Lawrence Wilkerson

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Lawrence Wilkerson (born June 15, 1945) is a retired United States Army Colonel and former chief of staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell. Since the end of his military career, he has publicly criticized many aspects of the Iraq War and other aspects of American policy in the Middle East. Wilkerson is a Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government and Public Policy at the College of William & Mary (since January 2006).

Lawrence Wilkerson

Quotes[edit]

  • I can tell you that having been intimately involved in the preparation of Secretary Powell for his five February 2003 presentation at the UN Security Council, neither of those dissents in any fashion or form were registered with me or the Secretary by the DCI, George Tenent, by the DDCI, John McLaughlin, or by any of their many analysts who were in the room with us for those five, six days and nights at the Central Intelligence Agency...  In fact it was presented in the firmest language possible that the mobile biological labs and the sketches we had drawn of them for the Secretary's presentation were based on the iron clad evidence of multiple sources.
  • I am astonished at the failures of our intelligence community over the-- last decade in particular. We failed to predict the demise of the Soviet Union. We failed to predict the Indian nuclear test in 1998. We bombed a Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999. We failed to detect the five year planning cycle of al Qaeda, the operatives who conducted 9/11. And we failed in terms of predicting Iraq's WMDs.  So we have a significant problem in this nation with our intelligence community. 
  • We've had a decision that the Constitution as read by Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo and a few other very selected administration lawyers doesn't pertain the way it has pertained for 200-plus years. A very ahistorical reading of the Constitution... This is not the way America was intended to be run by its founders and it is not the interpretation of the Constitution that any of the founders as far as I read the Federalist Papers and other discussions about their views would have subscribed to. This is an interpretation of the constitution that is outlandish and as I said, clearly ahistorical.
  • Cobra pilots and some of my colleagues in the Loach platoon (during the Vietnam War) treated that as a license to shoot anything that moved: wild boar, tigers, elephants, people. It didn’t matter... I personally followed the rules.. that had been ingrained in me by my parents, by my schools, by my church, and by the U.S. Army in classes about the Geneva Conventions and what we called the law of land warfare. I had been taught and I firmly believed when I took the oath of an officer and swore to support and defend the Constitution, that American soldiers were different and that much of their fighting strength and spirit came from that difference and that much of that difference was wrapped up in our humaneness and our respect for the rights of all.
  • We have damaged our reputation in the world and thus reduced our power. We were once seen as the paragon of law; we are now in many corners of the globe the laughing stock of the law.
  • Nothing is said about the reason that President Zelaya, the leader whom the coup d’etat removed from office, may have wanted to change the constitution of Honduras. One clear reason, for example, was to limit the power of the military in that much-troubled state – a military with whose leaders I met some years ago in my capacity as Deputy Director of the US Marine Corps War College, and I can only say that when I departed the room where we met, my greatest urge was for a shower to cleanse myself of the stench that lingered from their presence.
  • There are several dimensions to the debate over the U.S. prison facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba that the media have largely missed and, thus, of which the American people are almost completely unaware. For that matter, few within the government who were not directly involved are aware either... Simply stated, no meaningful attempt at discrimination was made in-country by competent officials, civilian or military, as to who we were transporting to Cuba for detention and interrogation.... The second dimension that is largely unreported is that several in the U.S. leadership became aware of this lack of proper vetting very early on and, thus, of the reality that many of the detainees were innocent of any substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value, and should be immediately released.
  • My party, unfortunately, is the bastion of those people, not all of them, but most of them, who are still basing their decision on race. Let me just be candid: My party is full of racists. And the real reason a considerable portion of my party wants President Obama out of the White House has nothing to do with the content of his character, nothing to do with his competence as commander-in-chief and president, and everything to do with the color of his skin. And that's despicable.
  • I think Snowden has done a service... I wouldn’t have had the courage, and maybe not even the intellectual capacity, to do it the way he did it... There’s a logic to what he has done that is impressive... He really has refrained from anything that was truly dangerous, with regard to our security — regardless of what people say. He has been circumspect about what he's released, how he's released it, who he's released it to. It’s clear to me from listening to his personal statements — I think those are important — that he did have a genuinely altruistic motive for doing it... Snowden seems to me to be pure as a driven snow. You can be dangerous if you're that way, but you can also be helpful. And I think he's been more helpful than dangerous.
  • Just over a month ago, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said that the administration had “undeniable” evidence... As I watched Ms. Haley... I wanted to play the video of Mr. Powell on the wall behind her, so that Americans could recognize instantly how they were being driven down the same path as in 2003 — ultimately to war. Only this war with Iran, a country of almost 80 million people whose vast strategic depth and difficult terrain make it a far greater challenge than Iraq, would be 10 to 15 times worse than the Iraq war in terms of casualties and costs.
  • As I look back at our lock-step march toward war with Iraq, I realize that it didn’t seem to matter to us that we used shoddy or cherry-picked intelligence; that it was unrealistic to argue that the war would “pay for itself,” rather than cost trillions of dollars; that we might be hopelessly naïve in thinking that the war would lead to democracy instead of pushing the region into a downward spiral.
    The sole purpose of our actions was to sell the American people on the case for war with Iraq. Polls show that we did. Mr. Trump and his team are trying to do it again. If we’re not careful, they’ll succeed.
  • So all of this right now, first and foremost, is a budget ploy. They want more money. ...The military just hooks up, like it’s hooking up to an intravenous I.V. system and the money just pours out— slush fund money, appropriated money, and everything else. This is all about money and it’s all about keeping the complex alive, which the military was scared to death would disappear as we begin to pay the American people back. George H.W. Bush called it a peace dividend after the Cold War’s end. We found terrorism and terrorism we milked, and milked, and milked, and we’re still milking it to a certain extent, but terrorism doesn’t last. And besides that, terrorism is a tool. It’s not an animate enemy. China is an animate enemy. And so everything China does, is gonna be perceived by the Pentagon as threatening.
  • I don’t give the leadership in the Pentagon a lot of credit for smarts these days either—not the chairman, not the Joint Chiefs, not the service chiefs as service chiefs. They’re just not very smart people; no imagination at all. And what we’re doing here is just fulfilling history’s mandate, if you will. We will fight, therefore, let’s go ahead and fight. I actually heard someone say the other day, an otherwise sane and sober person, it’s better to fight them now than to wait later because later they’ll be better. Well my question was, why fight them at all?  
  • If I have any disdain for a particular political party in the Congress of the United States other than the Republicans, it is for the Democrats. I have never seen such a feckless, cowardly, incompetent, inept group of people— from Charles Schumer to Nancy Pelosi— across the board in the Congress. They have no guts whatsoever, no courage whatsoever. That’s one reason my party, which I don’t fault for courage and I don’t fault for ruthlessness, even disgusting ruthlessness, beats them all the time. Mitch McConnell has no qualms about sticking daggers in people’s back and twisting them while he smiles, but the Democrats seem to have no courage, no ruthlessness, no “I’m going to get you” about them. And you can say, well that’s a positive. In American politics, that’s not a positive. 
  • This (a war with Iran) would be a vicious, long-term guerrilla campaign waged by the Iranians over 10 or 15 years...  And it would cost $2 trillion and lots of lives and more than anything else, it would require at least a half a million troops. No allies are going to join us.   I’ll go to my grave regretting the death of every soldier and sailor, marine and airmen in Iraq and... three hundred thousand or so plus civilians and millions that have been displaced.
  • Democrats need to get their act together... they need to do things like not just talk about prohibiting the president from using military force against Iran without congressional authorization. They need to scare the bejesus out of him if there’s any way to do that, and say, “We will cut everything off immediately if you use force against Iran without our permission.” And then they need to think hard about whether or not they’re going to give permission.  
  • We have just, as we did with torture from 2002 to 2007, 2008, as we substantiated for the world that torture was OK, we have now OK’d the killing of recognized members of other states’ government. That’s what Soleimani was, no matter how heinous we may paint him... We have become the law of the jungle, rather than, as we have been since 1945, the greatest supporter of international law and the rule of law in general across the face of the globe.
    With torture and with killing other state recognized individuals of their government, we have become the tiger, the lion, the bear, the alligator in that jungle. It’s not a very, very good precedent to have set, as the Russians indicated. The Chinese have said similar things. It’s a terrible precedent to have set.
    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. We are going to lie, cheat and steal, as Pompeo is doing right now, as Trump is doing right now, as Tom Cotton is doing right now, and a host of other members of my political party, the Republicans, are doing right now. 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.
  • The leadership in Tehran is far more rational than the leadership in Washington... to say that Soleimani, himself personally, was an imminent threat is, as I said before, laughable. And the fact that Esper and Pompeo, who have some manner of expertise in military affairs, are saying these things makes them even more egregious liars than otherwise. If John Kerry got up there and said something like that, or if Warren Christopher got up there and said something of that, Kerry even with his Vietnam experience, you could give them a little bit of leeway. But these guys are supposed to be experts in the very fields that they’re talking about. They’re anything but experts. They are warmongers. They are warmongers par excellence.  

U.S. Cuba Policy: Ending 50 Years of Failure, Prepared Testimony to the Committee on Finance United States Senate  (11 December 2007)[edit]

(Full text)

  • For almost half a century, U.S. policy with respect to Cuba has failed—miserably. 
  • While we have significant relations on almost every level with Communist countries 10,000 miles away such as China and Vietnam, we have almost no relations with the 11 million souls on an island 90 miles off our southern coast where all this dynamism is beginning to show. 
  • Because of our failed Cuba policy, we miss valuable opportunities to share Cuba’s rapidly growing store of knowledge and expertise in, for example, how to deliver high quality healthcare to deeply impoverished areas. Moreover, we are missing opportunities to explore mutual interests in vaccine development, to share in Cuba’s extraordinary wealth of experience in combating hurricanes and the floods that often accompany them, to explore together Cuba’s continental shelf for fossil fuels, and to sell our agricultural products in a more cost-effective and profitable way to an island population that needs these products and would benefit greatly from the shortened transits and thus reduced expenses.
  • A rapprochement with Cuba would create the same opening in Latin America that a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian situation would create in the Middle East. I am not sufficiently naïve to believe that either development would meet all regional challenges or solve all problems, but both would be a dramatic and effective start. Both would give America a decisive leg-up on regaining some of the prestige and power we have squandered in the past seven years.
  • Military power is the least likely instrument of national power to be successful if you decide to use it.   A corollary truth with great relevance to Cuba is that sanctions, embargoes, closing embassies and withdrawing ambassadors, the silent treatment, branding other countries as evil and advocating and supporting regime change—all of these methods, even if actually backed by strong military power and the threat to use it, rarely work and, even when they appear to do so, the results they produce are usually negative and even when they are  positive, are almost never long-lasting. 
  • Let's examine just two of the extremely negative impacts of our almost half-century of failure vis-à-vis Cuba: The U.S. has reconciled with the Communist governments in China and Vietnam. We support dictators throughout Central Asia under the strategic mantra of "contact and influence is better than isolation". We talked to the Communist Soviet Union for the duration of the Cold War. But we cannot bring ourselves to deal with Havana and have maintained that failed policy for almost half a century. It is simply absurd to continue to  do so.
  • The export of revolution at the behest of the Soviets has been transformed into the export of healthcare at the behest of the Cuban people. When I visited Cuba this past March, this was one of the areas of Cuban activity on which I focused—the delivery of first-class healthcare to impoverished people in Cuba, in Venezuela and elsewhere in South and Central America, and increasingly in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • We could learn much from how the Cubans deliver healthcare particularly applicable to our rural areas and our inner cities where impoverished people predominate. And in the process, the contact would benefit Cubans. They would be able to study what is strong and robust about the U.S. healthcare system—the high technology components, for example—and at the same time learn that freedom and democracy are pretty good items too.

Quotes about Wilkerson[edit]

  • Wilkerson won't say outright that he and Powell were deliberately snowed by intelligence reports tailored to fit a political push for war, but he has edged closer to that view, noting, "I've begun to wonder." It turns out that the administration relied on fabricators' claims about Hussein's illusory WMD programs and, in one case, an al Qaeda suspect whom the CIA turned over to alleged torturers in Egypt. "I kick myself in the ass," Wilkerson says. "How did we ever get to that place?"
  • Since 1998, Wilkerson has devoted himself to helping at-risk children at Macfarland in the name of Colin Powell, whom he refers to as "my boss" and "the general." Wilkerson works tirelessly to keep them in the club and to secure scholarships for them at private high schools. Yet these days he and Powell are estranged: This program represents the last remnant of a long, deep friendship between them. Like ex-spouses in an uneasy detente, "we decided we'd just communicate over the kids," says Wilkerson, sounding pained by the situation.
  • He came to national prominence in October 2005 when — having left his post as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell earlier in the year — he laid bare some of the secrets of the Bush White House as he had experienced them. He had been inside the halls of power as the invasion and occupation of Iraq took shape. In Bush’s second term, on the outside, he found that he had had enough. The American people, he thought, had a right to know just how their government was really working, and so offered them this vision of the Bush administration in action: “[S]ome of the most important decisions about U.S. national security — including vital decisions about postwar Iraq — were made by a secretive, little-known cabal. It was made up of a very small group of people led by Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.”
    In the years since, Wilkerson, a retired Army colonel, has not been reticent, especially when it came to “the militarization of America’s foreign policy” and the practice of extraordinary rendition (the kidnapping of terror suspects and their deliverance into the hands of regimes ready and willing to torture them).
  • The battalion commander ordered Wilkerson and his unit to engage in “recon by fire” — basically firing from their helicopters into brushy areas, tree lines, hootches (as Vietnamese peasant homes were known) or other structures, in an attempt to draw enemy fire and initiate contact. Knowing that, too many times, this led to innocent civilians being wounded or killed, Wilkerson told the ground commander that his troops would only fire on armed combatants. “To hell with your free fire zone,” he said. A “trigger-happy” Cobra pilot under his command then entered the verbal fray on the radio, siding with the battalion commander. With that, as Wilkerson described it that day, he maneuvered his own helicopter between the Cobra gunship and the free fire zone below. “You shoot, you’re gonna hit me,” he said over his radio. “And if you hit me, buddy, I’m gonna turn my guns up and shoot you.”
  • Can there be someone better to keynote and get the award than Colonel Wilkerson with his 31 years’ military service that goes back to the Vietnam War, spans the birth-to-burial of the “Powell Doctrine” (and its supposed lessons learned from the Vietnam tragedy), and contains his first-hand insights into the egregious errors made by the Bush Administration in launching and waging the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?
    Wilkerson has stood by his earlier description of Cheney and Rumsfeld as having formed a cabal to hijack the decision-making process: “I’m worried and I would rather have the discussion and debate in the process we’ve designed than I would a diktat from a dumb strongman... I’d prefer to see the squabble of democracy to the efficiency of dictators.”

External links[edit]

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