Former United States Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton spoke to members of the Hopkins community in Shriver Hall on March 13 as a part of this spring’s Foreign Affairs Symposium (FAS) speakers series. Bolton, who represented the U.S. at the U.N. from 2005 to 2006, spent the majority of his speech denouncing President Obama’s foreign policy platform and criticizing the president for not placing national security at the top of his priority list.
“For the first time since Roosevelt, we have a president who does not see our nation’s security as a top national issue,” Bolton said. “Not having a strong national security policy challenges American legitimacy abroad.”
The former ambassador spoke at length about the administration’s reactions to crises in Ukraine, China and Iran. Bolton began his speech by presenting his views on the president’s recent policies concerning Russia.
“The way the President chose to deal with Russia is that he wanted to press the reset button,” he said. “When he was campaigning in 2008, President Obama said nothing about Russia’s invasion of Georgia, and now six years later we are paying the price.”
Bolton said he believes that Russia senses a change in America’s foreign policy and that the Kremlin is looking to capitalize and “rebuild their imperial ambitions.” He argued that because the U.S. government did not get involved in the conflict surrounding Russia’s last invasion of a former Soviet republic, the leadership felt that they were in the right to stake claims on the Crimean peninsula.
“Obama is inattentive and terribly naive,” the former ambassador said. “He has taken the path of least resistance abroad and the Russians have moved in and filled the strategic background. Moreover, the nation most closely watching Ukraine is China.”
Bolton stated his beliefs that the Chinese are now more likely to move forward with their own disputed claims in the East China and South China Seas.
“China wants to make the South China Sea, which are international waters, a Chinese lake,” he said. “Make no mistake. The biggest threats in the world today are China and Russia.”
The former ambassador later used the same terminology to describe international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction as the biggest threats in the world today. During his tenure at the United Nations, Bolton was a vocal advocate of tougher sanctions on Iran.
“Iran has been the international training center for terrorism for the past 30 years. If they are able to create nukes, they will achieve international impunity,” he said.
Throughout his speech, Bolton continued to emphasize that he thought the president does not believe in the idea of American exceptionalism. He said that it was made most clear when Ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed in Benghazi in 2012 and, he claimed, no actions were taken by the current administration. That claim is vigorously disputed by administration officials who say the president ordered a wide series of actions in response to the attack.
“Obama signaled that you can murder his personal representative, the personhood of the United Stated, and do it with impunity,” he said. “That is no small thing.”
Audience reaction to his speech was mixed. After finishing, Bolton responded to a flurry of questions that both praised and were skeptical of many of the points the former ambassador had made.
“He was very well spoken, and he was very clearly and firmly on the right side of the aisle,” freshman Elliot Frumpkin said. “I think he was too critical of the current administration, but he also raised very important points in the gaps in the president’s policy.”
Freshman Kevin DeMario noted how the speech touched on issues that are often overlooked.
“Bolton was a passionate speaker, vehemently criticizing the Obama administration,” DeMario said. “He brought up many considerations that are conventionally obscured or avoided. For example, the issue of the current president’s pseudo anti–nationalism.”
Other attendees were well aware of the sensitivity of the topics in Bolton’s speech.
“I thought John Bolton had some interesting examples and had a way of expressing concepts that people can understand, but his viewpoints were certainly off-putting to people who may disagree with him,” freshman Calvin Pollard said.