President Barack Obama doesn’t see foreign policy as important, at least according to John Bolton.
Bolton, former United States ambassador to the United Nations, spoke on Obama’s foreign policy at the School of Law Thursday. He was invited to the University by Duke’s chapter of The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, a national organization of conservatives and libertarians seeking to reform the current American legal system. The event was co-sponsored by the Duke University Program in American Grand Strategy and the International Law Society.
In his remarks, titled “Obama’s New International Order,” Bolton harshly criticized Obama, describing him as the “first post-American president.”
“He doesn’t see foreign policy as important,” Bolton said. “His naïveté is overwhelming.”
Bolton, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute—a conservative think tank—has worked in several Republican administrations. He served as the U.N. ambassador on a recess appointment from August 2005 to December 2006 under President George W. Bush. He was never confirmed by the Senate due to a Democratic filibuster.
Bolton’s speech was well attended and Duke Law 3041 was not nearly large enough to fit the hundreds of undergraduates, law students and faculty who packed in to hear the former ambassador speak. Many students were forced into a classroom next door to watch Bolton’s speech on a projector, while others watched on televisions throughout the law school.
Several students said they enjoyed Bolton’s remarks, even if they did not always agree with his views.
“I thought it was a good speech and I thought he was very entertaining and quite funny,” said Eric Lorber, a third-year Ph.D. student in Political Science and a program fellow at AGS. “Still, I was left with the question, ‘What are the prescriptions for action?’”
On Iran, Bolton criticized Obama’s emphasis on negotiation and advocated for “pre-emptive military force” that he said would set Iran’s nuclear program back “2, 3 [or] 4 years.”
“Iran’s not going to be chit chatted out of its nuclear weapons program,” he said.
Regarding North Korea, Bolton made it clear that he feels U.S.-led negotiations were similarly fruitless.
“North Korea loves committing to ending its nuclear weapons program,” Bolton said, making light of the fact that North Korea has repeatedly gone back on disarmament agreements. Still, Bolton said North Korea is a member of a “real axis of evil” along with Iran and Syria, and is not inclined to do away with its “trump card.”
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Alessandro Recchia, a freshman from Paris, opposed Bolton’s views.
“It was utterly shocking to realize that the former permanent representative of the United States of America to the United Nations is such a conservative political figure,” Recchia said. “It’s a relief to know that Bolton has been relieved of his function.”
Still, students like Zack Anderson, a first-year law student, appreciated Bolton’s wealth of experience.
“Obviously we had quite a large spectrum of people in there who agreed and disagreed, but the value was in hearing from somebody who’s been there a long time and knows a lot more than I do,” Anderson said.