JESSICA DESVARIEUX: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
U.S. authorities have indicated that they are sticking to their timetable for a possible
attack on Syria in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the regime of Bashar
al-Assad. However, the AP is reporting on Thursday morning from a U.S. intelligence
official that, quote, the intelligence linking Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or his inner
circle to an alleged criminal chemical attack is no slam dunk.
Meanwhile, Russia, which along with China has opposed the calls for the use of military
force in Syria, is convening a meeting of the five permanent members of the UN Security
Council to discuss the possible strike. Russia has also reportedly dispatched two warships
to the region. Britain, a close U.S. ally, will hold a debate this weekend prior to deciding
whether or not to take part in an attack. The Obama administration has not indicated
whether or not it will seek congressional approval prior to launching a strike.
Now joining us to discuss all this is Larry Wilkerson. Larry was the former chief of staff
for U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. He's currently an adjunct professor of government
at the College of William & Mary, and he's a regular contributor to The Real News.
Thanks for being with us, Larry.
LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Good be with you, Jessica.
DESVARIEUX: So, Larry, it sounds like there's no smoking gun here. UN inspectors, they're
still in Syria currently. But the Obama administration seems to be pushing forward, saying that they
are blaming Assad for this chemical attack. Why would the Obama administration come out
with such aggressive language towards Assad and this strike if there's no smoking gun?
What wouldn't they just wait for the UN inspectors to have hard evidence before proceeding?
WILKERSON: That's an excellent question. And if I hadn't lived through this sort of operation
with three other presidents, I'd have difficulty answering that question.
As it is, I would say that probably they got too far forward in the foxhole, too aggressive.
The president probably acted on an NSA intercept or something like that and made some conclusions
he probably shouldn't have made. And now they're trying to walk it back a little bit.
I just heard that the inspectors have been asked through Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general,
to not go to the area because we claim the area is contaminated by conventional munitions
that Assad has continued to use. That's preposterous, because if it was a neurotoxic agent, we wouldn't
necessarily have to find things on the ground. It would be nice if we did, but what we're
going to do is take blood samples and so forth of the alleged victims and see if they have
indeed been affected by some sort of chemical agent, in this case VX or sarin or a facsimile
So this really looks bad right now. It looks a lot like what I went through in 2003 in
preparing Colin Powell for his now infamous presentation at the United Nations in February
of that year, where we said Saddam had an active nuclear program, had vast stocks of
chemical and biological weapons, had major contacts with al-Qaeda and an active nuclear
program, all of which we now know was patently false.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. And, Larry, for our viewers, can you explain what is the strategic importance
of Syria? And specifically, can you talk about Hezbollah and Iran? And what role do they
plan a small in this whole chess game?
WILKERSON: When you talk about Hezbollah and Iran and Russia, you have to talk about them
in the same breath with Bashar al-Assad.
And here's another counterintuitive ingredient in this. If they're on his side and he's holding
his own, if not winning, in this really tragic civil war, then why would he use chemical
weapons and invite international intervention? This is very counterintuitive. I'm not saying
that dictators don't do stupid things, and Assad could be one of those who does stupid
things, but it is just not reasonable for him to have done this, whereas if you do like
the detectives do, follow the money, where is the motivation, the motivation is in the
opposition or in portions of the opposition. The motivation is elsewhere than Assad to
use chemical weapons and get the international community to intervene.
But you just brought up an important point. This is not just a serious civil war. This
is Saudi Arabia funding like mad those people fighting against Assad. This is Iraq fighting
on both sides, with Maliki on one side and people like Muqtada al-Sadr on the other side.
This is Turkey furiously fighting against Syria, not so much on the on the ground, as
Iran is, in support of Assad. But this is a whole group of people. This is Russia furnishing
Assad with weapons.
This is not an isolated civil war, which it is--it makes it very dangerous for the United
States to think it's just taking the side of the opposition if it should choose to intervene
militarily. This is a very dangerous move by the president. Moreover, if he's just trying
to send a signal, if he's just trying to say to Assad, don't use chemicals again and just
going to fire some cruise missiles, maybe drop some precision munitions, Assad would
be very smart if he just said, so what, and went right on prosecuting his war. Well, then
what does the president do? In for a pound, in for a ton. And then we've got a catastrophe
on our hands.
DESVARIEUX: Yeah. And we also have a lot of different interests pulling the president
in different directions. Let's talk about Washington specifically and McCain, who has
come out calling for the president to intervene directly. And I want to get a sense from you:
why would he do something like this? Who does he represent? What sort of interests does
he represent? Because McCain always comes out saying that we need to listen to our generals.
But if we listen to our generals in this case--let's take a look at a quote from General Dempsey.
He actually says that we need to take a step back when it comes to Syria. Quote, he says,
Syria today is not about choosing between two sides but rather about choosing one among
many sides. It is my belief that the side we choose must be ready to promote their interests
and ours when the balance shifts in their favor. Today they are not. What do you make
of all this, Larry?
WILKERSON: Well, General Dempsey's comment is wise, sagacious, and smart. I wouldn't
want to touch this tar baby with my left hand and then get my right hand, my head, my feet,
and everything else ensnarled in it, which is probably what we're going to do.
Let's back up for a moment. First of all, Syria is not in the national interest of the
United States of America. That's a major point to be made.
It is in the humanitarian interest of the United States that the killings stop. And
the best way to do that is through diplomacy, hard talks, an embargo on arms that's as enforced
as our current sanctions regime against Iran is, for example, or our embargo against Cuba
is, and forcing people to sit down and talk, including the Iranians, the Syrians, the Saudis,
the Turks, the Russians, the Chinese, all the people that have a dog in this fight.
They ought to all sit down and talk. That's the only way we're going to end this is with
a political solution. If it means Assad stays in power for a little bit longer and an interim
government comes in to share power with them, so what? As long as it stops the killing.
A few cruise missiles aimed at a red line the president ineptly laid down with regard
to chemical weapons is not going to do anything except exacerbate and add and increase in
So this doesn't make any sense. General Dempsey is absolutely right that it's not and in the
interests of the United States to be ensnared in this civil war and ultimately probably
a much wider regional conflict.
DESVARIEUX: So, Larry, it sounds like you're advocating for a political solution. And in
your opinion, is this the most constructive foreign policy for the Syrian people themselves?
WILKERSON: Absolutely. I do not see any way, as General Dempsey pointed out, any way that
you get anything other than what, for example--and we just walked right over this--what we have
in Libya today, which is a haven for al-Qaeda, which has transferred al-Qaeda into the northern
part of Mali and caused that state to become unstable, caused us to have to place a drone
outfit in that region, for example, widening the so-called war on terror, not narrowing
it, not eliminating it, keeping us in a constant state of warfare. So Libya is no example to
For that matter, people are throwing Kosovo out. Kosovo is no example to use. Kosovo's
GDP right now is 90 percent criminality--trafficking in humans, in drugs, in arms, much the same
way Albania, its sister state over there, is. So these great examples of humanitarian
intervention over the last few years are not very positive examples.
And Syria, I think, would trump them tenfold. It'd be much worse. We don't know who's going
to control Syria. And we're not about to put boots on the ground and occupy that place
for ten or 12 years to ensure that whoever controls it, to ensure that their interests
are compatible with Israel's and others'.
We've got a collapsing Arab Spring right now. I'd call it an Arab winter. We've got Egypt
falling apart. We've got Lebanon being destabilized by the refugees in it. We've got Jordan looking
precarious. We've got Iraq going back to civil war. This is not a time to widen this conflict
and to add another state to the United States' groups that it's going to occupy and build
democracy in. It's preposterous to think that we can do that.
The best we can do is to talk, force others to talk, put an arms embargo on the place
so people like the Saudis quit flooding it with weapons, and bring everybody to the table
and sit down and make some kind of agreement that also, by the way, advantageously, might
lead to a better situation in Afghanistan, a better situation in Iraq, a better situation
with Iran and its nuclear program. We could have all manner of things that we can talk
about if we'll just sit down and talk. The problem is we seem to have forgotten how to
DESVARIEUX: Okay. Thanks so much for joining us, Larry.
WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Jessica.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.