Former chief of staff to US Secretary of State Colin Powell: Best case scenario for "Israel" in future war with Hezbollah would be a stalemate
Retired US army colonel Lawrence Wilkerson touches on a number of hot topics, from a potential war between Lebanon and "Israel", the dwindling Israeli military capabilities, to Biden's Middle East doctrine, all the while casting doubt on Trump's re-election.
Retired US army colonel Lawrence Wilkerson who worked as chief of staff for former Secretary of State Colin Powell between 2002 and 2005, has described the Israeli military as lacking in competence. In a wide-ranging interview with Al Mayadeen English, Wilkerson refers to conversations he had with sources within the Israeli military, revealing that according to these sources, this military had become purely “occupational” in its nature. He adds that "Israel" is no longer capable of carrying out conventional military operations in the way it did in 1967 or 1973. In response to a question about who would emerge victorious in a future war between Hezbollah and "Israel", Wilkerson—who served 31 years in the US military-- predicts that the best result "Israel" could achieve would be a stalemate after having been given a “pretty bloody nose” in 2006. On the issue of the Biden administration's stance toward the breakout of a new war between Lebanon and "Israel", Wilkerson’s assessment is that this administration is not supportive of such a war taking place.
Regarding the Biden administration's policy in the Middle East, Wilkerson states that while Biden will be supportive of "Israel, this support will be “pragmatic” as opposed to blind support. The former US diplomat and army veteran also expresses his belief that Biden personally supports a return to the nuclear deal with Iran despite any Israeli reservations in this regard.
On the domestic situation in the United States, Wilkerson warns of an alliance within the US military between what he describes as “Christian nationalists” and “MAGA (Make America Great Again) soldiers”. According to Wilkerson, there is information being circulated that former White House chief strategist under the Trump administration Steve Bannon, and like-minded individuals are seeking to take advantage of this alliance in order to create a military that will be subservient to the Republican party. He further cautions that the “proper civil-military relationship” in the United States is eroding.
And on the issue of Trump's possible return to power, Wilkerson dismisses the likelihood of such a scenario playing out, further casting doubt on Trump even being nominated as the Republican candidate for the next presidential elections. The more likely Republican nominee says Wilkerson would be Ros De Santis, warning that the rise of such individuals is a cause for concern and that De Santis seeks to establish a fascist state in America.
Below is the full text of the interview:
Q: Mr. Wilkerson, I want to start with the recent escalation between Lebanon and “Israel” - the gas fields. Do you anticipate war on the horizon?
A: That's a very difficult question to answer, always, with that region. War is always on the horizon in that region. Is it more so now than in the past, or might it be more so tomorrow? I don't think so. However, I have to caveat that with the situation in “Israel” right now with the incredible inability to put a government together. I mean, that's the best way to put it, a government with any consistency. As much as I despise Bibi Netanyahu, he did have a consistent government with a consistent policy - it wasn't a good policy, was a disastrous policy in my mind. But at least he had a government. One hesitates to say where “Israel” is going to go at any given time right now. I'm hearing, for example, and this is just an anecdote, but it's indicative, from people I know both in the "IDF" and out of it who know about the "IDF" that the "Israeli Defense Force" has become a purely occupational force. And this has happened because of, one, the occupation, and two, because the occupation drives many good soldiers away. They do not like that kind of duty. And so, they have left the "IDF", so now what you have left in the "Israeli Defense Force" are less than savory characters and less competent conventional soldiers. They've lost their ability in many respects to do the kinds of things that they did in ‘67, for example, or even in ’73. The kind of blitzkrieg armored warfare, because they don't have the experience anymore. It's been so long since they did any of that. So, if I were “Israel” and I were thinking coherently - and that again comes back, that they don't have a government, a consistent government - I would be very leery of taking anybody in the region on that had some degree of competence. Hezbollah comes to mind immediately. And as we know, Hezbollah is pretty much integrated into Lebanon's political structure now. So, I would be very leery were I an Israeli leader at this time for those two reasons. One, the policy is very difficult to keep consistent and very difficult to get consensus on. And two, the "IDF" is not as competent as it once was, perhaps is even much less competent than it once was.
Would a potential war break out between #Lebanon and "Israel"?— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) September 5, 2022
Watch #AlMayadeenEnglish interview in full with Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to US Secretary of State Colin Powell: https://t.co/ZPrCUhjOEi pic.twitter.com/9BGVlBL2vS
Q: If a war was to break out, if you were to put your money on who would win between Hezbollah and ‘Israel”, would you be betting with Hezbollah?
A: I think based on the previous experience, where "Israel" got a pretty bloody nose with Hezbollah, I think I'd have to say it would be a stalemate at best. Now, I hasten to add that as in Ukraine, the United States and to a lesser extent other NATO countries, have made Ukraine what it is: able to stand up, at least in a sort of stalemate. to the Russian military. So, the United States would back “Israel” to the hilt, as it normally does, and that is hard to say any force in the Middle East could stand up against -- other than the way, for example, they did in Iraq, the way they did in Syria and so forth, guerrilla warfare, which I don't think the Israelis want either.
Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to #US Secretary of State Colin Powell: Based on the previous experience, where "Israel" got a pretty bloody nose with Hezbollah, I think I'd have to say it would be a stalemate at best.— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) September 5, 2022
For the full interview: https://t.co/ZPrCUhjOEi pic.twitter.com/qQxFRUXxDU
Q: So, does the Biden administration, according to your information or according to your analytical perspective, does it support or would it support a new war breaking out between “Israel” and Lebanon?
A: I think not. I think its advice would be strong to whoever was the prime minister. And that advice would be: don't do this. Don’t do this. It would not come with the kind of threat I would like to see it come with, which is if you do it, I might not be there. That's the kind of threat I'd like to see a US president issue, much the way my president did, George H.W. Bush, not George W. Bush, but the father. During the Desert Shield/Desert Storm campaign, we told the Israelis if they entered that fray, we were not with them. And they held back even when Scud missiles hit their country. They held back, because they knew H.W. Bush was not going to back anything they did and, in fact, would probably censure them for it. So, it worked. But we haven't had a president like George H.W. Bush since then. We haven't had a president with that experience and a president with that courage and willingness to do that.
Does #JoeBiden's administration support a new war between "Israel" and #Lebanon?— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) September 5, 2022
Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to #US Secretary of State Colin Powell elaborates more on the matter👇.
For the full interview: https://t.co/ZPrCUhjOEi pic.twitter.com/C2V5g9JxT2
Q: You know this leads me to a question: Is America now missing people of expertise like Kissinger and the H. Bushes?
A: Absolutely. I sometimes shudder at the prospect of the current team or any envisioned team on either side, Republican or Democrat, and how badly they're going to manage things because of what I call inexperience and just plain stupidity. We are at a low point. We're at a nadir incompetent people in our political system right now. The one thing about the current president that gives me a little bit of hope, at least for the short term, is that I know he knows international policy, foreign policy, security, foreign policy very well. I dealt with him through Powell for a long time. So, he may seem a little old, and he may seem a little bit stumbling, but he knows the issues. And so, he's able to take people like Jake Sullivan and Antony Blinken and others, even Lloyd Austin at the Defense Department, and check them if he thinks they're going in the wrong direction. But that's about it. Those three people I just mentioned, I have very little respect for in terms of their competence and their ability to do the kinds of things that I think need to be done today, leading with what I call exquisite diplomacy. That is good diplomacy. They seem incapable of it.
Q: So, you just mentioned that you had dealings with Biden when he was a senator. According to these dealings, what's his approach towards the Middle East or his Middle East doctrine?
A: First and foremost, he's going to be a supporter of “Israel”. There's no question about that. But he's going to be a pragmatic supporter of “Israel”. He's not going to take it to the point where he lets them lead him down the primrose path. I mean, he has no problem saying to whoever is in charge in “Israel”: you're not going to do that and have my support. Now, whether or not that comes to fruition is another matter altogether. But I think you have to - if you're Bennett or whomever - you have to listen to that, and you have to doubt the prospect of him being with you full bore if you do something that he is objecting to. That's Biden. That's not Blinken and that's not Sullivan. And it's not anybody else I can find in the administration. You've watched Blinken, for example, deal with Wang Yi, who's a very competent man. I know Wang Yi from times that I had policy planning talks with him back in the early 2000s with Richard Haas. And I know Sergey Lavrov, and I know Powell had immense respect for Sergey Lavrov. He’s a fine diplomat. And Sergei's not loyal to Vladimir Putin. Sergey's loyal to mother Russia. That's who he worked for through Putin, of course, because he's the President. Both men have made fools of Blinken and to a certain extent, all of the US diplomatic establishment. And this business of the media now playing this story in London and in Washington that Zelensky and Ukraine are winning, are holding their own, and so forth, is the latest example of how propaganda gets form because it's not the case.
Q: You mentioned that Biden is not going to allow the Israelis to lead him, and this leads me to ask about the issue of Iran and the Iranian nuclear deal. What appears to be happening is that the Biden administration, similar to what Obama did, is not bowing down to the Israeli wishes and intends to go ahead with the nuclear deal. Is that how you see it?
A: I think that's true. I would say that I'm not altogether confident it's going to come off because the Iranians have some objections, of course, and they play in this ballgame also. But if it does come off, it will be largely, I think, because Biden's powerful attitude about it is that it should come off, and no one's going to stop him from doing that. And I think it's a mixed message coming from “Israel” right now. It depends on whether you're talking to the Mossad, the "IDF", or the political structure of retired or active duty. It just depends. I'm hearing about 50% of the so-called Israeli security complex is either guardedly or, even better, optimistic about the deal. Then I'm hearing others, like the director of the Mossad, whom I think is very much opposed to it. So, it's like it was with President Obama. There were people who were talking to me behind the scenes, for example, Israelis, whose views I knew were probably reflective of the majority of the Israeli security complex, who were telling me: yeah, we're for this. We're for this. We might not be able to - active-duty ones would say - we might not be able to come out and say that publicly, but we're for it. Because they understood that it really did freeze everything to the point of 95- 96% certainty for a good while, and they were willing to go for that freeze.
Q: Do you know for a fact, that Biden strongly supports the [nuclear] deal?
A: I think so. Yes, I think so. In its present configuration, as I understand it, and there are still a couple of things to be worked out, which makes me think the Iranians might not buy it in the end, but I think he supports it. Now, one of the things I think we have a problem with on the JCPOA or whatever we're going to call it renewed, is that the Iranians have to be thinking - particularly the leadership in the IRGC and even the Ministry of Foreign Affairs leadership - they have to be thinking what happens in 2024? We go through the same thing again. We get one of these Luddite Republicans in there who immediately backs the United States out of the deal again. How much sanctions relief can we get between now and the time that happens? Is it worth it? Probably not that much, given the experience with the United States in the past and the sanctions. So why would we want to go into it again, just to be again rebuffed when the Republican gets elected in 2024? So, I think that's got to be in the back of the Ayatollah's mind and leadership of the IRGC. They've got to be thinking that way.
Q: Speaking of the IRGC, what did you think of the news which came out that the IRGC was planning to assassinate John Bolton?
A: Well, I was one who said the Iranians will get back for Qassem Soleimani's assassination. They won't do it immediately, and they won't do it in a very visible way, but they will do it. So, I didn't have any problem believing that. Now, that doesn't mean I find it a favorable action, and I have no love for John Bolton. But that would strike me as the kind of way that the Iranians would eventually get back for that assassination.
Q: So, you don't think it was a hoax?
A: It could well have been a hoax. But as I said, that is the sort of thing I would expect out of the Iranian “the Persian mindset”, if you will. And I have some admiration for that mindset. After all, it's very, very old, very, very experienced. That's the kind of thing that when people will tell me, oh, they're going to hit us tomorrow in Iraq, or they’re going to hit us here, they're going to hit us there. No, they're not. If they hit us, it'll be way down the road and it'll be subtle, it'll be quick, and it'll be deadly.
Q: We saw, in the end, that Biden did meet with Mohammed bin Salman. What's the Middle East policy? Is there one to start with? A fixed Middle East policy?
A: It is difficult to ascertain a specific one. But this is typical of the United States, especially in the last 20 years. You have to go sort of piecemeal on this issue. What's the policy on this issue? You can't find even a strategic, let alone a grand strategic policy, that you can put all these pieces into. I do think a couple of things are becoming clear, though, and one is that while we can't deny that we still have one of the greatest force lay downs in the world in that region-- everything from a reception facility in Kuwait to Al Udeid, which is the largest air force base in the world, to the ones in Saudi Arabia, military city and elsewhere, to the largest fleet headquarters in Bahrain. I mean, we have the biggest lay down of forces not in Europe, not in Korea, not in Guam. No, we have it in the Middle East. So, it's really counterintuitive for me to say this, but I think we are beginning to understand that military power is not the right instrument in that region. Economic, financial, and diplomatic work is probably more bookable. We still have this force lay down, and we still have a four-star general who thinks he sometimes is a Tsar out there. And we have another four-star general in Tampa who is the Special Operations Command commander who just covets that region. And that puts Navy SEALs and all manner of other people out there, too. So, you've got that kind of back current going on all the time. That's what's happening in Syria right now.
Q: So, the first general you are talking about; you're talking about the head of CENTCOM?
A: Yes. I'm not sure the new general is as war hungry, as was the former one, the Marine. But when you look at the lay down of forces and you look at what's happening with those forces, you have to conclude - and, you know, I watched this for 31 years - when you put that kind of force on the ground and you put someone in charge of it, he's looking for someplace to use that force. He's looking to justify his budget and his existence and to make a name for himself, and that's dangerous. Same problem in Africa, although we've kinda backed away from our very, very forward-leaning approach to Africa when we created Africa Command, which was a big mistake, a huge mistake. Africa is not a military domain. Africa is a diplomatic and economic and humanitarian assistance domain. It's not a military domain. It's not a place where you want to drop bombs and kill people. And I would say the Middle East is becoming rapidly that way, too, at least for the United States. We've shown over the past 20 years that dropping bombs doesn’t work. It simply is counterproductive. And so, I do think that there is a part of Biden's wish, with regard to a grander strategic policy, is that we get this military instrument under control and quit using it.
Retired #US army colonel Lawrence Wilkerson talking to #AlMayadeenEnglish: We've shown over the past 20 years that dropping bombs doesn’t work. It simply is counterproductive.— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) September 6, 2022
For the full interview: https://t.co/ZPrCUh2dMK pic.twitter.com/NCbfT3Qhjm
Q: And do you think Biden is pushing in that direction? I mean, he does have a history of opposing the generals.
A: Yes, he does, and I do think he's pushing in that direction. But I think he's up against some, like I said, a formidable force. Because you look at that fleet headquarters, the Navy loves that fleet headquarters, and they love that Fifth Fleet, and they love what it does every day. How would you get the Navy, for example, to recognize, maybe they are beginning to, but it's taken a long time that the Bab Al-Mandeb in the Red Sea is far more important than the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. More commerce passes through the Bab Al-Mandeb and up through the Suez Canal than ever passed through the Persian Gulf. And most of the commerce through the Strait of Hormuz is stuff we need to get off of fossil fuels. But the Bab Al-Mandeb is everything its half of - I think I saw the other day - it's half of China's production coming up through there and going to Europe and North America and all over. So, the Navy needs to figure that out. The US Navy needs to figure out and stop this concentration. But see, that takes power away from Central Command. You shift it over to the Bab Al-Mandeb, then you've got an argument over who's it going to belong to. Is it going to belong to the Central Command? is it going to belong to the European Command or African Command? The latter is the territorial limit. But then you got a fight between all these different people who have these fiefdoms out there. We've created these kingdoms all over the world with four-star generals and admirals in charge of them. And they, more than anything else in our repertoire, dictate our policy. Even our foreign policy. Certainly, our security policy, but they even dictate our foreign policy.
Q: So, when you say this, are you talking about what is commonly referred to as the military-industrial complex?
A: Yeah, that. But that's behind them, of course. But I'm specifically talking about the combatant commanders. I'll give you an example. The Japanese minister of defense once said to me: “I don't want to see the assistant secretary of State for East Asia in the Pacific. I'll let one of my underlings meet with him. But when the PACOM commander, the Pacific Command, Four-Star Admiral, comes here, I'm going to see him because he is bringing along with him carrier battle groups, air wings, and ground divisions. He's a powerful man. He's the real diplomat in the Pacific Theater, not your assistant secretary of state.” That's not the way it's supposed to be.
Q: So, are they more powerful than the presidents at times?
A: In their region? At times they are. Remember April 10th, 2001, when the US reconnaissance plane ran into the Chinese F-8 fighter, and the F-8 fighter pilot was killed in our plane with 24 sailors on board, went down on Hainan Island? That was a little bit of excessive policy setting by that combatant commander. He'd been told a number of times: "be careful. don't get too close, don't let your reconnaissance planes get too close" because the Chinese were constantly bouncing them. They were constantly sending fighters out to frighten them, and scare them. And every time you went in there, you knew they were going to do that, and they finally did it to the point where we had a crisis. Well, that's a military man leading policy.
Q: This brings to mind what happened when Obama and Putin reached an agreement regarding Syria's chemical weapons. And shortly after that, if you recall, there was the bombing in Deir Ezzor, and the agreement practically collapsed. Now, I did hear a theory that Ash Carter sabotaged Obama's initiative with Putin. What's your information on that?
A: I've heard that, but I don't have any insight into it to say yes or no. But it wouldn't surprise me. I'll tell you why: When I met with President Obama in the Roosevelt Room in the White House in September of his last year in office, 2015. He was supposed to be going to thank me and the general with me, General Paul Egan, for our help with the JCPOA. Getting it through Congress and so forth. We didn't get it through Congress, but at least we stopped them from killing it. He started off his conversation with us with these words: “There's a bias in this town toward war.” And then he spent about 15 minutes with John Kerry sitting right beside him, his Secretary of State at the time, telling us he wasn't sure he knew what to do about that. So, yeah, there's a bias in Washington toward war.
Q: Okay. Let's quickly go to the domestic situation in the United States. It goes without saying that there's a lot of talk about the US being headed to civil strife, some use the term civil war. Is this overblown according to what you see, or is it accurate?
A: To an extent it's overblown, but not to an extent that I don't feel some unease; some worry, some concern, and I'll tell you why: My latest reason for that concern is what General Milley apparently told- I guess- a New Yorker reporter who wrote the article that everyone was talking about and buzzing about where Milley essentially said we came very close to an insurrection under President Trump. And I'm worried about what is happening right now with regard to the military that then stood up to him to try and change that. And Bannon, Steve Bannon, is leading the effort, but there are lots of other people who are wearing uniforms and some of them wearing stars, working on it, too.
Q: This is an important point, are you saying that there is a division in the military and that there's a certain camp that supports Trump and his aides?
A: Yes, it's worse than that; It's two camps. It's a camp of Christian nationalists who have shown their ugly faces all over the military, and those Christian nationalists are allied more or less with what I would call the MAGA soldiers. You know, the soldiers that actually supported Trump but aren't necessarily Christian nationalists, they're allied with them, and Bannon is trying to fashion that - and others in the Trump camp - are trying to fashion that into a military that would be more compliant. Millie, I think, said one of the remarks made by one of the generals prompted Trump to say, “I would rather have generals like Hitler had,” you know, the German generals that obeyed everything. Of course, Trump forgot that they tried to kill him three or four times. But in any event, that gives you some indication of what Trump's feelings towards the generals were, whom he “loved” when he was first elected. And that reflects, I think, in a very incompetent, stupid Trump-like way, nonetheless, what happened at the end with regard to the expectations of others like Mark Meadows, the chief of staff, like General Flynn, outside, that the military would either be complacent and stand aside and let Trump do what he wanted to do to stay in office, or it might even help him. Bannon is going to make sure, and the Trump people are going to make sure, that the military changes are in that regard. At least that's what I'm hearing. Now, do they have a chance of accomplishing that? I don't think so, because I think there is enough left in the military of the proper civil-military relationship that should exist, that it'll be very difficult to overcome that. But it is eroding. It is eroding, and it's eroding because of this Christian nationalism, and because of some other groups that have infected the military that I would call violent extremists in the waiting. They're just waiting to come out of the military and join the Proud Boys or the Oath Keepers or some other similar group.
Is the US military institution divided? And is there a certain camp that supports #Trump and his aides?— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) September 6, 2022
Retired #US army colonel Lawrence Wilkerson answered on #AlMayadeenEnglish.
For the full interview: https://t.co/ZPrCUhjOEi pic.twitter.com/IJSXaeF5Yj
Q: Have you personally had any interaction with these Christian nationalists?
A: Quite a bit. I happen to be an advisory board member of something called the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, and our whole mission is: Church and state divided. Church and state into separate entities in the military, in particular. And so, we deal with these dimensions, for example, the most forward-leaning group of Christian nationalists who believe that Jesus Christ should own the American military. And they have chaplains in the military, and they have people like Boebert from Colorado, a representative in the United States Congress who thinks Christianity should be the national religion, and the American military should be the enforcer of that religion. I mean, she has as much as said that publicly. People say Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert and these kinds of people are just crazies, but they're crazies with a mission. And that mission is to turn the United States armed forces into a Christian arm on the one hand and on the other hand turn it into an arm that would make sure whatever Republican is elected in 2024 doesn't get unelected.
Q: So, is this a new phenomenon?
A: Yes, but it's been building for some time. And the people who are smart with the Trump camp or around the Republicans who agree with much of this, like Bannon, have just now recognized it. They exploited it politically, of course. Trump is no Christian, but he got all these Christians to support him. All these evangelical groups and such supported him. And they would say things like Franklin Graham said, you know, “oh, well, we ally ourselves with the devil to reverse Roe v Wade. We would ally ourselves with the devil to get Bibles back in the classroom”, you know, that sort of thing. So, Bannon has now recognized, and others, too, I'm sure, that there's a synergy there. You get these evangelicals hooked up with these other people that we are more used to having on our side. And you've got a formidable team politically and otherwise.
Q: Do you expect Trump to be re-elected?
A: I do not. I do not even think he will be nominated. I think we're going to be looking at DeSantis or something like DeSantis, which worries me significantly, because, at the end of the day, Trump is an idiot. He's a moron. He's a very prolific speaker to the powers that be in America that are a little less than savory. And that's his secret. But he's a moron. DeSantis is very smart, and there are a couple of other Republicans who worry me in that regard, too. So, what you get with DeSantis, if he runs and is elected, is you get a Trump, but a very smart Trump. So, he won't make the mistakes Trump made. He'll be very careful about how he establishes basically a fascist state.