On July 23, retired U.S. Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson appeared on MSNBC and accused Israel of increasing the tension surrounding Al Aqsa Mosque by installing metal detectors nearby. "The ultimate [Israeli] goal with regard to the mosque is to drive the Palestinians and Arabs in general out completely," he said, adding that the Israeli government's "ultimate goal is to cause the Palestinians to react in a way that it can then react viciously and violently as it has in Gaza repeatedly."
With such invective, Wilkerson depicts metal detectors, which are used at holy sites throughout the Middle East, as a provocation against the Palestinians. He also inverts cause and effect, portraying the metal detectors (and Israel's attacks on Hamas in the Gaza Strip) as the cause, rather than the response to Palestinian violence.
Lawrence Wilkerson. (Image source: MSNBC video screenshot)
A few days after Wilkerson offered his assessment on MSNBC, Israel removed the metal detectors it had installed, thereby demonstrating that when it comes to assessing Israeli intentions, Wilkerson had no idea what he was talking about. If anyone is trying to increase the tensions surrounding the Temple Mount, it is Palestinian leaders who have used the Al Aqsa Mosque as a pretext and as a staging ground for jihadist attacks against Jews for decades.
Wilkerson's recent appearance on MSNBC was not the only time he has defamed Israel. In 2016, he declared that a gas attack on civilians universally blamed on Syrian President Bashar Al Assad "could have been an Israeli false flag operation." When pressed by his interviewer from an internet TV station to describe what the motivation for an Israeli gas attack would be, Wilkerson dodged the question. All he could say is that Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was "too clueless" to know what was in his country's best interest in the Middle East.
It is Wilkerson who needs a clue. In the same July 21 MSNBC interview, Wilkerson reported a conversation he had with an unnamed Catholic Bishop in Ramallah in 2002 or 2003, who had declared that, "that the biggest enemy for him -- for Christians -- in that region was not the Arabs, it was the Jews."
The notion that that "the Jews" are the biggest enemy for Christians in the region is, sadly, laughable. In recent years, Christians have been subjected to genocide in Iraq and Syria at the hands of ISIS. Christians have suffered terrible violence at the hands of Salafists in Egypt. Moreover, the genocide of Armenian, Assyrian and Pontic Christians in the Anatolian peninsula in the early 20th century remains a terrible scar on the region.
By way of comparison, Israel is the one country in the Middle East where the indigenous population of Christians is safe and growing. Palestinian Christians in the West Bank were some of the most obvious beneficiaries of the Six Day War. The population of Christians in the West Bank, which had declined during the Jordanian occupation, began to increase in the years after the war, a fact quietly admitted by Palestinian Christians themselves.
No Christian living in the West Bank would ever trade places with Christians living in Egypt, Syria, or Iraq. Israel is not the enemy of Christians in the Holy Land; it is their best protector. Again, Wilkerson has no idea what he is talking about.
Nevertheless, the retired colonel has become the darling of outlets such as MSNBC, which ignore an important aspect of Wilkerson's career. By his own admission, Wilkerson, who currently serves as an adjunct professor at William and Mary College in Virginia, has been involved in two other efforts to misinform the American people.
The first episode came when Wilkerson was serving as chief of staff for Colin Powell, Secretary of State for the Bush Administration. Working at the State Department, Wilkerson helped prepare Powell's now-infamous presentation to the United Nations in February 2003 about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
This presentation helped convince many people in the United States and Great Britain that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and that the U.S. and its allies needed to oust Hussein from power. Subsequent events have revealed that Powell's testimony was filled with misinformation, some of it coming from an Iraqi citizen given the code name "curveball" who has since admitted lying to Western spy agencies about WMDs in Iraq.
When speaking of his involvement in preparing Powell's speech to the UN, Wilkerson typically places the blame on operators in the U.S. intelligence community who gave him and his boss a dodgy file to justify the invasion that was so badly wanted by what the retired colonel characterizes as a cabal of neoconservative radicals in the Bush Administration, a cabal that -- by his own admission -- he lacked the courage to confront.
"It was anything but an intelligence document," he told one interviewer years later. "It was as some people characterized it later, a Chinese menu from which you could pick and choose."
Wilkerson also paints himself as someone who knew the information he and his boss had been fed by the intelligence community really was insufficient to justify an invasion and that the presentation Powell gave to the UN was "hokey, circumstantial crap."
In 2011, Wilkerson told Paul Jay from Real News Network that he had written his resignation to his boss a few days before Powell gave his speech. He wrote the resignation in his office at the State Department, he said, after spending several days preparing Powell's speech at CIA headquarters.
"My thinking is, I want out of here; I'm resigning," he told Jay from Real News Network.
"So why didn't you?" Jay asked.
"I did. I just didn't have the guts to submit it," Wilkerson replied.
In another version of the story offered in a documentary about how the "Israel lobby" controls America, Wilkerson's epiphany comes during Powell's speech to the UN, not before:
"I realized as I watched it there at the UN Security Council for the first time because every time I watched it before, I was you know running around trying to get things changed, 'do this, do that' talking about the graphics and everything else, but there in the UN Security Council, I sat down quietly and heard Secretary Powell make his presentation."
"'I wouldn't go to war based on that' – that's what I told myself," he said.
But go to war we did, in part because of a speech that Wilkerson prepared and which he came to realize (either before or while Powell gave his speech) was filled with misinformation. Who does Wilkerson blame for the push to invade Iraq? Among other actors, the "Jewish lobby."
Wilkerson's assessment flies in the face of an admission on WBUR in 2007 from John Mearsheimer, co-author of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, that the push to invade Iraq came from the White House and that once Israel realized the invasion was a fait accompli, it "embraced" the invasion while continuing to remind the Bush Administration that it regarded Iran as a larger threat to its security.
Mearsheimer said that once the Israelis "came to understand that Iraq would be the first operation, and we would subsequently deal with Iran and Syria, they embraced the idea of attacking Iraq, although they continually reminded us that we had to do Iran and Syria afterwards."
Instead of promoting the push to invade Iraq, Israel went along with the decision. "It wasn't Israel that persuaded the Bush administration of the war's necessity, but vice versa: the administration persuaded and then enlisted Israel," wrote Martin Kramer in 2006. "It did so, in considerable measure, by implying that the United States would be better positioned to deal with Iran once it had disposed of Saddam."
There is a fair amount of evidence to sustain Kramer's assessment. A year before Wilkerson helped his boss prepare for his appearance before the United Nations, Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon came to the United States to tell the Bush Administration that Iran was a bigger threat than Iraq.
And in late 2002, Sharon told his own cabinet to stay quiet on U.S. plans to invade Iraq. In its story, The New York Times reported that two prominent Israeli military leaders, Chief of Staff Gen. Moshe Yaalon and Chief of Intelligence Maj. Gen. Aharon Farkash both downplayed the threat Iraq posed to the region. "Even as Mr. Bush has sought in recent days to play up the imminence and potency of the Iraqi threat, some of Israel's top security officials have played both down," The New York Times reported.
One Israeli expert went so far as to tell The Los Angeles Times in October 2002 that it was in Israel's best interest for Saddam Hussein to stay in power and that his ouster would threaten the safety of the Jewish state:
"Saddam Hussein, a weakling as he is today, is in Israel's interests," said Aharon Levran, a brigadier general in Israel's reserve army and author of a book about the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Levran, one of the more outspoken Israeli critics of Bush's policy on Iraq, says Baghdad is no longer capable of anything more than a border skirmish.
"A war against Iraq will divert the United States from its clear-cut campaign against Islamic fanaticism," Levran said. "And if it fails, we in Israel will pay the price."
Nevertheless, Levran asserted Israel probably should support the invasion should it take place. "The United States has supported us in our catastrophes, so we have to support the United States in theirs."
Despite all this, Wilkerson blames Israel and its supporters for the push to invade Iraq. Israel's security establishment had a more honest and open debate over the threat Iraq posed to its neighbors than the United States did. And again, by his own admission, Wilkerson himself was one of the actors that hindered honest discussion about the need to invade Iraq.
In sum, Wilkerson is blaming Israel and its supporters for a problem for which he himself is culpable.
Another time that Wilkerson helped misinform the American people came when National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell were called to testify before the 9/11 Commission established by Congress to obtain a full accounting of the circumstances that preceded the attack on the United States on September 11, 2001. Again, by his own admission, Wilkerson helped Powell and Rice prepare their testimonies so that they would not contradict one another before the 9/11 Commission.
"I wouldn't say that we actually told an outright lie, but I would say that we massaged the information considerably so that it looked like the Bush Administration was far more attentive to Al Qaeda and its threat than it really was," Wilkerson stated, adding that "We were covering our asses."
Despite his self-admitted involvement in these scandals, Wilkerson has become MSNBC's go-to source for testimony about what is going on in the corridors of power in Washington, D.C.
He is also a participant in the echo chamber Ben Rhodes created to sneak the Iran nuclear deal past the American people, co-authoring op-eds promoting negotiations with Iran with Kate Gould from the Friends Committee on National Legislation in 2013 and 2015.
All this raises a few questions such as: If Wilkerson got played about Iraq's WMD capabilities, how can we be sure he has got it right regarding Iran's willingness to abandon its nuclear weapons program?
He got fooled once, who is to say he will not get fooled again?
And if, by his own admission, Wilkerson was involved with efforts to distort the truth about the two of the biggest failures in American foreign policy -- the attack on 9/11 and the lack of WMDs in Iraq, then why is he a reliable source about the Iran nuclear deal or Israel today? If Wilkerson helped misinform the American people twice before -- with at least some degree of knowledge -- who is to say he will not do it a third time?
Why is he qualified to appear on MSNBC, aside from his willingness to spout anti-Israel rhetoric?
Clearly, Wilkerson has a lot to atone for. But his campaign to malign Israel and its supporters with ugly lies about Jews being the enemy of Christians, being responsible for the invasion of Iraq -- and potentially responsible for gassing civilians in Syria -- only adds to his sins. It does not expunge them.
Dexter Van Zile is Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.