We should listen to John Bolton

We should listen to John Bolton
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As a long-time Democrat, I have never supported former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonCongress has a shot at correcting Trump's central mistake on cybersecurity The 'pitcher of warm spit' — Veepstakes and the fate of Mike Pence Senate-passed defense spending bill includes clause giving DHS cyber agency subpoena power MORE. I found his hawkish ideas about attacking Iran dangerous and his overall foreign policy far too militaristic. He was wrong to support the invasion of Iraq. His advocacy of regime change in North Korea would lead to a major global conflagration. In many ways, he is an “America First” policymaker who represented America at the United Nations but never really believed in global institutions. He once famously said that if the UN building lost ten floors, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference. On top of it all, John Bolton should never have destroyed his notes from his time at the White House only to write a tell-all book. That is just bad form.

Having said all that, I’ll give the man his due. Appearing at Duke University on Presidents’ Day, he pointed out some serious national security challenges that deserve attention. For example, Bolton explained his view that America’s policy toward Pyongyang had produced, in his words, a “wasted two years." Clearly he is not a fan of diplomacy with Kim Jong UnKim Jong UnKim: North Korea's nuclear weapons will prevent war The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Angie Craig says we need an equitable distribution plan for an eventual vaccine that reaches all communities; Moderna vaccine enters phase 3 trial in US today North Korea declares state of emergency due to a suspected COVID-19 case MORE

Bolton was right to identify Moscow’s cyber campaign against the United States and the West as a major threat. Our failure to apply more sanctions against Russia is a policy mistake. Election meddling by Moscow in our 2016 elections is a fact, not a theory, and it is likely to happen again in 2020. We should welcome any serious voice on that topic — especially if it might make Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinClyburn: Trump doesn't plan to leave the White House Russia planning mass COVID-19 vaccination campaign for October CNN chyron says 'nah' to Trump claim about Russia MORE worry. 


On Iran, I disagree with Bolton’s support for ripping up the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. In his remarks at Duke, Bolton reminded the audience that he disagrees with the current administration’s Iran policy. “I think it’s failing because we don’t live up to the bumper-sticker slogan of maximum pressure,” he said. Though he endorsed the Trump administration’s decision to kill Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, he had nothing positive to say about the current policy.

Iran has proven to be a nasty player, and Bolton was right to tell the students at Duke University about how bad Iranian terrorist behavior is for all of us who support democracy and freedom. And he is right to remind young people of the dangers of a nuclear world with weapons and materials in the hands of bad actors. We need a new generation of foreign policy experts to wrestle with the complexities and trade-offs inherent in global affairs. 

Despite the protests at Duke, students inside the hall were able to hear from a foreign policy expert at a time when we need a robust debate in this country about national security priorities. Even if you disagree with Bolton and his “American Grand Strategy,” as the event was billed, it is important to let his voice be heard, especially on college campuses. Freedom of speech is a core American value.

What's most important about Bolton is that he remains the critical witness to president Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpWhite House sued over lack of sign language interpreters at coronavirus briefings Wife blames Trump, lack of masks for husband's coronavirus death in obit: 'May Karma find you all' Trump authorizes reduced funding for National Guard coronavirus response through 2020 MORE’s pressure campaign against Ukraine. Congress seriously erred by not letting him appear to verify what former national security council expert Fiona Hill told the House of Representatives during the impeach process — that John Bolton was against the Ukraine deal and likened attorney to the president Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiNunes declines to answer if he received information from Ukraine lawmaker meant to damage Biden Democratic attorneys criticize House Judiciary Democrats' questioning of Barr Swalwell: Barr has taken Michael Cohen's job as Trump's fixer MORE to a “hand grenade” who was bound to blow everybody up and that he would not be part of whatever “drug deal” the president and his aides were contemplating. 

Even if you hate Bolton’s approach to the world, his first-hand account of White House events last July, when Trump engineered a plan to investigate the Bidens and held back millions of dollars in assistance, is crucial. Bolton should have spoken up far sooner and saved us all from having to buy the book. But it’s a story we have to hear. “I view [Ukraine] like the sprinkles on the ice-cream sundae in terms of what’s in the book,” Bolton said, leaving us dangling again.

As for the pesky classification process he is now enduring — that is the reality of life after serving in government. If, however, this administration drags it out longer than usual, it will give Bolton another card to play as he fans out across the country giving speeches.

Tara Sonenshine is a former U.S. under-secretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs.