on Obama, national security threats such as climate change, impending conflict with China, another war in western Asia, ie. Iran. "Israel, the ultimate national security state, goes to war for economic reasons"
... alternative capitalist approaches and economic models. Wealth, oligarchs. Evolution vs. revolution. The no billionaires campaign,
My guest tonight is Lawrence Wilkerson. He is retired United States Army soldier and and former chief of staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell. Wilkerson is an adjunct professor at the College of William & Mary where he teaches courses on US national security. He also instructs a senior seminar in the Honors Department at the George Washington University entitled "National Security Decision Making."
R.K.: What do you think will be the legacy of Barack Obama? If we look back in history?
L.W.: I'm hoping and I am praying that his legacy will be mostly that he got us out of Iraq, got us out of Afghanistan and didn't, and I emphasize this, didn't get us into Iran. I hope that is his primary legacy. All of the rest of this I can forgive if he just accomplishes those three things. Out of Iraq and not back, mind you now we're going back really fast right now.
We're providing Maliki after he has consolidated his second term now. We're providing him with all kinds of weapons and such. And Afghanistan could, just as well, go down the same road and, of course, Iran could be a new one. So if he continues in the present vein of not doing anything more than supplying arms to Iraq, getting us out of Afghanistan and shutting that theater down and not going to war in Iran, I will clap when he leaves.
R.K.: Well what about-- you are a recipient of the Sam Adams award for supporting regarding Whistleblowers and what have you. What about Obama's treatment of Whistleblowers?
L.W.: Horrible. Absolutely horrible. He has prosecuted more people than all of the rest of the presidents combined and done it under, as I understand it, again I am no lawyer but as I understand it, under the Espionage Act, which is a draconian piece of legislation that allows you to do almost anything as long as you can hype up the threat against which to do it.
And this is at the same time as rhetoric says, and rhetoric said that he was going to create an environment for Whistleblowers that would encourage them. That he was going to be the most transparent president we had ever had. That he was going to do all of these things that were going to be in the best interest of civil rights, a liberal relationship with the people and so forth.
And, sh*t, he has been worse than George W Bush in many respects. Or as one of my former colleagues from the Bush Administration said recently, with a snarl, hey he's out-done George.
R.K.: He has, hasn't he? I think he's far to the right of Eisenhower.
L.W.: I tell you, sometimes I don't know whether we're hearing him though, or we're hearing people like Brennan and Holder and other suits who have his ear at the moment. I mean the guy, let's face he is like Bush in some respects. What could he really know about being president? He had no experience when it came to the White House. He is basically depending on the people who have been there and done that in the functions around him, cabinet and otherwise who are telling him what to do and how to do it.
R.K.: So you're making an excuse for him because of the people around him. See I don't make excuses for Obama. I think the guy knows what he's doing, he's making choices, and he is doing exactly what he wants to do.
L.W.: There is some of that, but I would never say any president does exactly what he wants to do. There are too many exigencies and too many influences on him. Even a president as experienced as Eisenhower or as Franklin Roosevelt in his third term has things happen to him that he has no real power to control.
R.K.: Okay so we need to wrap this up. I have one last question for you. You teach courses on National Security. What's your appraisal of, what are the important national security issues now?
L.W.: Number one is planetary climate change. It is going to produce, is producing so many spin offs that are going to be inimical to our and Europe and our allies interests that if we don't start dealing with it we are going to get behind it to the extent that we can't even play catch up. That is to say it's going to be a juggernaut and it's just going to roll over us. And it's going to produce things that are right now unseeable.
Because when you get this kind of chaos theory if you will in operation, you get spin offs that you never contemplated, indeed that no science or technology ever contemplated. They just happen and they happen because of a confluence of a thousand little events and suddenly you have it upon you. So that's the number one threat. Interestingly, the one element of the Federal Bureaucracy that gets this is the Pentagon.
The Pentagon is doing more right now than any other federal element to deal with, to strategize against, to think about, to build plans, ships planes, tanks and other things to deal with the problems that are going to be generated by climate change. And the Navy is probably the lead force, sailing on the oceans you might know it would be because it understands what the oceans are going to go through in the next fifty to sixty years.
It also understands that it is going to have a hundred year storm every ten years. And understands that that means ten times as many humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations like the tsunami in Indonesia in 2005, like the tsunami and earthquake in Japan, Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe and so forth. It understands that these things are going to happen ten times as often as they used to because of climate change and so you have the lead element in the federal bureaucracy, counter-intuitively if you will, is the military in trying to get the government to waken to the fact that we have got a real problem, a real challenge down the road.
That's the number one, and it's existential. It is not small, it is existential. It could destroy us. Coming back from that and looking at the immediate national security threats I think the lead one is mishandling the US-China relationship. And by mishandling I mean making the relationship antagonistic and ultimately leading to conflict when there is a clear path where you don't have to do that.
Where you can coexist, where you can deal with the problems together, where you can have a great state pact for example, not unlike the one we had under the Atlantic Mining Charter and you can deal with some of these problems together and after all you're going to have to because you're the two largest economies in the world.
The third is the potential for yet another war in western Asia where the United States comes out the end of the diplomatic track and for whatever reason someone in the congress derailed or whatever the diplomacy proves nonsuccessful and we wind up going to war and we have yet another war in western Asia.
This one will last ten years, cost five hundred thousand to a million troops, six trillion dollars and at the end of the ten years you won't know whether you've succeeded or not.
R.K.: What countries are at risk for western Asia?
L.W.: Iran is the one I am talking about. If diplomacy fails with Iran, give what the president and previous presidents have said, we don't have any choice. You know, we've said it's unacceptable for Iran having nuclear weapons.
We've said it's unacceptable that Iran continues on it's current building of centrifuges and so forth, and we've said that diplomacy is the instrument right now but if diplomacy fails and there are many, many people trying to get it to fail then we wind up back where we started from; it's unacceptable therefore what are you going to do Mister President? Well you're going to bomb. And then you've got a war.
R.K.: Well what about Israel?
L.W.: Well Israel is in the middle of all of that, of course. And Israel is a huge strategic liability to the United States. I can think of no benefit Israel brings to the United States at all except perhaps the cohesiveness of its population with our own population and that's falling off rapidly as Israel does all the things it has done and is doing to destroy it's own democracy.
Israel has destroyed its labor movement. Israel now has most of its wealth concentrated in sixty families. Israel now has the security complex owning or leasing 51% of its territory. Israel has built this humongous wall. Israel now goes to war for economic reasons. In July 2006 it bombed facilities in Lebanon as much to keep Lebanon's economic might from growing as it did to fight Hezbollah.
Israel is now treating the refugees that are flowing into the Sinai from Africa from the conflicts there and the problems there, intolerably. It's treating its own non-Jewish population intolerably. Israel looks more and more everyday like an apartheid state. Israel is a distinct liability to the United States of America and will remain so and probably only become worse.
R.K.: Now, my understanding is that, when I look at Israel I look at it being run by a guy like Dick Cheney and I look at the politics and I look at Israel having a lot of the same problems that we have here. That-
R.K.: Bad politics
L.W.: Very much so. Very much so. Nethanyahu is the product of the oligarchs and a product of what I would call the National Security State that certainly is Israel. You could even go one step further in political jargon and you can even call it a garrison state. The ultimate national security state is the garrison state where everyone is a member of the military.
Everyone has a machine gun in his closet. Everyone is standing behind the fence and everyone is ready to go to war at the drop of a pin. That's a garrison state and that's essentially what Israel is. But it is a garrison state that unlike when it was funded in 1948, incidentally founded by a lot of communists out of Europe who had been fighting the Nazis, and very much a social entity as much as a state entity in 1948 and very socialist in that respect. It's now become a predatory capital state not unlike the United States. It looks like a clone of us as it were.
R.K.: And yet I also feel that the biggest power it gets from the United States comes from the seventy million Christian Zionists who are-
L.W.: There is a huge component. Yes. They send millions of dollars over to finance West Bank and Jerusalem settlements. And they are a huge component. I must think that most of the Jews in Israel laugh each time they hold out their hand and take another dollar, because these people believe that when the rapture comes all of the Jews are going to be slain by Christ if they don't convert. It would be risible if it weren't so pathetic and dangerous.
R.K.: It's a crazy complicated situation we're in. I want to ask you one more question. I said this is the last but I've got one more. I have really gotten into the thinking of the writings in Small is Beautiful. And the idea of economics for people. The book was written by E F Schumacher and we started talking about economics and predatory capitalism. Do you have thoughts on alternative capitalist approaches and models of economics?
L.W.: I certainly do and I recommend to you the Grand Strategy Project at the New America foundation which has been in process for five, six years. It has four pillars. One is a completely new, how shall I call it? You really don't have a succinct word for it. What it is is a completely new approach to housing. And you think, oh housing? What is that? Housing is everything. Housing incorporates sewage and water and streets and light rail and high speed rail and metroplexes and cities and urban areas and all of which is the future.
And what I am talking about is a reversal of the post-WWII strategy of sprawl. Which is largely Eisenhower's idea and other theorists and strategists to make the United States more resilient in the even of nuclear war. What we're talking about is like a rubber band coming back. We're coming back to the cities. We're rebuilding the cities and we're building up instead of out.
We're doing things like communities that are walkable and bicycle-able and served by light rail. Getting rid of automobiles. Getting rid of everything associated with automobiles. That's one pillar of it. By the way, one hundred seventy seven Americans in poll after poll say that they want that kind of lifestyle. They don't want an automobile. They want to live in a walkable community, bicycleable community and so forth.
So we're taking advantage of this demographic shift that's taking place. I quiz my seminars. Sometimes I ask them, how many of you own automobiles. Generally in a twenty person seminar one person will raise their hand. That's stunning when you think about it.
The second pillar of this grand strategy is an entirely new tax system. One that does not tax wealth but taxes waste and that's succinctly said, it's much more elaborate, complex and that. But it generates a lot of revenue over the next thirty or forty years and it gets rid of some of the things we're doing that are so colossally wasteful and absolutely unsustainable.
The third aspect of this strategy is what we're calling regenerative agriculture. And here is where you bring in what you were just talking about and you bring people down to smallness again. You're not Monsanto raising seven hundred thousand acres of soy beans. You're these tiny little enclaves like Shanghai has for right now for example in China where 40% of the produce raised and consumed in Shanghai is raised by women on plots smaller than a half an acre inside Shanghai's city limits.
So you're talking about agriculture that's not only sustainable but it brings back community, it brings back smallness, it brings back the uniqueness of people maintaining seed stocks and genetic viability and so forth.
And then the fourth aspect of it, pillar if you will, is what we're calling resilience and that's creating an infrastructure that takes these first three things I've talked about plus much more and builds a nation that is far more able to absorb something like a 9/11 and bounce back from it quickly, swiftly, efficiently, and without the kind of turmoil and usurpation of civil liberties and everything that we saw post 9/11.
In other words a nation that is able to respond more adroitly, with more agility and has less tendency to go off the deep end when something really bad happens to it. Which could-
R.K.: What is the name of this project again?
L.W.: The Grand Strategy Project at the New America Foundation. It was called the Smart Growth Initiative, I think it evolved into Grand Strategy about two years ago. It's headed by a fellow by the name of Patrick Doherty and he is getting ready, Amory Slaughter is the head of New America right now, and I think they're having some friction so I think he's getting ready to break out and become an independent entity so you'll probably hear about him soon, in the next nine to ten months anyway as a standup all by himself. Got a lot of support. Enormous support.
He's got a lot of the oil companies in with him because they are beginning to realize that image of the golden goose, you know? You may have twenty trillion dollars worth of assets but they're going to be stranded because sooner or later you're going to have to stop burning them.
So what do you do in the interim to make sure that twenty trillion or a reasonable amount of it at least is realized any way? Do you convert the stranded asset in this case natural gas or oil or coal or whatever it might be into something else that's neutral to the environment? Or even perhaps that's helpful to the environment when it is "consumed." They're doing all kinds of studies like this right now.
For example they did one for Shell where they showed where these certain types of petroleum products can be converted to feed stock and they can be converted with less energy consumption than was originally thought possible and the feed stock could then be sold for a reasonable price and amplify and augment the regenerative agriculture pillar. So, and you tie into that, the taxation of waste where you're not taxing somebody making a profit, you're taxing somebody who is actually doing damage to the environment until they stop doing it.
You make the tax burden so heavy that they are incentivized not just to pay it and continue what they're doing, but they're incentivized to change what they're doing and to make it at least neutral if not helpful for the environment rather than detrimental thereto. Then once you've recovered that situation you examine your tax system in another way so that you can move off to whatever you have to move off to in order to continue to generate revenues.
But we're figuring twenty to twenty five years of really heavy wealth creation for government from taxing waste in order to disincentivize that waste and that's a long period and we've already had KPMG for example do the audit on it and they showed that most of our figures are pretty damn accurate. That we could generate equivalent or better and in most cases better revenues through taxing waste over the next twenty five years than if you're taxing wealth I mean there are all kinds of innovative ways to look at the future if you take the conventional thinking cap off and begin to be creative and innovative.
R.K.: But what about wealth? What about these oligarchs and these multi-billionaires and the wealth inequality that the US is now almost leading the world with?
L.W.: It's dangerous. I can't say it any other way. It's very dangerous. It's the kind of thing that causes revolutions It's the kind of thing that brings about the uprising of peoples, blood in the streets, and generally winds up being damaging for everyone. Most revolutions don't succeed. Most revolutions produce, at best, equal situations post revolution to that prior to the revolution and at worst, situations that are at least for the short term or the mid term even worse. The French Revolution produced Napoleon and the French Empire.
People say, well our revolution didn't do that, our revolution succeeded, our revolution was a good one. And I usually point out ours wasn't a revolution, not really. We were British citizens. We just decided we didn't like what the King was doing to us so we broke away. You can call that a revolution if you want, I say it was an evolution. We're as much a product of Magna Carta nine hundred years before as were the British.
R.K.: What about, I have been doing a series and so have a couple of other people like Thom Hartmann about-
L.W.: I like his stuff.
R.K.: A no billionaires campaign. I believe that billionaires are bad for the economy. They're bad for America. They're bad for democracy. They're part of this wealth inequality danger.
L.W.: But you see, I agree with you. But you've got to get beyond this conventional wisdom that so many people pull out and throw up on the wall that then you're disincentivizing the most important aspect of capitalism.
You have to have the potential within capitalism to amass wealth of great proportions in order to incentivize the rest of the system. I say that's utter bullshit. I say there is no economist in the world who would stand in front of me and convince me of that. There's no economist in the world worth his salt whom I would even listen to trying to convince me of that because it's bullshit. But that's what you're up against. My father was that way. Oh no no you can't do that, that would ruin the whole system. Can't put any checks on capitalism, that would ruin the whole system.
R.K.: So if that's bullshit, then what is the deal with capitalism in terms of incentives?
L.W.: As I said before, you have to be very very careful, very meticulous in the way you design the regulation. In the way you allow labor to counteract the capitalists. And it's an imperfect game but if you're careful, you can do it. We proved it. We proved it, we've done it before. It's a constant game. You never get it exactly right. You never get it in a way that's going to last forever. It's like democracy.
You have to work at it every single minute of every single day. And you have to keep it in balance. To say that it can be predatory and monopolistic and rampant and that's the only way it'll work is to say bullshit. But to say on the other hand that you have to completely clank it down, you know, chain it down, put it in irons is also bullshit.
Because you're going to destroy the very thing that creates a place like Silicon Valley. That creates a place like Apple. That creates things like General Electric and General Motors and so forth. What you have to do is make sure they don't get out of hand. And you do that through the tension that comes from a genuine healthy labor movement and a genuine healthy and constantly working government regulatory system.
And that's difficult. That's hard work. I think that's one reason why America is failing right now. We don't really like that kind of complex, sophisticated, difficult, hard work anymore. What we like is to go to Wall Street and make millions.
R.K.: And the answer you keep coming with is, the solution is blood on the streets.
L.W.: Either that or the people waking up and taking back their government without any blood. That'd be nice, too.
R.K.: That would. And you know what, I think we need to wrap here. This has been a great interview. As I was certain of. Thank you so much.
To watch Rob having a lively conversation with John Conyers, then Chair of the House Judiciary committee, click here. Watch Rob speaking on Bottom up economics at the Occupy G8 Economic Summit, here.