The Price of Empire - a conversation with Col Larry Wilkerson from the DiscernThis podcast
Lonzo Cook is the host of DiscernThisPod.com please subscribe to the YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJIrYFwYf2M "Russia is not going to lose"- "Climate change is the greatest threat"
Our guest today is Colonel Larry Wilkerson. Colonel Wilkerson served for 31 years in the US Army, starting as a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War. Later in his career, he was chief of staff to US Secretary of State Colin Powell. Colonel Wilkinson taught at William and Mary College and at George Washington University in 2020. He was named a nonresident fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a think tank in Washington, D.C.. King Wilkerson, thank you for coming on the podcast.
Thank you for having me.
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You've had a distinguished career in military and public service centered on identifying and mitigating threats faced by the country. In your opinion, what is the greatest threat facing the United States?
Today. It's as easy as it ever was during the Cold War, if it was easy during that time, and that is nuclear weapons and climate. Those are the two threats confronting the world that are existential right now. We have abandoned all arms control. We did it primarily. We abandoned the ABM Treaty under my administration, as we were George W Bush. And then we proceeded to abandon everything else, including Colin Powell signature achievement, which he often reminded me of under Ronald Reagan when he was deputy and then national security adviser early on after me, which eliminated it. So he would always say it statically an entire class of nuclear weapons, the most dangerous class, as a matter of fact. And we're on the verge of eliminating the last vestige of nuclear arms control, the new START treaty, which I dare say Vladimir Putin, given the language passing between Washington and Moscow right now, will not be willing to renew.
I hope I'm wrong, but that's just colossally dangerous. We're back at a time, for example, where I hear general officers, admirals, as I heard, read about. I actually heard one or two in the early fifties because I was privy to it. My father was in the military. They talk about nuclear weapons now, as they did in the early fifties, as battlefield weapons, as having utility on the battlefield. The Russians have actually, as I understand it, from the fans and the Swedes who monitor it pretty closely, put it in their written doctrine that tactical nuclear weapons have battlefield utility. This is very dangerous. We're back at a time where some would say we're as dangerous with regard to nuclear weapons as a 1962 Cuban missile crisis or in my estimation, a far more dangerous crisis, as most Americans knew very little about the Berlin crisis of the same timeframe where we actually watched over the East Germans as they built the The Wall of Shame, the Berlin Wall. Because we knew if they didn't build that wall, the 10,000 people leaving the GDR every week would soon drain the GDR of any human people. So, you know, that was strategic with Russia. Cuba was a gamble. Berlin was strategic, fundamentally strategic for both of us. So I think that was an even more dangerous crisis. And yet I think today we're back in those kind of times again.
Lonzo: I'd like to you know, you mentioned battlefield tactical nukes, and that's certainly come up in the discussion over Russia and Ukraine. I'd like to turn to that conflict. As you look at the the conflict from the build up to the crisis and then the outbreak of kinetic warfare, if you were to issue a report card to the Biden administration for it on how it's if you were to issue a report card to the Biden administration on how it's handled the conflict, what would that report card say?
I think it would be a D to a D minus, with some parenthetical exceptions for the president himself. As a matter of fact, when Biden is Biden most, most as Powell used to describe him, kind of not necessarily consistent, even being ambiguous from time to time. Those are not necessarily bad qualities for a president. So as he has wandered through the ambiguity and the statements that seem like his followers have to retract or modify, after which he's actually been pretty cogent saying one thing for Vladimir Putin. Another thing for his domestic political audience. And yet another thing for reality.
So I credit him with that. I don't credit Tony Blinken at all, Jake Solomon at all, or anybody else in the diplomatic corps that I've heard talk they are as bad as Western media from London to Washington to I shouldn't say Tokyo though from times Tokyo can get into it. Warmongering media. I've never seen anything like it. I didn't live through Teddy Roosevelt, William Randolph Hearst, and all those good guys. You find me the war and I'll sell it for you, that sort of thing. But this is terrible what the media is doing. It has become, oh, it's white Christians. Oh, my God, they're Ukrainians living in the United States. This is a war we can love. And it's been that way. And no one's telling the truth. The truth is very much different from what Moscow's media is putting out and what Washington and other Western media is putting out. It's very different. The reality is significantly different from what both sides are saying. And if you understand that the only way to resolve this crisis and it should be resolved yesterday is diplomacy, then that really leaves you wanting a great deal. No one seems to be interested in.
Lonzo: I'd like to drill down a little bit on that. What are the truths that the media in Moscow and Washington are not sharing with the public?
The most glaring one is that Russia is not going to lose. Period. Russia has strategic depth. 11 times. It's like no other country on earth. Russia has absorbed invasions in the past. Don't go to Munich, for example. Go to Napoleon, go to the Nazis. There's your examples for the staying power of Russia. Even in 1917, when Russia was bruised and battered in World War One and then bruised and battered at home. I wouldn't have wanted to walk in the Russia as some did the white Russians, for example, Britain and others, even us, and try to fight them. It's just not something you do. So Russia first. Russia is not going to lose. I don't care what Zelensky does. I don't care what NATO's does.
Russia is not going to lose. Now, if NATO's were to come out with a full might, then we'd have nuclear war and with all those. So that that's hardly a victory. It's not even a Pyrrhic victory. We all lose just a few nuclear weapons. We now know physicists and others have instructed us throughout the Cold War explain it to got them to back down a little bit. And we began to do some things that. Really stunning they hadn't done. For example, we introduced them to permissive action laws which go on your nuclear weapons and keep people from using them inadvertently or at least give you a better chance of that. And we introduced them to escalation, control and deterrence theory and all these things that we learned during the Cold War and now have apparently forgot, by the way, we're dealing with Ukraine and Putin. So that's part of it, is they're just not pitching the war. Right. So if it's an endless contest in the heart of Europe with people dying every day, what's your solution? Sit down and talk. Let's stop this stupid conflict. No one's going to win, Zelensky.
Lonzo: I'd like to turn now to China. How would you assess the strategic threat posed by China to the United States?
Ever since Carter made it official, President Carter made it official. And Nixon and Kissinger and Mao Zedong. And Joe and I talked in Beijing and effected a sort of rapprochement between China and the United States. We. Essentially said, we recognize there's only one shot. And they essentially said, we recognize you have a relationship with Taiwan. And we said, okay, as long as you never use force against Taiwan, we will not make Taiwan an independent state in an internationally legal sense. Right. Things like that. Now we've got people like Richard HAASS, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, my old boss on the policy planning staff at State, saying we should have strategic clarity. Richard, you're a lunatic. It's worked for 40 years. Why would you want to stop until it is effectively not working? Then you might want to stop and have strategic clarity. But strategic clarity is lunacy because we couldn't beat China or China to use military force against Taiwan, ergo, nuclear weapons.
I mean, you talk about the American people waking up tomorrow morning. You'd have 100,000 casualties in the first ten weeks. You'd have immediately two carriers on the bottom of the ocean. That's 5000 men and women. That's 10,000. My God, let's say to 2000 with one carrier strike group survived. And they're in the water. They're survivors in the water like World War Two flames. And these are all your sets. You couldn't pick them up because the escort ships for a carrier today do not have sufficient berth space to take them on board. You'd have. You'd have to have some kind of special vessels going to trucks. Take a look at the Chinese fishing fleet. Sometimes it's 15 times bigger than the United States Navy, and most of those boats are armed. This is an incredible flotilla that the Chinese have, and we could never in the South China Sea think that we could beat them, maybe tie them because our technology is better, our missiles are better, or some things are better. Chinese have pretty damn good torpedoes.
And very good, very good short to ship missiles.
Which they absolutely lose to gosh, just blocks of them. In Fujian province alone. They could shoot 600 at Taiwan tomorrow morning and not even over their coffee. So this is preposterous. Strategic ambiguity is working. We should keep it that way. But people seem to think in the Congress and in the White House that clarity is what is necessary. They're going to wake up one day and all of a sudden they have to do it. It's not going to be fun. It's going to be dangerous. And I suspect we won't do it. I suspect it'll all be rhetoric.
Lonzo: I guess we should explain for our listeners unfamiliar with the phrase that strategic ambiguity refers to the the lack of definitive clarity over where the U.S. would go to war to defend Taiwan. I'd like to double click on one aspect of your answer. You know, on China, are you saying the United States would likely lose a conflict with China if it went to war over Taiwan?
I think if the United States went to war with Russia on exterior lines in Europe, it would lose. The first six weeks, surely they'd lose badly. And the American people would have to be confronted with 10,000 casualties a day, something they have been confronted with in their lifetime. I think in China, it would be very much the same, maybe even worse. And every war game or simulation that I participated in when I was in the military over 60. When we wound up with that sort of thing years ago when the Chinese didn't have the formidable capabilities that they do today, years ago, we wound up with that sort of situation.
You wound up contemplating the use of nuclear weapons, because what you had done is you had taken out their air force, you had taken out their navy, or it had become a fleet in being, which is a military term for they went to port and wouldn't come out. And we're looking at mounting an invasion of China. Now, we've taken a lot of attrition in our Air Force and Navy to not quite as badly as the Chinese, but pretty bad. And we're thinking about mounting an invasion of China. Anyone who does that is an idiot. Ever watch The Princess Bride? You do not want to put land forces in China? We don't. Our army right now is smaller than the army of Bangladesh, and they fell 27,000 recruits short of their recruiting goal this past year. The Navy just announced it would start taking 40 year olds as recruits. That's how desperate the all volunteer force is for people today. So and China doesn't have any problem, but in two and a half, 3 million men and women now. So you'd never invade China. So what do you do? I'll tell you what you do. You sit there and wargaming, you contemplate using a tactical nuclear weapon, China or some other city where the Chinese will really notice it. And you think to yourself they won't shoot back.
Well, that's crazy. That's crazy. They will shoot back. And why are the Chinese now thinking about and probably going to implement an entirely new nuclear posture because they have thought about this and they have said Mao was wrong. So Deng said, I don't like nuclear weapons. I don't want too many couple hundred dollars. I need just to deter others. Now, the Chinese are probably going to break out and build lots of nuclear weapons in all classes, and they want to be able to ride out that first strike and retaliate. So we've made the world that much more dangerous with regard to numbers of nuclear weapons.
I'd like to pull back the lens a bit to within the United States. In your opinion, what is the greatest threat to democracy in the United States?
Americans. No question about it in my mind. I mean, I'm watching the elections right now and have been since last night. It's not as bad as I thought it was going to be. And I don't necessarily mean that simply because Democrats seem to be holding their own, but because Republicans are losing. And the Republicans that are losing are the kind of Republicans that should not be allowed in the race in the first place. They're the three out of five candidates. Three out of five candidates denied Biden won the 2020 election. This is threatening democracy and I know there are a number of people out there, but Republican after all, there are a number of people in my party, as I told a bunch of Democrats not too long ago who were sitting around talking about how to make free and fair elections that the American people would accept the results of, as I said. Just remember remember that in hotel rooms and corporate lounges and so forth all around this country,.
Matt Foley sitting down thinking the opposite is really, how can it beat you? How can it illegally beat you if necessary? How can it gerrymander to beat you? How can it get in the 80 piece, 80 piece systems and close races and buy 50,000 votes here and 50,000 votes there? How can achieve our cannot win period. Which is all my party cares about. Look at their record over the last 20 years. They haven't accomplished anything except opposition. And if you get in power, they want to accomplish anything, either as they were previously. They just oppose. This is a tragic situation because. In our system. Paltry. Sometimes I think it is. We need two parties, two viable political parties. I'd like to see four or five. Two political parties is minimal and it's so traditional. I think the American people would have a hard time with a major change that put more parties out there with viability. You need to healthy. And right now, we have a second and we have another one that is too bought out by the Deep State. And the deep state is not what a lot of people say it is. The deep state is people like Elon Musk and George Soros and Charles Coke and all those other people who have billions and billions of dollars to spend on ruining your country.
What is the legacy of the last presidential administration on U.S. foreign policy?
That's an interesting question. And more on that. My answer will probably star some people. I don't think Trump really moved too far from what U.S. foreign policy already was and what U.S. foreign policy had really dramatically morphed into post 911. What 911 did what the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon in New York. What they did was they put a group of people into both the deep state and into actual office in the government who had been around for a long time. I call them the Hitler ites in waiting, the Jacobins in waiting, the Trotsky, whatever radical term you want to use because they are radicals.
They're not conservatives, they're radicals. It puts them in positions of power all across the government and all across the country. And frankly, I suspect there are quite a few of them that would love to have a fascist state, at least an authoritarian state. And the names that would come to my lips of some of these people might astonish you. One of them just got reelected governor of Florida, for example. These people frighten me because they don't think democracy works. They don't think democracy can work. They believe that democracy exercised the way we are exercising it and have exercised it. They would say, since roughly the Earl Warren Supreme Court, for example, does anything but turn into mob ocracy, that there are too many people with the vote, there are too many people that have the vote that don't understand what it is to own land and to have property and to be working hard towards being that billionaire and so forth. And so they want everyone to be that way. Not too many competitors, mind you, but they want everyone to feel that way and to vote that way, and they see it going the other way completely.
What's the legacy of Donald Trump on democracy in the United States?
I think he did it. I hope not irreparable. But what could be irreparable damage? But as I said, I don't think he was the only one that did that. I think he was just a concealment of what was happening in the hustings anyway. And it came together at a time when no one suspected it would come together. And so it had a lot of shock power. But he really didn't do a whole lot. He didn't even do what he said he would do, which I found very. I won't say I have a hard time saying anything favorable about Donald Trump, but when he was talking about the Iraq war, the second Iraq war being a farce and a mistake and so forth, and telling everyone that he was anti war, that was before I knew categorically that he told anyone any time what they want to hear. I was actually in favor of it because I saw I went in favor of women have to go vote for it, but too many other crazy things.
But when he said he was anti war and said the Iraq war was terrible, was I said, well, that's something that should be happening. We always have had that kind of wing in the Republican Party, whether it was those who even opposed well, they opposed World War One rather, rather powerfully. Wilson's entry into that war, and then they opposed for a time or two after Pearl Harbor was pretty much gone. But we've always had a wing in the Republican Party that was not foreign adventuring, particularly military foreign adventuring. And it's gone. It's disappeared. And that looked like something Trump was trying to bring back. So that was part of his campaigning. Anyway, that appealed to me. I soon learned that he didn't mean anything. He said. He said, What are you said for political opportunism. But he created that that MAGA movement that coalesced, what, 75 million Americans in this desire that I just spoke of earlier, but in color, inchoate in some respects, I don't know what the ones who stand up and talk like Lauren Boebert Boebert and others who stand up and talk about Christian nationalism. The ones in the military who say, yes, we should have a Christian nation and we should be its warriors, we should be soldiers of Christ.
He sort of consolidated all those people and showed them that if they worked together, they could elect Herschel Walker in Georgia. They could get people who would deny an election, even though the election was probably one of the freest and fairest we've had in this lie on the 2020 election. I know a monitor from the National Task Force on election crises for two years with some of the most astute political scientist and legal experts in America. It was a very free and fair election with very little for all, very little cheating. And that it did happen was summarily done away with by the states who took their action that they should act. And so Trump did that. That's his legacy. I think he left this dissension and this. Desire to secede from the union, even in some respects, he left it very cogent, powerful, intact, and ready to act the game with a better leader. A smarter leader.
Lonzo: Col Wilkerson as we come towards the end of our interview. I wanted to ask you, are there any particular risks that you see in the militarization of U.S. foreign policy, the the increasing use of military assets to accomplish what are ostensibly civilian goals, and also the appointment of former military officers or serving military officers into what used to be exclusively civilian occupations in the administration.
I think, you know, I think it's very dangerous, particularly the latter point you make. These military officers going out in civilian occupations like Secretary Alston. I don't know what else. And I suspect he's an honorable man. But I would never make a uniformed military officer, secretary of defense, as a reason why we were doing that, reason why George Marshall was the only exception with regard to the ten year I think it was then. Then we attenuated it to seven years and five years out of uniform. Now, I think would probably do it and get a waiver from Congress. That's very dangerous, I think, because it brings that military mindset into what should be a civilian mindset, a role that a civilian should fill. The. The other aspect of it, the militarization of U.S. foreign policy, does something very, very counter to our genuine interest. It dulls the knife of diplomacy. It makes diplomacy second fiddle.
Even now, today, it's fourth or fifth fiddle. It doesn't even really exist. We have no diplomacy is what we have is people who make the way for military action, whether it's Tony Blinken, the ultimate diplomat, is supposedly he's not. Show me an inkling of diplomacy ability. Jake Sullivan has not shown me anything one year. And certainly Lavrov, by contrast, are supremely confident. Deployment is and this is true, these guys are up against. So what do you use? You use the military in a certain way because your diplomacy doesn't work very well. You don't want it to work well. Then the third thing, the rest of the world in history screams this out as the rest of the world tires of this after a while. What is a while? Centuries? Is it decades? What is it? And it bands together. At least its most formidable components. Think the other near-peer powers. And it gets you.
It takes you down. It becomes collectively against you. And in this case, it could be economically and financially that it does this not necessarily militarily. The Chinese are already hard at work on regional, and I suspect they have global implications for this currency replacement banking system replacement. Financial system replacement. Think swift, for example. They don't like being treated like third and fourth class citizens within our financial network. Any time we decide we want to do that. Sanctions being the leading instrument we use. So they're working on alternatives. One day these alternatives will start to grow to the point where they compete and where they even surpass. And that's how you go down kind of.
Wilkerson. Thank you very much for joining us today.
Thanks for having me.
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