now to discuss all of this is Larry Wilkerson. Larry is former chief of staff to the Secretary of State Colin Powell, now a distinguished professor at the College of William and Mary. Thank you so much for joining us today, Larry.
LARRY WILKERSON: Thanks for having me back, Sharmini.
SHARMINI PERIES: Larry, Walter Miller, the U.S. representative to the U.N., speaking at the Security Council on Friday claimed that bad actors were using the protests as a cover to incite more violence and to endanger innocent lives. There’s no evidence, though, if you look at the footage, and we saw a weekend of full of protest footage that people have posted on social media. We have no indication that anyone incited any violence. Why is the Trump administration so determined to defend Israel and its military on this matter?
LARRY WILKERSON: Sharmini, you might as well ask, why has every American administration in the last 20-plus years been so willing to do the same? Particularly when increasing majorities, if not an overwhelming majority of the international community, sees fit to at least call for investigations if not for condemnation. And yet the United States, perhaps joined by the prestigious country of the Pacific, or maybe some other island municipality or country, votes to condemn or to veto, not to condemn but to veto to keep it from happening is an international action.The answer to that question, I think, is equally increasingly simple and easy, and that is that, as Gideon Levy said recently, of Haaretz, the policy of the United States is made in Tel Aviv, and the policy of Tel Aviv dominates the policy of Washington, even to the point where he said the only place Trump is unanimously acclaimed is Tel Aviv, and the only place where Bibi Netanyahu is unanimously acclaimed is Washington. We are in the back pocket of Israel like we have never been associated with any other country in the world. It is astounding how much we are so. And Donald Trump has just brought that to you apogee, if you will, where anything Bibi wants, Bibi gets.And let me just comment on Israeli tactics. These have been increasingly the same, too. Israel confronts a protest. And Israel says, as it did so dramatically, for example, in Operation Cast Lead, anyone who dares mount a protest, anyone who dares seem as if they might be seeking instability, we will kill you and kill you and kill you and kill you until you understand that anyone who raises a little finger against the state of Israel is apt to die. That’s basically Israeli strategy.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, Larry, you stated something very important, that in the past although U.S.’s administrations have supported Israel unconditionally Trump has taken this to a new level. And it doesn’t matter what the international community says or what the United Nations might or might not consider. It is amputated every time this discussion even arrives in a place like the Security Council. Now can you, just from your experience of having dealt with these situations in the past, tell us what might work? What other ways in which you can actually draw the United States and Israel to the table and have a serious, meaningful discussion about the ways in which it is handling basic peaceful protests?
LARRY WILKERSON: Sharmini, let me start by saying I want to just amend your remarks a bit and say that since 1948, when the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended overwhelmingly to President Harry Truman that he not take on the burden of 400 million or so Arabs opposed vehemently to the United States by recognizing the state of Israel, and Truman did it anyway, presidents have tried to maintain a balance. And I would say that they have succeeded, more or less, in maintaining that balance all the way up through Ronald Reagan, who you may recall tried to sell and did ultimately sell F15s and AWACS to Saudi Arabia. H.W. Bush, his vice president, later president on his own right, H.W. Bush took the Israelis after the first Gulf War, when he gained some leverage from that war, to Oslo. Essentially he was the one who set the ground for Madrid and then for Oslo later.It’s only with the entry onto the scene of President Clinton who for the first time, ’95 as I recall, goes to AIPAC, for the very first time an American president at AIPAC, it’s only with the advent of Bill Clinton and then the presidents after him, culminating in George W. Bush, who again, took a man who the Arab world thought was a bloody minded killer, Arik Sharon, into the Oval Office and called him a man of peace. And now we have Donald Trump. So with Bush, with Clinton to a certain extent, with Obama to a certain extent, with Bush certainly, and now with Trump we have become Israel’s lawyer, we become their horse-holder, we become the party they turn to to fight their wars if they need be, vis-a-vis Iran, for example.We can do no wrong and they can do no wrong in one another’s eyes. That’s what we have now. We have an extremely unbalanced policy, and it’s my expectation, full expectation, we’re going to pay for it dearly.
SHARMINI PERIES: Larry, is there a way to bring all sides to the table and have a meaningful discussion about resolving the conflict at a higher level?
LARRY WILKERSON: I think there is, Sharmini, picking up on your other question’s main points. And there is, but it isn’t going to happen with the likes of John Bolton. I see John Bolton, for example, and I assume Trump picked him at least in part for this reason, as just as duplicitous as was Douglas Feith in the George Bush administration. In other words, he’s a card-carrying member of the Likud Party. John Bolton has dual loyalties. John Bolton was sneaking off to Israel in 2003 and ’04 to talk to people like the Mujahedin-e Khalq, the MEK, in Israel. Hosted by Israel. Hosted by Mossad, to talk about such things as Iranian nuclear weapons efforts, which of course later were completely discounted. But to build a portfolio of intelligence not unlike that portfolio that suggested Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.So this is John Bolton. I don’t know how much power Trump’s going to give him. I hope none at all. But if he does give him power then it’s going to be very difficult to do what I’m now going to suggest. There are basically three or four fundamental components to what a balanced U.S. policy would be, and in my mind a sound and sane U.S. policy. And you’ll see immediately when I articulate these components why I say John Bolton won’t be a part of this.First and foremost is to more or less compel Israel to change its strategy and its tactics by telling them that 3.64 billion dollars we give them annually is not going to come any more. Not unless they’re responsive to U.S. desires, and this includes all the original parameters of our Middle East policy. The 1967 borders, the right to return, a two-state solution in general, Jerusalem as the capital of both Palestine and Israel, and so on. The second thing you’ve got to do is be willing to hammer Israel where Israel needs hammering in conjunction with that threat to cut off funding. And that’s in every manner of the U.S. relationship with Israel, from intelligence sharing on the one hand, to the kinds of things that we’re doing with our private citizens and so forth on the other hand. And by that I mean, of course, the rapture-loving Mike Pence-like zealous Christians who aren’t Christians, who constantly talk about the rapture want Armageddon to come, the antichrist to be identified, and everything to end so that they can go to heaven. I have no problem with them going to heaven. I just don’t want to go with them and. I suggest to you that about 95 percent of some 7 billion people on the face of the earth don’t go with them either.The third component of it would be to bring all the other powers in the region into concert. And this includes that kingdom over there run by that runaway errant heir apparent Mohammed bin Salman, now finishing his much-funded trip to the United States. Getting them to come along with this policy. Saudi Arabia used to be on this more or less, two-state solution, peace agreement and so forth policy. No longer, because they see Israel as a pawn in their game to defeat Iran and make sure they are the hegemon of the Gulf, and not Iran. So you’ve got to bring them along. You’ve got to also reach out to other countries that can help you with their good offices, One of which is Moscow, which is why I despair with the way we’re treating Moscow in the press, in the Congress, in the White House and so forth. You’ve got to bring Ankara along. You’ve got to have some partners in bringing this pressure to bear on Israel.And then lastly, you’ve got a couple yourself, literally couple yourself, to the now almost 65-70 percent of American Jews who increasingly find Netanyahu a despicable individual, who increasingly find Israel’s policies as articulated by Netanyahu as destructive, as even calling into question how long Israel’s going to be around. And if it is going to be around, is it going to be an apartheid state, because it’s certainly not going to be a democracy, not the way it’s headed right now. And who are very anxious for this prospect or these prospects, and are on our side. You know, when I say our side I mean this side of justice, the side of peace, the side of equanimity, the side of balance, the side of doing something in this situation that looks productive rather than destructive. You’ve got to have all those components. And so now you know, Sharmini, there is no way in the world Donald Trump and John Bolton are going to put together a policy that remotely resembles what I just said. They’re going to march us off the cliff. That’s what they’re going to do.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Let’s break this into another segment, and please do join us for our continuing discussion with Larry Wilkerson about the developments in Palestine between Gaza and the Israeli border.