New years are supposed to bring new possibilities. For Washington’s war profiteers, however, 2024 is shaping up to be more of the same—more of more of the same, to be precise. The fighting in Ukraine and Gaza has now added attacks by the Yemeni Houthis against foreign vessels in the Red Sea. Israel’s fight with Hezbollah, also a proxy of Iran, is intensifying, too.
On the other side of the world, North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, rang in the new year vowing to “annihilate” South Korea and the United States. In a New Year’s Day speech, Kim’s Chinese neighbor Xi Jinping reiterated his intentions to “reunify” Taiwan with the mainland.
World disorder is metastasizing. Proxy-war hotspots and regional conflict zones are interlacing, bringing dark prospects for a global war. Will the United States sleepwalk into the coming catastrophe at incalculable costs in American blood and treasure?
For an answer, The American Conservative reached out to someone who has navigated perilous times in the past. Retired U.S. Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, famously broke with the Washington consensus, refusing to lie about Washington’s war in Iraq. He remains a voice of conscience today.
Ukraine fatigue is building in the United States as the war in Eastern Europe drags on. Washington is heavily invested, economically and strategically, in Kyiv’s stalemate with Russia, but the American people are increasingly seeking an endgame and exit from the fighting.
In December 2023, a divided Congress denied additional wartime funding to Ukraine, ignoring the White House and President Volodymyr Zelensky’s urgent pleas. Congressional members, mostly Republicans, and many of their constituents have grown weary of the “no-strings-attached” aid to Kyiv. Is the war in Ukraine about “democracy,” as we are often told, or is it just another shopfront in Washington’s arms trade empire?
We asked Wilkerson whether it was time the U.S. shifted its policy on Ukraine.
“Yes,” Wilkerson replied. “The clear reality is that Russia is winning the war, its economy is being strengthened by U.S. sanctions, not weakened, and Beijing and Moscow are increasingly acting as tacit allies. Even to the most uninformed U.S. citizens, the war makes little sense and has gone on far too long.”
Why, then, we followed up, would the Biden administration continue to promote this war?
“The war’s protraction is caused by the huge amounts of money being made by U.S. defense contractors and others,” Wilkerson argued. “Secretary of State Tony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan have even publicly declared as much, as undiplomatic as such declarations are. They strongly imply that America is losing no blood in the war and yet hurting Russia, so it’s a ‘good’ war.”
Growing evidence suggests that Moscow was open to negotiations in the early phases of the war in Ukraine. The U.K.’s then–Prime Minister Boris Johnson—the Tony Blair to George Bush’s Biden—torpedoed the peace talks. Ukraine was to fight, Johnson insisted. The West would have its back.
Now, nearly two years after peace was sabotaged by the West, we asked Wilkerson if Russian president Vladimir Putin—who is signaling that he does not expect a quick resolution to the war—might be willing to return to the negotiating table.
“Putin and [Russia’s Foreign Minister] Sergei Lavrov’s repeated remarks suggest that ‘security,’ not ‘territory,’ is their primary motive,” said Wilkerson. This analysis echoes that of other savvy observers, such as Professor John Mearsheimer and Retired Colonel Douglas Macgregor, a TAC contributing editor, who see Putin not as a crazed dictator but as a rational actor trying to accomplish intelligible goals in Russia’s national interest.
“Of late, Putin has stated outright that he is ready to negotiate to end the conflict,” Wilkerson continued. “That is as clear a statement as anyone should need to commence negotiations, but Biden is unwilling to do so until such a signal appears to him to be good for his reelection prospects.”
The war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza has recently pulled much of the world’s attention away from Ukraine. In 2021, before either war had broken out, Wilkerson predicted that Israel wouldn’t exist as a state in twenty years.
Much has changed since then. Given that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shows no signs of backing down in Gaza—and that Washington’s support for Israel appears stronger than ever—we asked Wilkerson whether he still stands by his prediction.
“I do,” Wilkerson answered.
“I am reinforced in that view by the powerful nature of the pariah state Israel is becoming because of its utterly brutal war in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem,” Wilkerson explained.
“More than 4 billion people in the world now despise Israel and by extension, the United States, whom they know is behind Israel all the way. But even that support will be insufficient to save the state of Israel as a Jewish state, like Iran is a theocracy, in the Levant/Southwest Asia.”
Not long after Wilkerson said this to us, South Africa filed papers with the International Court of Justice accusing Israel of committing genocide in Gaza. A historic shift appears to be underway. Israel, once untouchable behind America’s diplomatic force field, stands vulnerable and increasingly isolated in world opinion.
Notably, Mearsheimer and Elbridge Colby, former President Donald Trump’s deputy assistant secretary of defense, have called for “re-pivoting” to Asia. Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan, South Korea, and Malaysia, to name just a few Asian countries, increasingly see China as a threat. If war breaks out in Asia, it will probably not remain at the level of a regional conflict as the wars in Israel and Ukraine have.
We asked Wilkerson whether Colby and Mearsheimer have a point.
“They do,” Wilkerson replied.
“Not only China but two far more existential threats: nuclear weapons and the climate crisis,” Wilkerson added, listing a duo of challenges that are also becoming increasingly problematic in Asia.
“The former has no treaty regime remaining, and the latter, the paltry results of COP28 demonstrate that the world is far behind where it needs to be to prevent a potentially catastrophic outcome even as early as mid-century.”
The People’s Republic of China and its virtual protectorate, North Korea, are both nuclear powers. While other Asian states, such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, South Korea, and Japan, work to avert nuclear and climate disasters, China and North Korea, many would argue, are working in the opposite direction. An American pivot to Asia, following the abortive “pivot” promised by the second President Barack Obama administration, would seem timely, although Washington is tied down in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
Yet, for Wilkerson, a new pivot to Asia does not entail focusing on the usually cited flashpoints.
“Regarding Taiwan,” Wilkerson argued, “China is too embroiled economically with Taipei and Taipei with it to use military force.”
He reiterated that “the two greatest global threats today are not nation-states, but nuclear weapons and climate change.” Therefore, he believes a new international relations configuration is necessary.
“A condominium among the U.S., China, Russia, India, Brazil, Germany perhaps, to provide the leadership, the industry, the financing, and the planning and organization, is an idea that might work,” Wilkerson said.
How likely is such a condominium, though? For decades, Washington has refused to negotiate with Russia, instead preferring to attempt to corner Moscow while ignoring the fact that Moscow might have any security interests of its own.
“Is there a single person on earth,” Wilkerson asked rhetorically, “who believes the U.S. would not have taken aggressive action if Russiaor China had moved into Mexico’s northern provinces and asked them to be members of the CSTO [Collective Security Treaty Organization] ?”
“Putin took his action [in Ukraine],” Wilkerson continued, “because the West, led by Washington, broke every promise it made to Gorbachev and Yeltsin about NATO expansion. The government type is inconsequential when territorial integrity is threatened.”
We asked whether U.S. alliances in East Asia and security architectures in the Indo-Pacific are becoming a burden or even a possible source of calamity.
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“Alliances such as those crafted in the wake of WWII are today outliving their utility and effectiveness,” Wilkerson replied.
“NATO, the most successful of them, will dissolve within the next decade,” he continued. “The security agreements with both Korea and Japan, with Australia–Quad [the quadrilateral security grouping of Japan, India, Australia, and the United States] , AUKUS [the trilateral security arrangement comprising Australia, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.A.] , or ANZUS [the Australia-New Zealand-U.S.A. security grouping] –or the various relationships with the Pacific Island states, are all a part of the past, decaying vestiges of that past.”
Washington once boasted of creating a new world order. In 2024, will the American people tame Washington before Washington brings the United States down with the decaying vestiges of its dead imperial dream?