August 9, 2017

"I think we're in trouble. I think we're in big trouble. ...I'm really worried."

Lawrence Wilkerson is not worried about North Korea. He's worried about Donald Trump.

CHRIS HAYES: Joining me now, the former chief of staff to then Secretary of State Colin Powell. When you served in that capacity, it was labeled as part of the axis of evil by George w. Bush. Do you agree with the senator in how he related this to a modern Cuban missile crisis?

GEN. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: I think we need to calm this down. This is not an existential crisis. It is not something we can't handle, that the North Koreans, and the South Koreans, our allies, can't handle. We do need to get away from this grandiose rhetoric that Donald Trump used today. This is like Donald Trump looking in the mirror in the morning and seeing Kim Jong-un and Jong Jon looking in the mirror and seeing Donald Trump. The problem is one of them is the dictator of a basket case country and the other is the president of the most powerful country in the world. In other words, this is not the way to conduct US Security policy.

HAYES: You said, no joke, I read Trump's statement on North Korea and thought it was a North Korean statement on Trump. Let's talk about the North Korean regime. You mentioned something interesting. Putting some onus on them. There is a caricature of the regime being run by a madman and fundamentally irrational.

WILKERSON: It hasn't been true for any of the Kim dynasty. They're very rational. Their singular objective is to maintain themselves in power. To keep drinking their Hennesseys, and continue to be the only power that matters in North Korea. That is a reality. That's why it is not existential. They know if they were to attack the south in any blatant way, or anyone else in the region, they would disappear from the earth. It would be fire and fury. No American president could escape that. We had this same crisis in 1994. I was on the peninsula in 1994. I was there with the commander. I was there with Bill Perry. We negotiated and it led to the agreed framework and we froze their most dangerous nuclear program at the time. That's what we need to do again. We need to talk and we need to be able as Bill Perry has appointed out, and willing to offer something. Like the exercises in August. We can offer that we would cancel those exercises or postpone them in exchange for a cancellation of ballistic missile testing or missile testing or both. Both sides need to calm down and we need to talk.

HAYES: Interesting you say that about negotiations, success in the negotiation. I feel images projected, every approach, that you can't get anywhere negotiating with North Korea. It sounds like you're saying you don't believe that's true.

WILKERSON: My whole life has been since 1953, I was about 9 years old, it has been proof of that. We haven't had a war on the peninsula. We had a peace treaty in 1953. We had a cease fire in '53 and an armistice and the DMZ ever since. Now we have a situation once again that looks like it could maybe bring war back. The way we've solved that in the past is by talking. People say we can't talk with a criminal regime. John Kennedy said it best. You should never negotiate out of fear but you should never fear to negotiate. Tillerson has said that more or less, as hazmat. We need to get to it. This president seems to think he's negotiating the Taj Mahal or some other place with Steve Wynn.

HAYES: We think of this as constraining or binding the president of the united states and yet at the same time, he does have the unilateral power to initiate a strike. How confident are you in the basic supporting structure around the president to navigate this crisis?

WILKERSON: Until about the last three weeks, I was fairly confident. I was confident the institutional fabric we developed since 1947 would, in fact, encumber this president to the point where he couldn't do anything insane. I'm no longer that comfortable. I think we're in trouble. I think we're in big trouble. And I think the kind of rhetoric we've seen out of Donald Trump in the last few weeks indicate that trouble. I'm really worried.

HAYES: You've witnessed, worked for different administrations, watched different presidents operate. How anomalous was this?

WILKERSON: Incredibly for the greatest power in the world. And let's look at something else. Right now our tacit ally, India, and China, the second greatest power in the world right now, are on the border ready to go to war, 100 meters apart. Not only that, China has built a corridor through Kashmir making it look like it is more amenable to Pakistan's sovereignty than India. We have a real problem there. In 2002 Colin Powell had to go deal with them and they had to talk in order to avert a nuclear exchange between these two powers. We're not even looking at that right now. We're letting so much go by the way because we're concentrating on Trump's rhetoric.


"Trump's rhetoric"? No one thinks Trump wrote "fire and fury." It was Bannon or Miller. You know, "the bombs are away!" faction surrounding Donald.

And once again, the alt-Right team at the White House leaves the actual military high and dry:

Sad! And terrifying.

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