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Why John Bolton, former national security adviser for Trump, is coming to speak at Duke

Duke American Grand Strategy will host a conversation with former national security adviser John Bolton at 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 17 in Page Auditorium.

Bolton served as the national security adviser to President Donald Trump until September 2019, when he resigned. Trump asserted that he had asked Bolton to resign, while Bolton claimed that Trump never asked him to step down, and it was his own decision. Prior to his role in the Trump administration, Bolton served as the interim U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under George W. Bush.

Bolton has long advocated regime change in countries including Iran, Venezuela and North Korea. He also opposed the Iran nuclear deal, claiming on Twitter that Iran never fully complied with the deal.

Bolton wrote in a statement Jan. 6 that he would testify during the Senate impeachment trial if subpoenaed. For that to occur, a majority of senators would need to vote in favor of the subpoena.

Recently, Bolton has tweeted national security-related posts, such as congratulating those involved in killing Qasem Soleimani and commending Taiwan for another “free and fair election.”

Peter Feaver, director of the Duke program in American Grand Strategy and professor of political science and public policy, said he’s glad AGS can host Bolton while he’s so present in the news. That hasn’t always been the case—it took about six years to woo former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and bring her to campus in February 2019. 

“It really is wonderful to get somebody when they’re at their maximum public profile, so with Ambassador Bolton, we’re very fortunate that I didn’t have to pursue him for many, many, many years,” Feaver said.

Feaver, who will host the conversation, plans to ask Bolton about his personal experiences and opinions regarding Iran and North Korea. He also plans to discuss Russia and China’s return to power, as well as the political crisis in Venezuela. 

“It’s always interesting to hear from those who have been in the room while Trump makes decisions,” Feaver said.

With every speaker sponsored by AGS, Feaver hopes the audience can develop a greater understanding of their decisions and reasoning than they could gather from short sound bites from other interviews.

“Inviting him to speak is not endorsing his positions on every policy matter,” Feaver said. “On the contrary, it’s bringing to future leaders—and I would say the Duke student body is disproportionately future leaders—bringing to their attention the kinds of people who are very influential today.”

Feaver pointed out that Bolton will be a “nice complement” to Samantha Power, another former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations who AGS brought to speak in December 2019. Even though they hold different opinions, Feaver said they’re both thoughtful and have well-defined worldviews. 

The talk will be part of the Ambassador Dave and Kay Phillips Family International Lecture Series, which aims to bring high-profile figures in international security, foreign policy and diplomacy to speak at Duke. Tickets will be free and available starting at 11 a.m. on Feb. 5, online and at the Duke Box Office, for the Duke community. They will become available to the general public on Feb. 7. 

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