Obama’s or Romney’s Foreign Policy: Does it Matter Who Wins ?
Larry Wilkerson: All US administrations have similar foreign policy, but the neo-con group around Bush/Cheney was more dangerous and many of the same characters are advising Romney
Lawrence Wilkerson is a retired United States Army soldier and former chief of staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell. Wilkerson is an adjunct professor at the College of William & Mary where he teaches courses on US national security. He also instructs a senior seminar in the Honors Department at the George Washington University entitled "National Security Decision Making."
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
A lot of people have suggested that the Obama foreign policy is not that much different than Bush term two’s foreign policy, that Bush term one, invasion of Iraq, was somewhat of an aberration, and in fact it really doesn’t make that much difference who’s president, because you get the Pentagon, you have the military-industrial-security complex, a whole whack of foreign-policy professionals, and the presidents kind of go along with their opinion. So does it really matter whether it’s President Obama, a President Romney, when it comes to the next four years and U.S. foreign policy?
Now joining us to talk about all of this is Lawrence Wilkerson. Larry is a retired colonel. He was the former chief of staff to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. He’s currently an adjunct professor of government at the College of William & Mary. He’s a regular contributor to The Real News Network. Thanks for joining us.
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON, FMR. CHIEF OF STAFF TO COLIN POWELL: Thanks for having me, Paul.
JAY: So does it matter whether it’s Obama or Romney? We haven’t seen a heck of a lot of difference, I think, between Obama and Bush term two, as I said.
WILKERSON: There was a marvellous consistency to U.S. security and foreign policy over the period from, say, 1947 to the present, aberration being George W. Bush in 2001. But to say as I’ve said before—and you know this, Paul—that there would be no difference, really, in terms of that policy, regardless of who’s elected, has begun to take on a new tone and tint, if you will, of late.
And there are basically two reasons for that. One is the fact that I don’t know what Mitt Romney thinks. I simply do not know what he thinks, because he said everything from A to Z from the primaries to now, the general election. And while that’s explicable in terms of the extremism in the Republican Party and what one has to do to cater to that extremism in the primaries in order to get to the general election, it’s not entirely explicable. I really do not know where Mitt Romney stands.
Then the second issue is the people he’s arrayed around him. Many of these people are the neoconservatives, like John Bolton, for example, whom I have seen before. And I see them singing off essentially the same sheet of music they sang from in 2002 and early 2003 when they essentially took an inexperienced president and marched him into war with Iraq—one of the most disastrous decisions the U.S. has made in the post-World War II era. So I see these same people around him, and I see an inexperienced man in terms of security and foreign policy, and I see them being able to manipulate him much the same way these neoconservatives—indeed, many of them the same people—manipulated George W. Bush.
So I have to revise my views about whether or not I believe Barack Obama, now with four years of experience, or Mitt Romney would be the same, roughly, with regard to foreign and security policy. I do think Barack Obama would probably promise a better decision-maker in that regard.
JAY: Now, it’s not to say that Barack Obama hasn’t carried on and even extended some of Bush’s policies, his drone attacks and other such things if anything are setting all new precedents for the kind of behavior that the U.S. does abroad. Doesn’t that concern you?
WILKERSON: It does. And I think you put your finger on what is the most concerning aspect of his security policy overseas, and that is the drone attacks. We are creating far more terrorists, potentially, in the future than we are killing with those drone attacks, not to mention the fact that we were crossing whole chasms of international law, even of domestic law, as we do this and do it rather cavalierly.
But the other aspects of his security policy domestically bother me too, everything from the Patriot Act to the FISA Amendments Act to the national security letters, to his unprecedented prosecution of whistleblowers. All of that bothers me. But when it comes to Mitt Romney, I don’t see a relaxation of any of those things. Indeed, from his rhetoric [inaud.] is an even more ardent pursuer of those things.
JAY: So you’re not a great admirer of President Obama’s foreign policy, but your point is you think Romney and the kind of people around him would be significantly worse.
WILKERSON: There are people who are—as I understand it, they range the gamut. Now, there’s a gentleman who is president of Washington College over in Chesterton, Maryland, and he was the second director of policy planning for Colin Powell when I was there. So I know Mitchell Reiss quite well. Mitchell is a moderate in the sense that he takes the middle road, usually, in U.S. national security and foreign policy. But Mitchell was an advocate for the delisting of the MEK, the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, the terrorist group—still a terrorist group, in my mind—from Iran. So you take someone like Mitchell Reiss, who normally is a person with whom I find a great deal of agreement with regard to security and foreign policy, and here he is advocating for the delisting of the MEK, which I think was a terrible move in all respects, because terrible move in the way the Iranians perceived it, and a terrible move because it basically acknowledged a terrorist group is now not a terrorist group anymore, and they clearly certainly still are.
So, I mean, you actually see people like that who you would normally cheer being in an administration, who’ve taken on a tone and tint that’s very different from what I consider to be sound and rational national security policy.
JAY: And to what extent do you think people like Karl Rove, even Cheney, Kyl, some of the—Senator Kyl—some of those people that were very much part of that foreign-policy cabal, how much are they going to have to say if there’s a Romney administration?
WILKERSON: I don’t know, Paul. That—I’m concerned about that, as I said before. But my biggest concern stems from at least I don’t—my lack of knowledge. I simply don’t know who’s going to influence Mitt Romney, because I don’t know who Mitt Romney is.
I think you’ve heard me say this before. I was searching for a Republican candidate for whom I could vote. I would vote for Mitt Romney at the drop of a hat, and therefore feel good about my political party’s candidate once again, if I thought I knew where he stood and I had a reasonable approximation of that stand being [roughly congruent]. I don’t even know where Mitt Romney stands, so how can I make a decision to vote for Mitt Romney? I can’t.
JAY: Alright. Thanks for joining us, Larry.
WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Paul.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
The Real News,