George Soros is rightly regarded as one of the most consequential advocates of freedom in Central and Eastern Europe. Years before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Hungarian-born financier began investing his fortune in democratic dissidents. Once the Berlin Wall fell, his Open Society Foundations rapidly opened offices across the region, providing crucial support to independent journalists, civil-society activists and liberal-minded politicians.
It is this steadfast support for democracy that makes Soros’s latest gambit so confusing. The liberal philanthropist has joined forces with fellow billionaire Charles Koch in founding a foreign policy think tank, the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Disparaging “the foreign policy community in Washington” for having "succumbed to intellectual lethargy and dysfunction,” the institute will advocate “a new foreign policy centered on diplomatic engagement and military restraint.” On most issues, the liberal Soros and the libertarian Koch exist on opposite ends of the political spectrum. That they are collaborating on foreign policy may be a harbinger of a new left-right consensus favoring isolationism.
News of the institute’s creation was broken by Boston Globe columnist Stephen Kinzer, a former New York Times reporter who has become a radical left-wing critic of U.S. foreign policy, publishing highly tendentious books on the 1953 coup in Iran as well as one calling upon the United States to abandon its traditional allies in the Middle East and cozy up to the Khomeinist regime. Lately, Kinzer has been parroting Assadist propaganda on the Syrian White Helmets, a group of courageous relief workers, whom he labels “an arm of the terror movement” and slanders as “heroes to #ISIS but not to any humanitarian.” Kinzer touted the Koch-Soros collaboration as “one of the most remarkable partnerships in modern American political history.”
In a recent podcast, Koch explained the purpose of the institute, inaccurately quoting its namesake. “We go not abroad in search of monsters to destroy, we’re the friends of all nations, and allies of none.” John Quincy Adams did indeed utter the first part of that phrase, beloved by noninterventionists. But he said nothing of the sort about America not having allies.
That Koch would impute a distaste for alliances to Adams is revealing. Alliances have been the mainstay of U.S. foreign policy since the end of World War II, ensuring more than seven decades of unprecedented peace and prosperity. The alliance structures and partnerships the United States has forged, embodied by institutions such as NATO and bilateral agreements with nations including Australia, Colombia, Japan and India, ensure global order, freedom of commerce, and human rights. Koch also complained about our “over 800 bases around the world,” as if these were agents of aggression and not projections of stability.
To advance its agenda of “restraint,” the institute has assembled a motley crew. There’s Trita Parsi, a lobbyist with questionable links to the Iranian regime who has made a career of soft-peddling its egregious human rights abuses and regional adventurism. Research director Eli Clifton blames three Jewish billionaires for President Trump’s decision to exit the Iran nuclear deal. The organization’s president, Andrew Bacevich, repeats the myth that the United States “assured Russia NATO would not expand” after the Cold War and that it is incorporation of the independent nations of Central and Eastern Europe into the defensive alliance, not Russian belligerence, that is to blame for the souring in Russo-American relations over the past decade. Bacevich has gone so far as to advocate quitting NATO — years before Trump ever entertained that rash idea.
Acolytes of the Quincy Institute worldview love to decry America’s “endless” or “forever war.” The group even has an “ending endless war” program. But the United States has not been engaged in any declared, sustained military ground campaign for more than a decade. (Koch erroneously says that the United States is involved in “dozens of wars.”) Such hyperbole about the occasional U.S. police action or counterterrorism operation obscures the very real war-making of our adversaries. If targeted strikes against terrorists in Afghanistan or two, tightly limited reprisal attacks on the genocidal Bashar al-Assad regime for using chemical weapons are defined as “endless war,” what exactly are the Russians doing in Ukraine and Syria? Or the Iranians in Iraq, Yemen and Syria? Or the Venezuelans, against their own people? What is China preparing for, with its building of militarized artificial islands in the South China Sea and its saber-rattling against Taiwan?
Think of the Quincy Institute as the Tulsi Gabbard of think tanks, a bizarre amalgam of far-left and far-right ideas, united by a shared isolationism and aversion to America acting as a force for good.
Which brings us back to George Soros. He used to believe that his adopted country could play such a beneficent role in the world, which is why he and his organizations so strongly supported democracy promotion and NATO enlargement. His new friends in the Quincy Institute deride such things as “meddling” and “warmongering.” This is the language we expect to hear from right-wing “America First” isolationists. It’s a disturbing portent to now see it being underwritten by the world’s most generous liberal philanthropist.