On Tuesday, May 5, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, John R. Bolton, spoke regarding Iran and the contemporary Middle East, which garnered much controversy on campus. Bolton’s talk was part of the Frederic E. Miller Lecture Series in Honor of Anwar Sadat, named in part for Frederic E. Miller ’60 and Egyptian political leader Anwar Sadat.
Bolton’s talk was also sponsored by Dr. Arnold Goldschlager ’59, a prominent San Francisco cardiologist.
A variety of community members, students and alumni who were interested in hearing what the former U.S. ambassador had to say were in attendance. Audience members were especially interested to hear what arguments he would put forth in regards to future U.S. foreign policies.
Bolton is known for his controversial policies, which inspired a large group of people to hold a protest outside Memorial Chapel, where the talk was held, for about an hour before the talk began.
Posters announcing Bolton’s talk were hung up around the school prior to the event. On many of the posters, there was a handwritten message, calling Bolton a “War Monger” and stating that a protest would be held from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., preceding the talk.
Sarah Kader ’16, was one of the students involved in the protest, which was made up of about 35 people, including members of the Union community and the surrounding Schenectady community.
Kader stated, “The protest was a joint initiative between the Schenectady Community’s Women Against War, Peace Activists and Union College to acknowledge John Bolton’s past political history and acknowledge the strong opinions he has published. We also handed out fact sheets regarding John Bolton’s past political decisions and questions to promote productive and diverse conversation.”
The fact sheets Kader referred to contained a number of statements about Bolton’s past policy initiatives and information about his time as a U.N. Ambassador.
The sheet begins with the statement: “The purpose of speakers at Union College are to provide new and diverse perspectives which promote productive discourse which can better the Union community. Please keep these facts regarding John Bolton’s credibility in mind during his discussion of Iran and the Middle East.”
One of the statements included on the sheet is, “Bolton actively seeks to undermine the legitimacy of the union, quoted as saying, ‘It doesn’t exist,’ and that the U.S. should cease payments to the U.N., while using U.N. funds to further his political initiatives.”
The other statements on this sheet also point out aspects of his policies that are rather controversial.
Professor Ogawa, of the Visual Arts Department, also took part in the protests. In regards to the reasons behind the protest, he stated, “I’m afraid that I don’t have the authority to speak for all of the protesters. There were also many people there from off-campus anti-war organizations, and I would not try to represent them either.”
Ogawa continued, “In terms of my own politics, I can say only that I was there because I am opposed to the failed policies of belligerence and warmongering that Bolton represents.”
In addition to students, faculty and community members, some alumni were upset over Bolton’s talk at Union. Bob Elmendorf ’70 stated that he “feels a lot of animosity towards the speaker,” due to their differing views.
He shared his worries about the message that Union could be sending by inviting someone with such controversial views to speak, and not inviting someone to speak to the other side of the argument.
Bolton’s talk focused primarily on the threat of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons and what such a future might mean for U.S. interests.
The former ambassador began his session by speaking about the concerns for Iran as a state sponsor for terrorism.
He expressed particular concern for future biological or nuclear terrorism attacks, and that by not preventing Iran from developing weapons, we will be making ourselves more vulnerable in the future.
Recent efforts to slow Iran’s technological advancement have focused on international and economic sanctions in an effort to bring the government to the negotiating table.
Bolton was critical of this approach, as he expressed the ineffectiveness of negotiations, sanctions or treaties to adequately prevent the development of weapons, stating that, “those who want to succeed (at developing nuclear weapons) typically do.”
Regardless of efforts on the international stage, Bolton made clear that he felt diplomatic efforts have been unsuccessful, as a result of intermittent commitment by different countries.
He additionally expressed severe doubts on the ongoing negotiations with Iran, feeling that current efforts would serve to weaken restrictions already in place.
Nuclear proliferation remained the focal point of Bolton’s talk.
Nuclear proliferation would prove problematic on the international stage, as more countries and aggressors would have access to powerful and dangerous weapons.
He especially regarded this as a threat in the context of terrorist organizations to obtain access to the warheads.
Bolton believed that these threats would only continue to grow and prove even more problematic than individual countries threatening to use the weapons.
Nuclear proliferation, from Bolton’s perspective, would provide a different type of group with the ability to use these weapons.
Instead of a Cold War threat of weapons, nuclear capabilities would be put in the hands of extremists looking to insight terror, regardless of cost.
Bolton concluded with the remark, “I think the U.S. should be completely committed to not letting another country get nuclear weapons.”
When pushed for a response to the best course of action for the U.S., the former ambassador was reluctant to voice an express strategy for the nation to pursue. Instead he emphasized the probability that Israel will be likely to act, especially as Iran’s nuclear capabilities will provide a more immediate geographic threat for them.
Ultimately, Bolton stated, “We should support an Israeli decision to use force against Iran.”