Colin Powell Should Disavow His Hateful Aide

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Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2001 to 2005. Michael Rubin argues that Powell should speak out against Wilkerson's anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Jim Young/reuters

This article first appeared on the American Enterprise Institute site.

The 2016 election campaign will go down in the history books.

The Ku Klux Klan has managed to insert itself into both the Republican and Democratic debate. The press has criticized Donald Trump especially for being too slow to denounce the hateful rhetoric of some of his supporters.  

It should be a no-brainer for any mainstream politician to reject racial and religious hatred and the wild conspiracy theories that breed them. But, unfortunately, wavering and silence in the face of hate isn’t new.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has decades of honorable service to the United States, first as a military officer, then as national security adviser, as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and finally as secretary of state.

Like many senior statesmen, he doesn’t seek constant attention but interjects himself at critical moments, for example, with his endorsement of Barack Obama and his subsequent defense of Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be secretary of defense against accusations of Hagel’s anti-Semitism and basic questions about his competence.

Powell has remained silent, however, as Lawrence Wilkerson, his former chief of staff and longtime aide, has increasingly descended into a fevered swamp of conspiracy and hate.

According to Wilkerson, Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons use was actually an Israeli false flag operation because, well, in Wilkerson’s world, it should be obvious to everyone that Assad is really a Zionist plant controlled by the Jews.

That Iran’s and Hezbollah’s television stations fell all over themselves to rebroadcast Wilkerson’s statement should have been a wake-up call. That Wilkerson has become a regular on Vladimir Putin’s propaganda channel should also have raised eyebrows.

Wilkerson has been a sounding board for Bob Dreyfuss, the former Middle East editor of Lyndon LaRouche’s magazine. While he has not endorsed them, he has flirted on the margins with 9/11 conspiracy theories.

He is not so subtle, however, when it comes to accusations that many Jews hold dual loyalty. He has embraced the Stephen Walt/John Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” calumny, and those who push Jewish conspiracies often cite Wilkerson’s “insight” to support their views.

He is currently working on a book about foreign policy in the George W. Bush administration, which, if he continues his descent into conspiracy, might as well be a sequel to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

The KKK is noxious, but it is not the only purveyors of hate.

Wilkerson is entitled to his opinions, however feverish they may be. But he derives his legitimacy from his proximity to Powell. A simple statement from Powell disassociating himself from Wilkerson’s views, conspiracies and assistance to the propaganda arms of Hezbollah, Iran and Russia might undercut the legitimacy of those views.

Instead, with his silence, Powell effectively enables them. That is as wrong as equivocation on the KKK. Powell should know better and should act.

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research is a nonpartisan, nonprofit 501(c)(3) educational organization. The views expressed here are those of the author.