July 3, 2019; Slate, Haaretz, and Vox
Liberal billionaire George Soros and libertarian billionaire Charles Koch have each contributed half a million dollars to establish The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. The link between these two is a strong belief that America’s foreign policy and militaristic actions outside of our borders are not in our national interests.
“The foreign policy of the United States has become detached from any defensible conception of US interests and from a decent respect for the rights and dignity of humankind,” the institute argues in the initial statement on its website. It aims to promote “ideas that move US foreign policy away from endless war and toward vigorous diplomacy in the pursuit of international peace.”
The Quincy Institute is named for US President John Quincy Adams, who in 1821 warned America that it “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” According to Soros, Koch, and their other co-founders and contributors, that vision has not been upheld. Now, with the work of the Institute, they hope to find alternatives to endless war.
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It begins to make sense that these two lions of liberal and conservative causes would find common ground in this arena. Charles Koch has been making donations in support of less interventionist foreign policy since the Vietnam War. George Soros is a bit more of a surprise, as his liberal views would seem to align more with pro-democracy movements that are often targets of the US’s foreign and military policies. But he, too, has been critical of American militarism for many years. Writing in the Wall Street Journal in 2006, Soros observed, “An endless war waged against an unseen enemy is doing great damage to our power and prestige abroad and to our open society at home. It has led to a dangerous extension of executive powers; it has tarnished our adherence to universal human rights; it has inhibited the critical process that is at the heart of an open society; and it has cost a lot of money.”
The entry of these major philanthropic voices into the discussion of war, foreign policy, militarism, and the overall direction of our foreign policy may carry a very different kind of weight. They have been joined by three others with some interesting credentials. One of them is conservative writer and retired army colonel Andrew Bacevich, who has been an outspoken critic of ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bacevich’s only son died while serving as an officer in Iraq in 2007. Trita Parsi is an Iranian-born activist and writer who previously founded the National Iranian American Council, an organization that worked in support of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Historian and writer Stephen Wertheim is another co-founder, as are Suzanne DiMaggio, an expert on negotiations with Iran and North Korea who’s currently with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and journalist Eli Clifton of the Nation.
Altogether, The Quincy Institute is a collaboration of liberals and conservative donors and scholars coalescing around the concept of a less militaristic foreign policy. Many might embrace the concept, but others may see it as yet another anti-democratic, elitist overreach, considering the sheer dollar power involved yet not committed to the project. The limited investment could imply the donors themselves are waiting to see what the unlikely alliance brings.
The Quincy Institute plans to issue reports before the end of 2019, which may tip its hand—or at least some cards—to the public.—Carole Levine