As Bernie Sanders tries to demonstrate he's ready to lead U.S. foreign policy, he's been talking to different advisers, including Lawrence Wilkerson.
Wilkerson, who worked as Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff during the Bush administration, has since turned against the Iraq War. He has also said that Dick Cheney should be "in jail for war crimes" and espoused other controversial views, such as when he said in 2013 that Israel could be behind the chemical weapons attack in Syria. Politico reported on Wednesday that Wilkerson has spoken to Sanders once so far as part of the Vermont senator's effort to combat the criticism that he lacks foreign policy knowledge.
In a September 2015, Wilkerson argued in a speech that America is an empire on the brink of collapse.
"We could easily see, not the usual life of empire, which most historians will put down as somewhere between 100 and 300 years, but a very accelerated demise for the current empire of the United States," Wilkerson said at Lone Star College in Kingwood, Texas. "And even as Niall Ferguson has pointed out, in a Foreign Affairs article not too long ago, we might even see what he would call a chaotic end. That is to say on Monday you go to sleep and everything's okay and on Tuesday morning you wake up and it's all gone. It could happen that fast."
In the September speech, Wilkerson listed a number of features of declining empires.
"They wind up, for example, with less than one percent of their population and it's usually a mercenary percent, bleeding and dying and defending the other 99%. Sound familiar?" he said. "They usually wind up with bankers and financiers running the real power instruments in the empire. Sound familiar? They usually wind up with great hiccups in that financial and economic and trade picture that they have increasing difficulty in managing to survive. Sound familiar? These are the signs of the travails of empire."
Wilkerson went on to describe a scenario that closely resembles the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"So they will go out for example, when an attack occurs upon them by barbarians, that kills 3,000 of their citizens, mostly because of their negligence, they will go out and kill 300,000 people and spend 3 trillion dollars in order to counter that threat to the status quo. They will then proceed throughout the world to exacerbate that threat by their own actions. Sound familiar?" he said.
Wilkerson further argued that the United States was not an "exceptional nation," saying that "any fool could've made a power of what we are."
"Don't bring me arguments about us being an exceptional nation. We're an exceptional national alright financially and economically because we're blessed with 3000 miles of basically arable land on which we can raise monstrous numbers of crops, we've got rivers galore, clean water from one end to the other, benign neighbors and two big oceans. Any fool could've made a power out of what we are. So we're not an exceptional nation," he said, before adding that America was "a nation of people who have an exceptional ideology."
Wilkerson said that the U.S. could manage the decline of its empire to become a significant power that "gets along more by cooperation", but said there was no one solution to the problems he described.
"I'm not gonna stand up here and give you some Pandora's Box, opening up, and then tell you that there's some Panglossian solution to it," he said. "Or that Peter Rabbit will jump out of a hat at any moment and fix everything. Because it isn't gonna happen. History tells us that we're probably finished and then the question becomes, as it was for Britain, how do you pick up the pieces afterwards?"
Wilkerson, who called the invasion of Iraq "the most catastrophic decision in America's history," finally suggested that America could "go bust" by splitting into different countries.
"The sad thing about empires that are extremely powerful like we have been since '45 is that they usually go bust," he said. "And you say, how could we go into real bust? Well, there was a book written a few years ago about the nine nations of North America. Texas featured prominently in that book. Because it was the leader of one of the nine nations of North America. We think it can't happen. We think this country can't break up. I'll tell you right now, I've been in the deep south, where I have listened to governors and legislative members who talk about leaving the union."
Christopher Massie is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Christopher Massie at Christopher.Massie@buzzfeed.com.
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