Lawrence Wilkerson, who served alongside John Bolton in the Bush administration, discusses the ouster of the “ruthless” neoconservative war hawk as Trump’s National Security Adviser.
Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to Colin Powell, addresses Bolton’s legacy as a war hawk who promoted regime change and undermined global arms control; the anti-interventionist views of a potential successor, Douglas Macgregor; and the lasting influence of neocons inside the national security state.
Guest: Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. Currently a distinguished professor at the College of William and Mary.
John Bolton’s firing as National Security Adviser has set off frenzied speculation over the reasons for his ouster, and who might replace him. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served alongside Bolton in the Bush administration as the chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, shared his thoughts in an interview with The Grayzone’s Pushback with Aaron Maté.
“It’s sad to say I served with him [Bolton] in the Bush administration,” Wilkerson says. “The Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and I spent a lot of time trying to get rid of John Bolton, but we never could. He was very disruptive, and very acerbic. I don’t agree with the people who say he’s bright. I don’t think he’s all that bright — he’s just adamant and he stays on the same ruthless theme all the time, which is usually making war with people and destroying arms control agreements.”
Wilkerson believes Bolton was sacked for “political purposes.” President Donald Trump, Wilkerson says was “doesn’t want people competing with him, and Bolton was competing with him big time.”
Bolton has personally overseen the dismantling of two critical arms control treaties – the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABMT) under George W. Bush, and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) under Trump. “Bolton never met an arms control agreement that he liked,” Wilkerson comments. “I can’t tell you how many arms controllers in the State Department came into my office week after week almost in tears — one of them in tears. They couldn’t understand why they were having to work under Bolton — the man who hated arms control — when it was their profession, their mission, their responsibility, to advocate for arms control and secure arms control agreements… Bolton’s theory — at least as expressed to me — was that you bomb everybody in the world if you have to. You don’t have arms control because people will cheat.”
In comments made the day after Bolton’s firing, Trump faulted his now former National Security Advisor for invoking the “Libya model” for North Korea. In 2018, Bolton said that the U.S. had “very much in mind the Libya model” when it comes to reaching a nuclear deal with North Korea. North Korean officials – and many Western analysts — interpreted that comment as an implicit threat. After giving up his weapons program under a U.S.-backed agreement in 2003, Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi was overthrown by the U.S. and other NATO allies in 2011 and brutally sodomized to death later that year.
“[Bolton] made some very big mistakes,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. “When he talked about the Libyan model for Kim Jong Un, that was not a good statement to make. You just take a look at what happened with Gaddafi.”
“That was an absolutely idiotic thing for John [Bolton] to do,” Wilkerson says. “I mean that was even beyond what I consider John’s mind.”
Asked if he has any predictions for Bolton’s successor, Wilkerson sees one rumored candidate, Col. Douglas Macgregor, as a likely option. Macgregor has been critical of US regime change and military occupations overseas, as Trump claimed to be during the 2016 campaign. Macgregor has also echoed Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Macgregor’s views on US militarism, Wilkerson says, are “aligned with mine, very much so, in terms of ending these stupid wars and stopping the train of what many scholars now are calling the “Deep State,” the bureaucracy that maintains this empire.”
Macgregor, Wilkerson adds, “believes, as do I, that the current four & three star leadership of the Armed Forces is brain-dead. It is utterly brain-dead. It has no imagination, no creativity — it does nothing but ask for more money, and more money, and more money… With that kind of attitude, with respect to the loyalty function that Trump demands out of DoD, and essentially DoD gives him, that’s going be a real problem for Donald Trump, if Doug should become the National Security Adviser.”
Even with Bolton out, Wilkerson warns that the influence of neoconservatives on US policy very much remains. Wilkerson points to the Trump administration’s ongoing regime change attempt in Venezuela through crippling sanctions and attempts to foment a military coup. “We’ve got people, neoconservatives, embedded in that system right now and I would bet you Trump doesn’t know half of them, if that. And they’re working hard on one of the dumbest policies the United States is trying to pursue right now – and that is sanctions on Venezuela and the removal of Nicolas Maduro. What we’re doing is forcing another 2 or 3 million Venezuelans through our sanctions to have to emigrate… That’s a stupid policy, but it’s still being implemented.”
“There are many little pockets like this where neoconservatives like Elliott Abrams and others are still orchestrating policy beneath Trump’s tent — he really doesn’t know what they’re doing.”
Aaron Maté is a journalist and producer. He hosts Pushback with Aaron Maté on The Grayzone. He is also is contributor to The Nation magazine and former host/producer for The Real News and Democracy Now!. Aaron has also presented and produced for Vice, AJ+, and Al Jazeera.