The Most Important Hearings of the Young Century

by Lawrence Wilkerson

On MSNBC’s “All In” on March 13, I discussed how the removal of Rex Tillerson from the position of secretary of state was the final triumph of largely Republican efforts—but with complicit Democrats as well—to consolidate the making of foreign and security policy exclusively in the White House. Since the 1947 National Security Act, there has been institutional momentum for this shift. It is important to be aware of this institutional momentum because to reverse the shift will require much more than just a new president and administration. It will take statutory change by the Congress. Such change must be highly deliberative and thus will take time. Immediately, however, the damage to U.S. foreign and security policy—and the country in turn—could be so immense that temporary, non-statutory actions are essential.

Having Mike Pompeo at State, Gina Haspel at the CIA, Nikki Haley at the United Nations, and three military professionals closely advising a grossly inexperienced and narcissistic president is sufficient to give pause to anyone interested in arresting the significant deterioration of our democracy. But putting all control over the main instrument of national power that this team is most apt to use—the military—in the hands of one man, Donald Trump, makes President Xi Jinping’s move in China following the Nineteenth Party Congress pale in comparison. First, Xi is not a warmonger, and, second, Trump has become one. If Americans believe that 17 straight years of war is enough, they need to stand by: another 17 or more is in the offing. Blood and treasure will be the payment for years to come.

Iran and North Korea—the latter despite the “historic” opening of talks—are merely the leading possibilities. Russia and China loom in the foreground, not the background. Conservation of enemies is not a principle of this White House team. Rather, it wants to make as many enemies as possible, at the same time as it destroys traditional alliances and dismays and distances U.S. friends.

Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s defense minister, is scheduled to give the keynote address at the Jerusalem Post’s conference in New York in April. The title of his address is published as “The Coming War With Iran.” Any American citizen who believes this White House team will not involve the U.S. in Israel’s war needs to check into a mental ward.

Similarly, the historic summit with Kim Jong-un of North Korea will likely never happen (its startling announcement was used cleverly to clear the TV screens of Stormy Daniels, repetitive Russia scandals, and unheralded White House departures). If by some miracle of fate this summit should happen, Donald Trump will be the loser, not the winner, and everyone will pay the piper for his folly, possibly with one of the bloodiest wars of this young century.

But the Syria conflict will most likely be the conduit through which this presidential team, linked at the hip with Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s team, pursues its first new and immediately most likely use of military power. However, even the unending war thus produced—for that is precisely what it will be—will not sufficiently satisfy the appetites of this team. Moreover, taking on Syria and Iran might well lead to Russia. Putin has said as much publicly.

The Nightmare Scenario

Imagine this scenario for a frightening moment. While embroiled in Syria with Israel at our side, Russia and Iran confront the U.S. and no one backs down. Turkey leaps into the mix to finish off as many Kurds as possible as the inevitable major regional war begins. Meanwhile, in the South China Sea, China delivers and immediately acts upon an ultimatum to Taipei. This bellicose White House team led by Donald Trump challenges China and, in the process, immediately loses USS Carl Vinson, sunk in minutes by a combination of missiles, torpedoes, and precision-guided bombs, an aircraft carrier worth $14 billion with about 5,000 souls on board.

Mr. President, what do you and your team do now?

Frankly, I believe this bone-spur-afflicted warrior will run upstairs in the White House, close the door firmly, pick up his smart device, and commence tweeting that, among other things, it was not his fault. After all, he tried to put America first. It was all those damnable neo-cons who fouled his ship of state.

This is a more-than-imaginable scenario for a 31-year military professional such as I. That should frighten the hell out of all those tens of millions of people all across America who have never, in all their lives, ridden to the sound of guns or heard bullets and shrapnel whiz by their ears. That an academic of now some sixteen years should state it so categorically should reinforce their fright.

Using the Confirmation Hearings

At this moment, the surest and most immediate first step in beginning a process to prevent this more-than-plausible scenario from developing into a reality is to use the Senate confirmation hearings of Mike Pompeo and Gina Haspel to challenge powerfully the entire foreign and security policy of this aberration of an administration.

Democrats and Republicans alike must make these hearings a litmus test of the Trump administration’s foreign and security policy. At minimum, Congress must interrogate its planned approach in Syria and its explanation of the brutal Saudi-led war in Yemen that it is aiding and abetting. It must challenge the administration’s vision for a long-term U.S.-Russia policy, its ultimate objective with Iran and the nuclear deal, and its strategy for North Korea and the entire Korean Peninsula, as well as Japan, not to mention the overall strategy for dealing with the number one economy in the world, China. Congress must assess the covert operations in Ukraine, Venezuela, and elsewhere, the approach to Mitrovica and the rest of Kosovo and the ultimate objective with regard to Turkey, including its approach to dealing with the growing tension on Cyprus—fueled by Ankara—and the brewing fight over the Eastern Mediterranean’s gas fields. Congress must also evaluate the administration’s immediate and long-term plans for countering aggressive Russian actions in the Arctic and conduct an overall review of U.S. policy with respect to Mexico, Canada, and the remainder of the Western Hemisphere.

Impossible? Not at all, if Congress knows what it’s doing. I realize that’s a huge charge for this Congress, but I persist nonetheless because recently I’ve detected a growing unease on the Hill and a desire to do something. A few smart members are willing to lead such an effort.

In 1985, Admiral William J. Crowe, then commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, took President Ronald Reagan on a ride in his admiral’s yacht out into Pearl Harbor. At the time, I was executive assistant to Bill Crowe’s right-hand man, the head of strategy and policy for the Pacific Command, Rear Admiral Stewart A. Ring. Stew and Bill had made certain that they were ready for this occasion.

On the yacht, in less than three hours, with only a large map and the power of his intellect, Bill Crowe gave the president a tour d’horizon of the largest, most difficult-to-manage regional command in the U.S. repertoire. Encompassing 35 nations, the vast Pacific and most of the Indian Oceans, a diversity of outlooks, leaders, and U.S. ambassadors, it was the most complex, challenging, and largest command in the Unified Command Plan, the presidentially approved document that lays out U.S. global responsibilities.

Crowe was so successful that Reagan returned to Washington and shortly thereafter summoned Crowe to join him in the capital city as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). It was an excellent decision, based on Reagan’s intellectual and intuitive conclusion reached on that yacht in Pearl Harbor after hearing the most superb delineation of foreign and security policy the president had ever entertained in such a brief and concentrated period. In fact, it was so powerful and convincing an experience that Reagan overrode the recommendation of his then-serving JCS, General Jack Vessey, for his successor and instead chose Crowe.

That is the sort of testimony and answers that Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), and all the members of the SFRC, majority and minority, ought to expect and get from Mike Pompeo. Although more focused on strategic intelligence and torture—the latter Gina Haspel’s greatest and most worrisome legacy—the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) ought to hammer this nominee as well.

If at times these two nominees need a break to refer back to the White House in order to answer a particular question, that time should be granted—not to answer “questions for the record” but to return to the sitting committee chambers and resume testimony. It should be one of the most deliberative processes the SFRC and SSCI have ever conducted, much like the committee hearings that examined the relief of General Douglas MacArthur by President Truman in 1950, which featured hours and hours of truly superb testimony from men such as George C. Marshall and Omar Bradley.

Rising to the Occasion

This means that SFRC members such as James Risch (R-ID), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Cory Gardner (D-CO), Todd Young (R-IN), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and others will need to study hard, put aside politics as much as possible, stretch themselves into bigger and better representatives of the people, form incisive questions, and ask them deliberately and pointedly, within time constraints and the chairman’s prerogatives, and not take frivolous or ambiguous answers without counterstriking.

With the SSCI it will be more difficult, to be sure. Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), the SSCI chairman, has demonstrated an unparalleled obtuseness and an affection for political power at the expense of his country’s true interests that seems unchangeable. But it must be. Or Mark Warner (D-VA)—so far having done nothing at all to distinguish himself—in his capacity as ranking member must defy Burr and take the hearing to the levels to which it should rise. America’s future is at stake like at no other time since 1861.

Perhaps I have just assigned impossible tasks to mediocre people. Their track record to this point seems to indicate it. But as John Kennedy illustrated so dramatically in his Profiles of Courage, on occasion the call of duty and country does in fact surmount the craven call of politics. It must be so in these hearings.

If it is not, then the next opportunity for Congress to halt the war machine will be, as with the war in Vietnam, after countless useless deaths, huge expenditures of taxpayer dollars, and little if anything gained. Or far worse.

Lawrence Wilkerson is the Distinguished Visiting Professor of Government and Public Policy at the College of William and Mary. He was chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002-2005. He served 31 years in the US Army.  

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  1. One of the unspoken arguments against female suffrage was the idea that they would not yield to the testosterone-fueled drive to war, so the irony of the 2016 election was that it was a woman, Hillary Clinton, who was the darling of the Deep State(and its MSM minions) dedicated to 24/7 perpetual undeclared war (though, ironically enough, Donald Trump, who idolizes George Patton but nevertheless sees sense in making deals even with enemies was regarded as an acceptable alternative, notwithstanding the present 24/7 efforts of the same MSM to bring him down in favor of a more dependable war-monger). It will not be the MIC-co-opted members SFRC who step up to the plate to put an end to this situation (and where, one wonders was Wilkerson to help set Colin Powell right when he was being co-opted by the Iraq WMD warmongers?). No, it is time for America’s Lysistrata moment: the women of the nation will have to rise up in righteous anger over the impoverishment of the nation for the greater good of the arms-makers. And it cannot happen soon enough.

  2. So Lawrence Wilkerson, evidently you are (sad to say) unaware that the CIA & FBI are in cahoots these days, that they’re members of the Deep State, that the man you deem as narcissistic and grossly inexperienced was approached by retired generals and admirals to run for president because they could see this country heading headlong into an iceberg (doesn’t Rodham remind you of an iceberg?) so that the Titanic needed to not only be turned, but completely renovated. Moreover, Donald Trump’s test scores gaining him entry into Wharton prove him to be a genius of the highest order . . . So, um, who are you again?

    The Deep State has this country by the cajones. It was almost too late, you know. All power needs to be stripped from the CIA & FBI as well as the Dept. of Education, which has turned our children in misguided morons. In fact, as Q has hinted, those two alphabet agencies need to be smashed into a thousand pieces, just as JFK advocated. (I’m not overly thrilled with NSA, either, but at least a faction of it is helping POTUS).

    The FBI ‘did’ the Vegas massacre. Trump was there, having slipped in on the sly to meet with Prince Salomon or whatever his name is, the Saudi soon-to-be-king. DJT had flown into an Air Force base nearby and was actually in the Madalay Bay top floors, owned by the Prince. We are AT WAR, SIR. And it’s internal. Maybe you need to simply wake up, or perhaps you’re a Deep Stater yourself. I believe it’s the latter. I suggest you turn yourself around, for this is a spiritual war, a war between good and evil, and I have it on the best Authority that the good guys win. Yes, wake up and soon, because this ain’t no simple football game. This is the deadliest damn game on the planet.

  3. We are most assuredly headed for serfdom if Donald Trump fails. Some of us would already be earmarked for the re-education gulags (abandoned military bases) if the red lady had won the election. Red Dawn comes to mind. In less than 50 years the communist, socialist left has killed the notion of God, family, and truth with their 5th column takeover of education, media and morals. God bless and keep Donald Trump, our only earthly remedy to the illness killing our country.

  4. You stupid Goys are never going to figure it out are you?

  5. You do realize that jews (imperialism and JC) have won and the latins (republic and socrates and socratic method ie reason and free speech) have lost. But for the latter to have won, it would be necessary to see that god (yahweh, mean spirited and fault finding to clobbering created beings) and jesus (pied piper and makeover of yahweh) are the devil. But who can face up to that, and then what? How do you stand up to evil gods? You don’t or can’t. We never had a chance! We are just the playthings of the gods and always have been.

    When a religion says that a new god is sired by god from a virgin then that is paganism. It doesn’t matter that the new god is claimed to be a saint ie sacred and loves – which should give you a hint you are being lied to since when are gods ever saintly and love – and it doesn’t make the religion any less paganism. That alone is fighting and warring words to those that believe the opposite. And that is the point, it is always war and fighting worlds whether see the truth or say the lie is the truth, it’s war and evil all the time.

    My point is this. The ancient civilizations discovered god was the devil and the only way to console people was to deny this and addict them to dumbing down simple religions that claimed the opposite. While all the leaders that knew differently used religion to control and dumb down their people and conquer others with. Civilizations come and go over that process and over and over again.

    The US is doing the same thing and is no different. That’s why republics fail because they have to see that god is the devil and any side kick god or religious figure of it, is too. Who can face up to that or long? No one can!

    Then the opposite triumphs the belief that god and its side kick religious figure whether a person or sired god from a virgin, are good and have to conquer the world in their name to form a religious kingdom. That later fails too since no one can stand a police state long whether is a secular or religious police state and starts the march to the republic and reason again, which ultimately fails too because has to see god and its side kick are the devil to establish a world republic. But that proves unbearable and where is the victory, and the fall from that starts again, repeating the cycle ad infinitum, here or somewhere else if the planet destroys itself.

    That cycling process gives god something to do and be interested in over the interminable sentence of existence it is under. But ultimately not very satisfying for god and created beings alike.

    To be otherwise god would have to figure out for itself and created beings, the conditions of existence and meanings and activities in it, that would satisfy always, and it hasn’t figured that out over all eternity looking backwards. You would think it would have figured that out after all that time, but hasn’t. There is an insufficiency in god and us, who are made in its image, for that to be the case. I guess love and goodness and good reality conditions isn’t enough after a while. They are too boring for god and us made in its image.

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