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Former national security advisor reflects on fight against Islamic State, pressing foreign policy issues Thursday

<p>Tom Donilon served as President Barack Obama's national security advisor from 2010 until 2013 and addressed the country's most pressing foreign policy issues in a talk at Duke Thursday evening.</p>

Tom Donilon served as President Barack Obama's national security advisor from 2010 until 2013 and addressed the country's most pressing foreign policy issues in a talk at Duke Thursday evening.

Tom Donilon, President Barack Obama’s former national security advisor, called for an intensification of the fight against the Islamic State group Thursday evening.

Donilon served in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2013 and was national security advisor from 2010 to 2013. He was also an assistant secretary of state in the Clinton administration and worked in the Carter administration as well. More than 50 community members attended the conversation moderated by Peter Feaver, professor of political science and public policy, which covered recent events in foreign policy, including last week's terrorist attacks in Paris. 

Donilon explained that the Islamic State group presents a greater threat than other terrorist organizations because its internet savvy allows it to recruit sympathizers from all over the world. He argued that the scale of U.S. response needs to be increased.

"It's important to have some victories on the ground in Syria and Iraq," he noted. "ISIS is able to attract followers from all across the world because of a narrative of success, so we need to show them losing."

Recent concerns about Syrian refugees coming to the U.S. could be resolved, he said.

“I think the right way to approach this problem is to sit down and talk about it,” Donilon explained. "The situation in America is not the same as Europe."

In response to a question from Feaver about Donilon's regrets as National Security Advisor, he said that while the public might think he regrets the decision made to withdraw troops from Iraq, the situation at the time make it hard for the U.S. to avoid withdrawing troops. After eight years of occupation, there was not much support from the Iraqi government for a continued American presence though that changed in the past year, he explained.

He added that the situation in Iraq has changed drastically since U.S. troops left, and as a result the Iraqi government has asked to have U.S. troops return and help in the fight against the Islamic State group.

Donilon also discussed other foreign policy issues, including Russia’s recent intervention in Syria and U.S. relations with China and North Korea.

When asked about the stance Russia should take towards the Syrian crisis, Donilon responded by saying it would be in Russia’s best interest to join the U.S against the Islamic State group. 

“The lack of Russian efforts and support is a big impediment,” he said.

With regard to China, Donilon said that one of the principle diplomatic challenges is to avoid strained relations. 

“How do you avoid conflict between an existing power and a rising power?” he asked the audience. "The important thing to do is invest systematically in these opportunities in China." 

He added that if China has a serious interest in domestic economic reform, it must be willing to avoid conflict with America. Donilon noted that China has done a good job of pressuring North Korea in the past to reduce conflict and must continue to do so in the future. 

The event was part of the annual David and Kay Phillips Family International Lecture, co-sponsored by the Sanford School of Public Policy and the political science department.