Events continue to unfold at a quickening pace. Facing an alarming escalation in tensions around the world, we asked Colonel Larry Wilkerson for his current thoughts.
Colonel Wilkerson is a renowned defense analyst and a Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government & Public policy at the College of William and Mary. He is a retired United States Army colonel and was the former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell.
We focus on the realities of the international power struggle unfolding in real time, specifically addressing the role of the U.S. in the tensions and its capacity to reduce them. We are looking for paradigm-shift ideas for improving the prospects for peace. His responses below of are exactly as he provided.
Here is what Colonel Wilkerson had to say.
We hear a lot of terms and acronyms bandied about. ‘Deep State’ … ‘MIC’ … ‘FIRE sector’ … ‘ruling elite’ … ‘oligarchy’ … ‘neocons’.Who actually defines and sets America’s geopolitical priorities and determines our foreign policy? Not “officially”. Not constitutionally. But de facto.
So far as scholarship can ascertain, “The Deep State” as a phrase and in a modern sense was first formally used by Michael Lofgren, a longtime member of the U.S. Congressional staff with the Republican Party.Mike became one of the severest critics of his own political party after retirement in 2011 and his book, The Deep State, followed. However, Mike published an article in September, 2011, entitled “Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult”, that presaged the book. Lest one think he had praise for the Democratic Party, here is one scathing comment he had for both parties: they are, he wrote, “rotten captives to corporate loot.”
Mr. Lofgren’s article was well-read across America. He wrote about “a web of entrenched interests in the US Government and beyond (most notably Wall Street and Silicon Valley, which controls every click and swipe) that dictate America’s defense decisions, trade policies and priorities with little regard for the actual interests or desires of the American people.” He labeled the Republican Party “a cult”, and from the results of the recent elections in the U.S., it is easy to ascertain that there are possibly seventy million-plus Americans in that cult. The present situation is a shocking revelation and a powerful testimony to the half-century or longer of a deteriorating U.S. education system, a mainstream media totally captured by the monied interests of the Deep State as Mike describes it, and a “Fourth Great Awakening”, or some 95-100 million Evangelicals in America, a great many of whom — but not all — could accurately be called “American Taliban”. I’ve called them “Christian Nationalists” and there are among them people like Colorado Congresswoman Lauren Boebert who would have Christianity declared America’s national religion, in complete defiance of the Constitution — a constitution she declares ought to be changed.
Since Mr. Lofgren’s coinage of the term “deep state” many have used it, often describing their particular interpretation of the term as well as their disdain for that specific part or parts of America that they feel contribute most to our inability to win wars or even govern ourselves; thus, using the term to represent many different but usually pernicious influences on Washington’s decision-making.
But Mr. Lofgren’s deep state is precisely what he said it is: “a web of entrenched interests in the US Government and beyond”. In that light, Mr. Lofgrens’ old home and frequent target of his criticism, the U.S. Congress, has become a wholly-owned subsidiary of these interests; the US Supreme Court likewise; and the presidency a toss-up on any given decision but most often going with particular deep state influences as they increase or assist its maintenance of political power and patronage. Of course also as Mr. Lofgren claims, the bulk of the American people are not present in this combination, nor are their interests. And this abysmal development just might explain, as much as the cultish aspect of the Republican Party, why some of those seventy millions voted for a megalomaniacal, lying, incredibly fake — even treasonous — Donald Trump in November 2020.
This is the pervasive, powerful, utterly undemocratic power that runs our country.
We’ve had decades of international tensions. Recent developments have seen a sharp escalation in the potential for a major war. The U.S. apparently cannot be at peace. “Threats” against the homeland are allegedly increasing in number and severity. The trajectory of our relations with the rest of the world appears to be more confrontations, more enemies, more crises, more wars.
Is the world really that full of aggressors, bad actors, ruthless opponents? Or is there something in our own policies and attitudes toward other countries which put us at odds with them, thus making war inevitable and peace impossible?
Empires, for that is what America is, at the height of their powers can never be at peace. With more than 750 military installations all over the globe — the rest of the world has fewer than 75 — there is no rest for America. Every state or non-state actor with capacity — like al-Qa’ida — is seen as a potential threat. Whether administering interminable sanctions on a sizeable part of the world, or using military power outright, these are the tools of statecraft for an imperial power in decline. Moreover and dramatically, America has made war, the threat of war, and intimidation, whether economic and financial or bombs, bullets and bayonets, magnificently profitable for the “security industry”, from private military contractors to behemoths of industry such as the Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Boeing corporations. When war is so profitable, it is a certainty there will be more of it. The Ukraine conflict is a glaring and present example. So long as these conditions persist, war is inevitable.
Our leaders relentlessly talk about our “national interests” and our “national security”, warning that both are under constant assault. Yet, we spend more than the next nine countries combined on our military. Why does such colossal spending never seem to be enough?
Yes, and see my and Major General Dennis Laich’s article in “The Hill“. As you can ascertain from the article, the All-Volunteer Force, the current US military instrument, is collapsing in on itself. One cannot expect money alone — the US Navy is now offering the equivalent of more than $100 thousand to key personnel to come back or to stay in its ranks — to sustain indefinitely a military that increasingly cannot find sufficient recruits to remain viable as a security instrument, let alone be the main arm of an imperial power’s policy. Today, overall national security spending — intelligence, veterans affairs, nuclear weapons, and State Department’s 150 account — tops $1.3 trillion annually. This is an unsustainable expenditure and is another dramatic indication of imperial decline. But such spending, for reasons outlined previously and more, is impossible to stop or to even curb. Recently, with regard to security spending on Ukraine, an analysis demonstrated a 450,000 percent return-on-investment for the six largest defense contractors. In short, they donated approximately $10.2 million to the half-dozen top legislators in Congress with regard to defense budgets. In return, because of US outlays for Ukraine and NATO, the defense contractors reaped almost half a trillion dollars in arms and munitions sales. This is why the spending can never be enough.
It’s evident that you, and the many individuals who follow you and support your work, believe that America’s direction in both the diplomatic sphere and in the current conflict zones represents exercise of government power gone awry. Can you paint for us in broad strokes the specific changes in our national priorities and policies you view as necessary for the U.S. to peacefully coexist with other nations, at the same time keeping us safe from malicious attacks on our security and rightful place in the world community?
I believe I can, but that by no means indicates my counsel will ever be followed.With regard to diplomacy, we first must learn how to do it again; since around 1980, we have forgotten how. Brute force has been substituted — with the sole and dramatic exception of the Obama Administration’s success in orchestrating, along with the P5+1, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear agreement with Iran. That was an example of what I call “exquisite diplomacy” by which is meant diplomacy that results in a win-win outcome, where both parties give a little, both parties build trust by that surrender, and the end result is a positive one for both. Sadly, the minions of empire find that result very difficult to stomach and so work hard to destroy it, which is precisely what President Trump and the Republican Party did as soon as Trump had the opportunity.
Today, what I assert is necessary is cooperation, collaboration, and comity — achieved largely through diplomacy. Why? Because the world confronts two inescapable and existential crises, each of which no single nation — not even an empire — can manage alone. I refer to the new crisis of nuclear weapons and the now fifty-years-old crisis of a dramatically changing climate. Nations working together — particularly the peer and near-peer powers such as America, China, Russia, India, and the European Union — must perforce lead this collaboration. If not, we will all suffer the fate of the dinosaurs — extinction.
We must forge new nuclear weapons arms control to replace all the treaties we have abandoned. And every nuclear weapons state — all nine of them, including Israel and North Korea — must be included. That will require prolonged, exquisite diplomacy and especially on the part of the U.S., EU, China and Russia. Otherwise, we are once again two minutes from midnight. In fact, today’s situation just might be worse than that moment in October 1962 when Soviet missiles in Cuba gave the world a nuclear jolt.
The climate crisis, now roaring down the tracks at all of us like an out of control freight train — see the Technical Section of the 28 February report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for stark proof — is going to eliminate humans from the planet. We must act, and wisely and smartly. Only a consortium of nation-states — and eventually all — can accomplish what is needed. This is the profound reason we must turn from war and cooperate and collaborate and in a spirit of comity. The heads of the IPCC delegations from Ukraine and Russia spoke to this purpose right after the 24 February Russian invasion of Ukraine. Basically, they both declared the Russian invasion moronic in the face of the monumental challenge their report described, like being preoccupied with grains of sand on the beach when a tsunami is about to wash over you and everything in sight.
The general public, especially when it’s aware of the self-sabotaging results of our current foreign policies and military posturing, clearly wants less war and militarism, preferring more peaceful alternatives on the world stage and greater concentration on solving the problems at home. As peace activists, we are thus more in line with the majority of citizens on issues of war and peace, than those currently in power.
What happens if we determine that those shaping current U.S. policy don’t care what the citizenry thinks, are simply not listening to us? What if we conclude that our Congress, for example, is completely deaf to the voice of the people? What do we do? What are our options then? What are the next concrete steps for political activists working toward a peaceful future?
In many important ways, this is the question of the moment for our declining empire, or more to the real point, for our almost extinct democratic federal republic.The domestic issue of gun control demonstrates how desperate the situation is: consistent and sizeable majorities of Americans — often as high as 90 percent — want some sort of gun control to assist in ameliorating the barrage of shootings occurring in the country almost weekly. Yet our Congress blithely ignores this public interest — and the recent legislation is a farce in that regard, as continued shootings, in schools and elsewhere, will no doubt sadly corroborate. Likewise, is the extraordinary maldistribution of wealth in the nation, worse for instance than in 1929. Congress ignores it, as if the labyrinthine and fully corrupt tax code for which they are responsible has nothing to do with it. Likewise, is our crumbling national infrastructure which threatens to derail our economy, and all Congress can do is issue band-aids from time to time. What’s the answer?
There probably is not a single answer, but many complex and difficult-to-implement ones. But bordering on a single answer is this: do not vote for public office for any member of the Republican Party, period. Hold your nose and vote Democratic or Independent — the latter if candidates are available. Then, if that individual does not do the job, throw him or her out next time around — until our legislators get the message. Our Founders considered the legislative branch the closest thing to the people. Not the courts and not the presidency; the Congress. We need desperately to teach our own legislators that lesson and then demand that they listen and perform accordingly — not as lackeys of the national security state or the NRA, or of Israel, or of the banks, but as representatives of We The People.