What follows is a conversation between professor Larry Wilkerson and Sharmini Peries of the Real News Network. Read a transcript of their conversation below or watch the video at the bottom of the post.
SHARMINI PERIES It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. The United States is sending the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln into the Persian Gulf, according to a statement that the National Security Adviser John Bolton released on Monday. Bolton’s statement says that the purpose of the deployment is in response to a number of the troubling and escalatory indications and warnings and to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on the United States’ interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force. Now, neither the White House nor the Pentagon officials clarified what kind of escalatory warnings had been received by the Trump administration. Now the previous week on Fox News Sunday With Chris Wallace, the Iranian Foreign Minister gave an interview in which he accused Bolton of having vested interests in fomenting a war against Iran. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the following.
MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF Mr. Bolton has said publicly before he became National Security Adviser in a rally that was organized by an Iranian terrorist organization that was on the list of terror groups by the United States State Department and Mr. Bolton was on the payroll, that he would celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Tehran with that terrorist organization. He is on the record, after receiving $50,000 to say that. He has said it again as National Security Adviser.
SHARMINI PERIES And when Chris Wallace asked Bolton in a later interview about these allegations, here’s what Bolton said.
JOHN BOLTON It’s completely ridiculous. I think what that interview showed was a carefully prepared propaganda script by the Iranians. This is their effort to try and sow disinformation in the American body politic. The fact is, the president’s policy on Iran has been clear well before I arrived in the administration. It is to put maximum pressure on the regime to get it to change its behavior and I think it’s working and I think that’s what they’re worried about.
CHRIS WALLACE Well, Zarif is right about one thing. In 2017, as he said, you did give a speech to MEK, an opposition group which at one point, not now, but at one point was listed as a terrorist group, in which you talked about regime change in Iran and celebrating in Tehran with MEK
JOHN BOLTON Let me just say, on the MEK, you know who took the MEK off the US list of foreign terrorist organizations? Hillary Clinton, that well-known right-wing Republican.
SHARMINI PERIES Joining me now to discuss all of this is Larry Wilkerson. He is the former Chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell and he’s a Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government and Public Policy at the College of William and Mary. Good to have you back, Larry.
LARRY WILKERSON Good to hear your voice, Sharmini.
SHARMINI PERIES All right, Larry. Let’s start with the most recent development here about the aircraft USS Abraham Lincoln going to the Persian Gulf. And of course, also tell us about this exchange between the Foreign Minister and John Bolton about the MEK starting with, what is the MEK?
LARRY WILKERSON I think John Bolton, Rudy Giuliani, and a host of other Americans, have been using the MEK as a cash cow since we very stupidly took them off the terrorism list.
The MEK is a cult; it is a terrorist cult. There’s no doubt about it, but we seem to have this uncanny knack of calling people terrorists when we don’t like them, and calling them freedom fighters when they are terrorists when we like them. And John Bolton has taken money from these people. I heard it was $30,000 a whack and several whacks, but he’s in a crowd of people who’ve done that. The interview was interesting that he did with Chris Wallace and that Zarif did. Both were performing, as you would expect, diplomats for various states to perform, in this case, John for us and Zarif for Iran. In other words, John’s comment that Zarif was a carefully prepared propaganda script, was absolute nonsense.
If you want to say that, you want to say that as much about John Bolton as you do Zarif. What it was, was two diplomats dueling with one another, one of them with a fairly full deck, and the other one with a deck missing of two cards. And that’s John Bolton because Bolton has said so many things in the past, as you’ve pointed out from time to time, celebrating on the 40th anniversary of the Iran revolution in Tehran with the MEK, for example. That’s what he claimed he would do. Well John, I’m sorry that anniversary has passed, and I haven’t seen you in Tehran. So this is two diplomats dealing with each other and they’re dealing with each other on the script I presuppose that Donald Trump has put out there for him, that Trump wants negotiations. He wants to sit down with Rouhani, Zarif, both of them, whatever, and he wants to resume negotiations so he can leap up from the chair and say, look I got a better deal than President Obama. He wants to do a Kim Jong-un moment with Rouhani and Zarif. He wants to do it really close to the election too because it would be a real kick for him electorally. So Bolton is operating, I think, under that script guidance, if you will, but at the same time, John wants more than that.
John wants regime change. And so, what worries me here, and your talk about the deployment of forces and so forth, and what might be going on with Saudi Arabia and with the UAE and with Israel, really worries me because Trump’s attention to detail is almost nonexistentant. And underneath that inattention, John Bolton—and with regard to Venezuela, for example Marco Rubio, Rick Scott from Florida, Elliott Abrams, and a host of people, are making mischief. While John Bolton and his crew are making mischief with regard to Iran, and that crew might include some of these military forces that are deploying there, if we’re looking for an incident, it’s not going to be hard to manufacture one. If we’re looking for a Tonkin Gulf, if we’re looking for a smoking gun and a mushroom cloud, you know, those kinds of propagandistic things, those kinds of made up things that lead to war, then this is a perfect scenario in which to find something like that. And that worries me. If Bolton’s operating under this inattention of the president and trying to do what he wants to do, that’s of deep concern to me.
SHARMINI PERIES All right. Now, John Bolton in his statement, Larry, indicated that this move of sending the carrier to the Gulf was so that it could protect US interests and US allies. What did he mean by that?
LARRY WILKERSON He’s looking for something. He’s trying to provoke something. He’s looking for an incident. That’s all I can see in it because Iran does not threaten a country to whom we are by Donald Trump’s own proud admission, selling a $100 billion worth of arms to. Iran does not threaten a country that has more of the United States military power arrayed around it, than any other place on the face of the earth— Al Udeid in Qatar, Khalifa in Saudi Arabia, Military City in Saudi Arabia, Fifth Fleet headquarters in Bahrain. How can Iran possibly—Americans need to get off the pot and think for a minute. How can this country threaten anything the United States has in the Strait, in the Gulf, or in the region, when we have so much superiority? And Saudi Arabia and other countries allied with us have so much superiority. Israel has so much superiority. It’s all make believe. It’s John Bolton make believe. It’s Mike Pompeo make believe. And the fact that Donald Trump goes along with it, makes him an idiot.
SHARMINI PERIES All right. And finally, Larry, the ongoing sanctions against Iran has caused a situation where people suffering, Iranian people suffering under floods and horrible natural conditions, aren’t able to receive aid at this point through international organizations like the Red Cross because of the economic sanctions. What do you make of that and what’s the precedent for this kind of behavior? Is there a possibility of lifting sanctions at a time of crises like this?
LARRY WILKERSON The precedent, Sharmini, is that this is the most brutal administration in the history of this country. I remember in 2003 when the earthquake hit—bam. You remember that thousands, thousands of casualties. People buried in the rubble. It was horrible. And I remember going into Secretary Powell and I just started to say, we need to send aid. We need to send out help, immediately. And Powell kind of smiled at me and I said, what are you smiling at? And he said, don’t worry about it, Larry; the president’s already on it. This was George W. Bush. We were already on it. We sent firemen. We sent search dogs. We sent search teams. We sent ambulances. We sent food. We sent water. We sent all manner of humanitarian support and we extended it over months in order to help the Iranians recover from that tragic earthquake.
This administration is looking at a country, Sharmini, that has received 70 percent of its annual rainfall in 13 days. Over 1,300 villages and communities have been devastated, flooded. People are in trouble. The government can’t possibly—we’ve been talking about this all along, Bolton talks about this all along, Pompeo talks about it. The government is not competent. It is not competent. That is true. It is not responding. The RGC is not responding. They’re not doing what they should be doing for their people, partly because, if not largely because, they’re incompetent. We should be helping. I have a friend in Salt Lake City, a billionaire, who’s been trying to send a ship full of humanitarian supplies. He can’t even get it through OFAC to send this ship. This is brutal. This is uncharacteristic of America, uncharacteristic of Americans, and we should be ashamed of ourselves for it.
SHARMINI PERIES All right. Larry, thank you very much for that. Looking forward to having you back. And please join me. I’m not going to let Larry go back to his garden until he answers some questions on the Venezuela crises, so bear with me. And Larry, hang in there. We’ll be right back.