Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Getting Sober with the Truth

Tuesday night ASU students and other county residents had the opportunity to hear Col. Larry Wilkerson speak. Wilkerson was until January 26, 2005 chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. Wilkerson was much in the nation's news back in February 2005, shortly after his boss was shown the door by the Bush administration. Wilkerson famously went public about the Feb. 3, 2005 appearance of Colin Powell before the United Nations, when Powell laid out "evidence" that Iraq was actively developing WMD. Wilkerson spilled these beans that the evidence was deliberately cooked: "My participation in that presentation at the UN constitutes the lowest point in my professional life. I participated in a hoax on the American people, the international community and the United Nations Security Council."

Tuesday night Wilkerson looked out at a standing-room-only audience in I.G. Green auditorium and said, "I know the real reason you're here this evening. You're here because you want to hear someone tell the truth." The crowd erupted with thunderous applause.

It wasn't just Wilkerson's depth of experience that made his talk incredibly compelling. (But, okay, just so you know, Wilkerson's history of employment includes service in Vietnam, Director for Strategy and Policy for USCINCPAC, a faculty position at the U.S. Naval War College, special assistant to Colin Powell when Powell was Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Director of the U.S. Marine Corps War College, and holder of two advanced degrees, one in International Relations and the other in National Security Studies ... before he followed Powell to the State Department.)

The other part of Wilkerson's biography that gave his talk an unusual center of gravity was contained in the last phrase used to introduce him to the audience: "...soldier, public servant, a true patriot, and a conservative Republican."

Later, during the Q&A session that followed his speech, someone sitting next to me muttered under her breath, "It's one thing to hear Al Gore talk about these things, but to hear a conservative Republican say it is terrifying."

Truly terrifying.

But then all Col. Wilkerson warned us was hanging in the balance is our form of government, encapsulated in the Constitution: "We have allowed our country to become something our Founders never dreamed of. 'Eternal vigilance' is not about external forces coming in and taking away our freedoms. It's about internal forces robbing us of our liberty."

He told the ASU students that they had to learn how to think critically, to "look at things hard," and then to go vote. Stop being so goddamn smug that Bush's wars aren't impacting you, because of the all-volunteer Army. "Less than one percent of us is bleeding and dying for the other 99 percent," Wilkerson said, "and that is not America." A draft is waiting in the wings, he warned, and when it comes, as it will, women will be included, which is only just and proper, he said. I could hear students all around me audibly gulping.

We've got to build back an opposition, he said, a political opposition, even if it's a stupid opposition. "Please don't ever again put the same people in charge of both Congress and the White House, ever again," this conservative Republican said.

We've allowed the military-industrial complex (yes, he used that term), with its government servants, to militarize everything, especially our foreign policy. There is no accountability because everyone in charge of all the mechanisms represents the same political party and the same political interests. The first solution to every problem is now military force, or the threat of military force. That's why I'm supporting Jim Webb for senator in Virginia, Wilkerson said, another military guy with combat experience who opposed this war from the beginning for precisely the reasons Wilkerson opposes it now: it's destroying this country.

He confessed: "Colin Powell and I lied to the United Nations and to the American people. We didn't know we were lying, but that's no excuse." When's the last time you heard ANY American talk like that?

When someone in the audience finally asked the obvious question, "Why do you continue to be a Republican," Wilkerson replied, again to thunderous applause, "I want my party back."

Everything Wilkerson said amounted to as dire a warning as I've ever heard from a public speaker with anything approaching his knowledge of the inner workings of the Bush administration.

And he said a lot more that I can't begin to summarize adequately.

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