Larry Wilkerson: Decline of US armed forces inevitable if systemic problems remain unaddressed.
Jaisal Noor, TRNN Producer: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor: in Baltimore. And welcome to this latest edition of The Wilkerson Report.
We’re now joined by Larry Wilkerson, former chief of staff of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, currently an adjunct professor of government at the College of William & Mary, and a regular contributor to The Real News Network.
Thank you so much for joining us, Larry.
Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, FMR. Chief of Staff to Colin Powell: Thanks for having me. Glad to be here.
Noor: So, Larry, what do you have for us this week?
Wilkerson: I did an interview, an hour-long interview this morning for a group that projects what I say, and what others, of course, say, too, out to their investors. And the subject was the Armed Forces of the United States, national security, and the future. And it ranged from looking at military contractors like Lockheed Martin, whether they’re good investment risks or not, to the state of the Armed Forces themselves.And when we got into that latter category, we had a very interesting discussion, because I divided it up into three areas, basically, one, professional what I call soul-destroying problems like sexual assault in the ranks, religious freedom, suicides, and so forth; a second category of immediate problems that are considerable, substantive problems like withdrawal from Afghanistan, potential reentry in Iraq, where the civil war is getting worse each day, and also potential war, either by going into Syria to intervene or through Syria to Iran, with Israel leading the way or just the U.S; and then a third set of problems which the secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel, is confronting right now, and that is the strategic set of problems. Just what are the threats to the future? Is cyber warfare, for example, really more to be feared than a nuclear weapon? I happen to think it is. And how do we assess the threats of the future? And how do we in a very constrained economic environment, how do we build forces to counter those threats? And it was an interesting discussion we—as I said, we ranged over a lot of issues.
Noor: What do you see as the possible outcomes? And is there a way out of this?
Wilkerson: Well, a problem with the first category is leadership. We had 26,000 sexual assaults last year in the Armed Forces, and only 3 percent were prosecuted. That tells you something.
We need a whole new set of leaders in the Armed Forces, especially at the top. We need people who don’t talk about zero tolerance, because that’s nonsense. We need people who actually want to prosecute offenders. You had a person on The Real News recently. She’s very persuasive. I understand where she’s coming from. I just read a book, a manuscript that’ll be a book in November by Sarah Bloom, Army nurse, who’s documented over 200 cases of sexual abuse, all the way from Vietnam up to the present. And they’re heartrending stories that you hear from these women. And I might add, too, that about 10 or 11 percent of the sexual assaults is male-on-male. So this isn’t just sexual assaults on women, though that’s the predominant category. But it’s got to be handled by the leadership.
So the same thing with suicides. We’re at some awful rate of 22 suicides a day. This is leadership. You’ve got to take this bull by the horns and you’ve got to do something about it. You can’t just pontificate about it from on high in Washington and say you’re concerned. These are issues that are going to tear the military apart if we’re not careful.
Same with withdrawal from Afghanistan. This is going to be a very expensive and dangerous enterprise. It looks as if we’re going to leave a mess, just as we left in Iraq. The potential for intervention in Syria, and even more so for an actual war with Iran, is substantive. This would be catastrophic for the Armed Forces as far as I’m concerned.
And then you’ve got the long-range issue of a strategic review. How do you build the forces for the future? How do you change them from their Cold War mentality, which they’re clearly still in? How do you get out of the big debt carrier, the F-35, the Air Force-dominated bombing regime now turning swiftly to drones?
When you look at these problems down at the professional level, the soul-destroying level, all the way up to the strategic level, they’re so huge and they’re so substantial, and they’re set against a background of economic demise, of economic duress that doesn’t seem to be going away, not any time soon. And so trying to design an armed force that is essentially now still mired in the Cold War mentality, still on large debt carriers, filled with monopolistic military contractors, still with the focus on precision guidance and precision bombing, and now transmogrified into drones and so forth, and you’re looking at a set of threats out there in the future that none of this addresses, really, you’ve got some real problems.
Throw on top of that the fact that you don’t have a robust economic engine—and that’s the essential for a robust set of armed forces—and you have a significant challenge for the future. As I said, one of my interlocutors this morning used the metaphor of the people who killed the golden goose, you know, or the goose that laid the golden eggs. From 1945 to about 1972, we had the most productive economy in the world. Since 1972, we’ve been going steadily downhill. And today we’re at a point where we need to resurrect that economy and have the kind of Armed Forces we need, or continue to let that economy go downhill and have no Armed Forces at all or of any consequence. And this is a huge, huge strategic problem confronting the secretary of defense and ultimately the American people right now. They don’t seem to know it, but it is.
Noor: Larry Wilkerson, thank you so much for joining us and giving us that really important insight.
Wilkerson: Thanks for having me.
Noor: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.