by Michael Gillespie
Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and a high-profile, outspoken critic of what he refers to as “the military-industrial-congressional complex,” visited Iowa in late October on a speaking tour that included presentations at Iowa State University in Ames, the University of Iowa in Iowa City, and Drake University in Des Moines where he spoke to a capacity crowd in the Olin Hall auditorium on Oct. 22.
Addressing the challenges of statesmanship vs partisanship, and the military-industrial complex, Wilkerson said, “If you know anything about [Dwight] Eisenhower, you know that he wanted to write, and did write himself, ‘congressional,’ but one of his political aides said, ‘I don’t think it’s very circumspect of you, sir, to bash the congress on the way out the door.’ And so he took ‘congressional’ out [of his famous 1961 “Farewell Address to the Nation”]. But it is that complex, all three entities, it requires all three to work and to work perniciously, insidiously, and viciously against your and my interests if your interests are in peace and not killing people in the world when it’s not necessary,” declared Wilkerson.
Prior to his prepared remarks, this writer spoke with the retired U.S. Army Colonel who is currently the Distinguished Visiting Professor of Government and Public Policy at the College of William and Mary and, as he repeatedly reminded his Drake audience, a member of the Republican Party.
“We’ve become an imperial state, an empire. Arguably, we inherited the British Empire, and others too, post WWII. We’ve been busy managing that empire ever since, and the tools of empire become more imperial as you go along. You almost automatically make your leadership more imperial and tend to do things that are antithetical to democracy, to a republic. I think you see that today most vividly exemplified in that we have been at war since 2001 and there’s no end in sight,” said Wilkerson, who has previously spoken of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s influence in the Bush administration’s decision to go to war in Iraq.
This writer asked Wilkerson about Israel’s role in the U.S. military-industrial complex and corruption in the Israeli government harkening back to the Dotan Affair (see Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January/February 1997, p. 27).
“There hasn’t been an Israeli prime minister recently that didn’t have some problem. It’s almost like Rhode Island, leave the governorship and go to jail,” said Wilkerson.
The former Bush administration official said that Ariel Sharon, Israel’s prime minister from 2001 to 2006, was about to be investigated for corruption when he suffered a debilitating stroke.
“His family was really involved in a mess,” said Wilkerson, referring to Sharon’s sons, Gilad and Omri, who were under investigation by Israel’s National Fraud Investigation Unit in connection with $4.5 million transferred into their bank accounts by an Australian financier
In 2005, atop a garbage dump located on the site of Al-Khayriyya, a Palestinian village ethnically cleansed by military assault during the Nakba, the Israeli government began constructing Ariel Sharon Park, a massive green space that will be three times the size of New York City’s Central Park when it is completed. The park will feature bike and golf cart paths, sports fields, picnic areas, a lake, and a 50,000-seat amphitheater.
Wilkerson described corruption as, “part of the problem Israel has right now. They’ve killed their labor movement. They are for all practical purposes an apartheid state. Their non-Jewish citizens are third- and fourth-class citizens. Sixty percent of the wealth in Israel is in the hands of about 20 families. About 51 percent of the land is owned or leased by the security complex. One in five Israelis is now a settler. It’s the group that Netanyahu counts on,” said Wilkerson.
Israel is no longer the land of kibbutzim and “collective governance and collective sharing of toils and taxes and everything else. Now it’s one of the most predatory capitalist states in the Mediterranean if not the world,” said Wilkerson.
Sponsors of Wilkerson’s Iowa tour included American Friends Service Committee (Iowa) Governing Under the Influence campaign; Veterans for Peace, Iowa; Catholic Peace Ministry; Methodist Federation for Social Action—Iowa Chapter; Des Moines Faith Committee for Peace; STAR*PAC; Iowa State University Lectures Committee; We the People (Des Moines); PEACE Iowa; East-Central Iowa Move to Amend; University of Iowa Center for Human Rights; and Principal Financial Group Center for Global Citizenship.