By Jeremy Kuzmarov – December 20, 2023 – Originally published by CovertAction Magazine
Born in Gaffney, South Carolina, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson achieved the rank of full Colonel during a distinguished 31-year career in the U.S. Army from 1966 to 1997 in which he served as an assistant to Colin Powell when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Wilkerson later served as Powell’s chief of staff when he was U.S. Secretary of State, though he admitted he made a mistake in prepping Powell for a UN address on the eve of the 2003 Iraq War in which Powell falsely claimed that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).
Today, Wilkerson publicly denounces U.S. war-making in terms that recall Major General Smedley Butler who wrote upon his retirement from the military in 1935 that he had been a muscleman for Big Business, Wall Street and the Bankers and could have “given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”
In December, Wilkerson was one of the chief witnesses at a war crimes tribunal run by Brad Wolf, a former prosecutor from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and other peace activists who have charged the CEOs of top defense contractors—Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon and General Atomics—with war crimes for producing weapons that have been used to kill civilians in illegal wars undertaken in violation of the Geneva Convention and UN Charter.
Wilkerson referred to the CEOs of these defense contractors as “arch-criminals of empire” and “predatory capitalists par excellence,” who profit from endless wars and buy off members of Congress.
Wilkerson explained that CEO pay is now 500-600 times that of the average floor worker and that the CEOs of the major defense contractors funnel their money into the chairmen of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees and members of those committees who vote on huge military budgets, which normally exceed even the President’s requests.
When Wilkerson worked for Colin Powell in the early 1990s, he attended a meeting with the CEOs of major defense contractors who correctly predicted that six or seven corporations were poised to monopolize the defense industry.
The result of this monopolization, Wilkerson said, is that we are now increasingly getting “crummy products at a very high price.” Notorious for its high cost overruns and underperformance, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jet, is a prime example. Wilkerson called it a “pig in a poke” that simply does not do what it is supposed to do.
A key part of the problem, according to Wilkerson, is the lack of a competitive bidding process for major weapons systems and the revolving door in which former Pentagon and other government officials go to work directly for defense contractors, ensuring that these corporations get huge contracts without being held accountable when they produce shoddy products.
Though not one of the defendants at the tribunal, Wilkerson said that ExxonMobil is among the predatory capitalist corporations that help fuel the U.S. war machine by supplying its oil and is gouging the world with the Ukraine War, which has given it windfall profits.
Another defendant could be Halliburton, the oil services company run for a period by Dick Cheney, which made $44 billion after the outbreak of the Iraq War.
Wilkerson said that the U.S. today displays many features of a “traditional empire” since it has over 700 overseas military bases.
When U.S. leaders talk of an international rules-based order, they really mean an imperial order that follows U.S. rules and dictates.
Like all other empires, the U.S. routinely violates international law, carrying out drone strikes and bombings in countries with which it is not legally at war, and killing tens of thousands of civilians with impunity, whether in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia or elsewhere.
The lawlessness of the U.S. empire was on vivid display in Iraq where, Wilkerson said, $30 billion intended to administer the U.S. occupation disappeared.
Favored Iraqi politicians like Ahmed Chalabi became millionaires overnight, while little money was utilized for its intended purpose—reconstruction.
Barbara Bodine, who was appointed by the U.S. occupying authority as “Mayor” of Baghdad after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, found no working telephones and that all government ministries, except the oil industry characteristically, were destroyed.
Wilkerson, who was by then working for the State Department, said that his budget director came into his office one day to tell him of the disappearance of the $30 billion and said that we are all going to jail, though nothing ever happened to them.
Wilkerson says that the real purpose of the Iraq War was to get oil at a discounted price to Israel, the leading predatory capitalist state in the world next to the U.S.
According to Wilkerson, “once you become an empire, your whole focus as a society becomes on maintaining that empire.”
The tentacles of the so-called military-industrial-congressional complex have sadly extended to institutions of higher education, which are becoming more militarized and integrated into the national security establishment.
“Just look at my own school, the College of William & Mary,” Wilkerson, who teaches there, said. “It is getting enormous amounts of money from the Department of Defense and appointed former CIA Director and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as its Chancellor, resulting in an expanded CIA presence on campus and expanded efforts at CIA and DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency] recruitment.”
The hold of the military over society, according to Wilkerson, is helping to accelerate a trend toward domestic authoritarianism, and raising the prospect of nuclear war as weapons makers push for a new nuclear arms race.
Wilkerson’s testimony helps to make the case for the prosecution in Wolf’s tribunal, which aims to hold the “merchants of death” accountable for their crimes.
Wilkerson said that confronting the U.S. empire was like going up against Darth Vader but that, if the American public were better informed, then a genuine revolution could one day come about.
 See Smedley D. Butler, War Is a Racket, rev. ed. (Dauphin Publications, 2018). Butler had fought to uphold U.S. colonial occupation in the Philippines, against the Boxer Rebellion in China, and against nationalist rebels in Nicaragua and Haiti, and fought in France during World War I.