The Remaking of American Liberalism/Nairn on Afghanistan
August 28, 2021
Why Do We Still Have The Electoral College?
September 11, 2021
Show all

Wilkerson on Afghanistan

Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff, gives us his thoroughly unvarnished take on the history of our twenty-year debacle in Afghanistan. Then, we are joined by Jacob Wilson, cofounder of Congressional Progressive Staff Association an organization devoted to drawing congressional staff from the ranks of civic activists, organizers, faith leaders, and people from the labor movement in order to bring fresh, bold, progressive ideas directly into Congress members’ offices.

Lawrence Wilkerson is a retired U.S. Army colonel and former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. He is the distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government and Public Policy at the college of William and Mary in Virginia. During the course of his military service, Colonel Wilkerson was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Bronze Star among other awards and decorations. At the Department of State, he earned the Secretary’s Distinguished Service Award, as well as two Superior Honor Awards.

[The Bush Administration’s invasion of Afghanistan] was a response out of rage… Theorists of war will tell you in no uncertain terms– when you go to war based on rage, it’s probably not going to turn out too well.

Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson: former chief of staff to Secretary of State, Colin Powell


We are the most corrupt institution in all these wars. We are the leader in corruption.  And it ranges the gamut from mainstream American banks laundering drug dealers’ money to the fact that some of the money going to Afghanistan…is going to American contractors who pass it right back to their cronies in the United States… But it’s made to look legal, if not cursorily, actually legal, because of our laws and our system and our banks’ participation in it.

Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson: former chief of staff to Secretary of State, Colin Powell

The American people will never know that from the highest levels of their government– we’ve tortured before… in the Philippines and Vietnam. But we have never had a President of the United States, as a policy matter authorize torture. This is a first in the history of our country. And we’re not going to know anything about it for twenty-five years.

Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson: former chief of staff to Secretary of State, Colin Powell

I’d gladly go to jail if they will put Dick Cheney and George Bush in jail for torture. To me, that was the low point of our history. The low point of our existence as a national entity.

Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson: former chief of staff to Secretary of State, Colin Powell

There’s a lot of media coverage now on how the Afghan War got started. And they almost never mention George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. There was a long article on this in the New York Times recently.  And the main war criminals, the initiators, the people who got the US in the mess, all the deaths of US soldiers, and many, many more hundreds of thousands of Afghanis. And they’re just sitting there living in the life of Riley.

Ralph Nader

Jacob Wilson is co-founder of the Congressional Progressive Staff Association. He currently works as Communications Director in the office of US Congressman Jamie Raskin. He’s previously worked for Peace Action, and in the office of US Congressman Andy Levin.

As soon as I realized that there were these staffers who were taking control of their members of Congress’ portfolios, they had the members of Congress’ ear, and they were absolutely supportive of these big and wonderful ideas, it became clear to me that there was some sort of disconnect between what was happening on the ground, and what was happening in Congress. And I suppose that’s very obvious in retrospect… but I was learning that lesson in real time, and so I took it upon myself to continue having those conversations.

Jacob Wilson, co-founder of the Congressional Progressive Staff Association

There a lot of staff that are, I call “on loan” from the K street lobbyists. They actually put their people in key Congressional committee staffs and key Congressional office staff. And a lot of other staff comes from the Ivy League. You hail from Pomona College in California. And you gave me an interesting phrase: you said you want “class diversity” to be more reflected in the kind of Congressional staff on Capitol Hill. And let’s face it, the influence of Congressional staff is enormous.

Ralph Nader

What we have in Congress right now is a system with a very harmful positive feedback loop. Where Congress each year, especially in the House, is more or less giving itself less money to pay its staff. And so, salaries are getting lower and lower. And, as you can imagine, that’s not necessarily the people at the top [whose] salaries are going lower and lower. That’s your people who are just getting their start, just getting out of college, might and probably do have a lot of student loan debt. Those salaries are getting tighter and tighter. Some of them actually are under $30,000 a year for folks that’s less than $15 an hour we’re paying some of these public servants.

Jacob Wilson, co-founder of the Congressional Progressive Staff Association

Ralph Nader Radio Hour Ep 391 Transcript (Right click to download)


  1. John Puma says:

    The most important point was quickly glossed over: The half of the US discretionary budget that funds perpetual war is NOT for defense, NOR promoting democracy around the world NOR any other of lame justifications but, rather, mainly for profits of corporate arms makers (with a little for off-budget CIA income and comprehensive surveillance systems.) This from the cosmically hypocritical, self-avowed “culture of life.” THIS is the origin of the societal rot of all-encompassing, terminal corruption.

  2. Afdal Shahanshah says:

    Ashraf Ghani the “incorruptible”… The World Bank-trained neoliberal technocrat who brokered a mineral processing permit between his brother and a US defense contractor and then stole $169 million when he fled the country. Haha, yeah right. The US doesn’t select incorruptibles for its puppet governments, they are corrupt by definition.

  3. It’s simple Congress should not finance any more endless wars.
    The government of the United States should be helping those that are in need not the millionaires billionaires etc. they don’t need government assistance.