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Bolting from Bolton

On Monday, February 17, Duke’s Program in American Grand Strategy will host war-monger John Bolton for a conversation on “The National Security Challenge of 2020.” Professor Peter Feaver, who will interview Bolton, commented that Bolton’s various roles in the Reagan, Bush (I and II) and Trump administrations present an “exciting opportunity to hear first-hand from a significant figure in American policy-making.” However, AGS’ announcement fails to list Bolton’s many concrete “achievements” beyond his titles. So, to better understand why Professor Feaver speaks so highly of Bolton—and why we should all be so excited to hear from him—I present the following list of John Bolton’s greatest hits: 

1. John Bolton forcefully advocated for the invasion of Iraq in 2003 while serving as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security under George W. Bush. More specifically, Bolton lied about Saddam Hussein’s possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) to justify the Bush administration’s illegal invasion of Iraq. This catastrophic war unleashed ongoing violence and destruction in the Middle East, resulting in at least 640,000 Iraqi deaths (not to forget hundreds of thousands more throughout the region); over $2 trillion in financial costs to the United States; the Syrian refugee crisis; and unimaginable, unquantifiable suffering. John Bolton proudly stands by his role in Iraq, even as many other national security officials from the Bush administration do not.

2. In fact, John Bolton loves war. Beyond Iraq, he has repeatedly argued for regime change and preemptive strikes on Iran, Cuba, North Korea and Venezuela. In other words, Bolton seems to take pleasure in the thought of decimating every country even slightly in the way of American imperialist interests. He has praised the Bush and Obama administration’s use of drone warfare, and he argued for Israel to use nuclear weapons against Iran (if, of course, the U.S. hadn’t bombed Iran first). 

3. John Bolton is an asshole. He is abusive toward those who work for or below him. His 2005 Senate confirmation hearing to become U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations was derailed, in part, because of multiple accounts of nasty past behavior. For example: When a USAID official raised concerns in Moscow about the mismanagement of funds in Kyrgyzstan in 1994, Bolton arrived to handle the situation. As the official wrote in her testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “Mr. Bolton proceeded to chase me through the halls of a Russian hotel—throwing things at me, shoving threatening letters under my door and, generally, behaving like a madman…John Bolton put me through hell—and he did everything he could to intimidate, malign and threaten not just me, but anybody unwilling to go along with his version of events. His behavior back in 1994 wasn't just unforgivable, it was pathological.” 

I think her testimony speaks for itself. 

4. To extend his war-mongering legacy (and perhaps to indulge a hint of narcissism), John Bolton formed the John Bolton Super PAC in 2013 in order to give millions of dollars to candidates equally enthusiastic about war.

5. John Bolton is extremely Islamophobic (if that wasn’t already clear). Here’s more information about Bolton’s tenure as chair of an allegedly viciously anti-Muslim think tank called Gatestone.

These are five big reasons that the American Grand Strategy Program thought John Bolton might make a splash at Duke. But in case you’re still interested, here are a few more juicy episodes from Bolton’s record—just for the hell of it.

6. As Assistant Attorney General in the Reagan administration, Bolton opposed reparations for victims of Japanese-American internment during World War II.

7. Bolton has been called a “protégé” of former North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms. Helms was a malicious white supremacist and homophobe who led the conservative moment in the late 20th century. 

8. Bolton once threatened a Brazilian diplomat who had gotten on Vice President Dick Cheney’s bad side by saying, “You have 24 hours to leave the organization, and if you don’t comply with this decision by Washington, we have ways to retaliate against you. We know where your kids live. You have two sons in New York.” Like, could he be any more cartoonishly villainous? Wait, hold up, I forgot...

9. That awful, hideous mustache.

Though Bolton more fittingly belongs in the Hague than at Duke, he does join an illustrious line of “controversial” speakers invited to campus, including the eugenicist Charles Murray, the Islamophobic Zuhdi Jasser and the Trump enabler Reince Preibus. Bolton might just have the dubious honor of being the most egregious of them all. 

All joking aside, however, I want to be clear that  John Bolton does not deserve this platform. Everything about him and his record should be rejected. If you were planning to go next week, don’t. We have no business legitimizing the blood on Bolton’s hands—and his mustache.   

Gino Nuzzolillo is a Trinity senior. His column runs on alternate Mondays. 


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