We look at the Trump administration’s assassination of Iran’s top military commander Qassem Soleimani with Lawrence Wilkerson, a retired United States Army colonel who served as Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff from 2002 to 2005. On February 5, 2003, he watched as Powell made the case for war in a speech to the United Nations. He has since become an outspoken critic of U.S. intervention in the Middle East. In 2018, Wilkerson wrote an article for The New York Times titled “I Helped Sell the False Choice of War Once. It’s Happening Again.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! For more on the Trump administration’s assassination of Iran’s top military commander, we’re joined by Lawrence Wilkerson, retired United States Army colonel, served as Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff from 2002 to 2005. Colonel Wilkerson has long warned about the U.S. going to war with Iran. In 2018, he wrote a piece for the Times headlined “I Helped Sell the False Choice of War Once. It’s Happening Again.” Lawrence Wilkerson is a distinguished visiting professor of government and public policy at the College of William & Mary.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Colonel Wilkerson. Talk about what happened in 2003 and your response to what you’re seeing happen right now after the assassination of Soleimani.
LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Let me say first, Amy, that I find myself agreeing and really appreciating the history that was given by the Johns Hopkins professor with regard to Iran. We rarely hear the truth about Iran and about U.S.-Iran relations, and she pretty much laid it bear for us.
I associated the 2003 situation and the catastrophic decision to invade Iraq, which is what produced what we’re looking at today, essentially — all across the region, the chaos that we’re looking at was produced by the United States invasion in 2003. I watched as the intelligence was cooked, as principals in the George W. Bush government were sold by that intelligence or helped to warp that intelligence, as was the case was with Dick Cheney, and I watched the inevitable march to war, even though I was working for a man who did everything he could, especially after the U.N. Security Council resolution in November, 8 November, 2002, that sent the inspectors back into Iraq — I watched us go to war nonetheless. I’m watching the same thing again.
And let me just say that this morning at 2 a.m. my time, I was on London news with News 4. And the speaker before me was a representative of the U.K.’s Ministry of Defense. And his main points — he was fairly glib. He was much more articulate than the warmonger Mike Pompeo. But he tried to make a rational case for the execution of Soleimani. And he said it was a tactical incident, and that as a tactical incident, it would not disturb the current tension that much. It was not a tactical incident; it was a strategic incident.
As a military professional, I have real trouble with our turning over the initiative to our enemy. In this case, if Iran is indeed our enemy — and I think they are now, for sure — we have turned the initiative over to them, the strategic, not the tactical, initiative. Now it is up to Iran as to what they do as a riposte to what we did. They can do any number of things across such a wide spectrum of activities that I shudder to consider. It ranges from unleashing Hezbollah, if Nasrallah will agree, on Israel, to attacks inside the United States, inside Europe, with sleeper agents and so forth. So the initiative is now in Iran’s hands. That’s what this killing did. It shifted the strategic initiative for this tension to Iran.
If Iran reacts in a very escalatory way, we will have no choice but to up the ante still further, which I would say would probably be executing a bombing campaign from multicarrier battle groups in the North Oman Sea, from al-Jadeed in Qatar and so forth, a very devastating bombing campaign. Indeed, President Trump has suggested it, with his very impolitic remark about 52 sites and so forth. This is a strategic situation, and we caused it. And it’s going to rebound to our disfavor, I think.
AMY GOODMAN: Colonel Wilkerson, on Friday, Vice President Pence falsely attempted to link Major General Soleimani to the 9/11 attacks. He tweeted Soleimani, quote, “Assisted in the clandestine travel to Afghanistan of 10 of the 12 terrorists who carried out the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.” The New York Times and others have noted the claim lacks evidence. If you can talk about what General Powell did, that speech he gave on February 5th, 2003, that you helped to prepare? Again, this also backs up Secretary of State Pompeo, who said that Iran was just about to attack U.S. personnel again. Where’s the evidence, as you have asked the question back in 2003?
LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Well, Amy, this is risible. It’s laughable. Pence’s words, in particular, are laughable. Soleimani and his entourage were actually helping us in Afghanistan in 2001, early 2002, to fight the Taliban. We got indispensable help from Iran in that regard. And then President Bush made the statement about the “axis of evil” and sort of countermanded all that good cooperation. Nonetheless, they still were cooperating with us, all the way up to the Bonn conference and the selection of Karzai to be the intermediate ruler in Afghanistan. So, this is total falsehood. But this seems to be a practice of the Bush administration, as it was a practice of the George — of the Trump administration, as it was a practice of the Bush administration. I’m not saying George —
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there, but we’re going to do Part 2 with you and post it online at democracynow.org. Lawrence Wilkerson, retired United States Army colonel who served as Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.
Not everyone can pay for the news. But if you can, we need your support.
Truthout is widely read among people with lower incomes and among young people who are mired in debt. Our site is read at public libraries, among people without internet access of their own. People print out our articles and send them to family members in prison — we receive letters from behind bars regularly thanking us for our coverage. Our stories are emailed and shared around communities, sparking grassroots mobilization.
We’re committed to keeping all Truthout articles free and available to the public. But in order to do that, we need those who can afford to contribute to our work to do so.
We’ll never require you to give, but we can ask you from the bottom of our hearts: Will you donate what you can, so we can continue providing journalism in the service of justice and truth?