Uncommon Common Ground

The unrelenting assault on American democracy and norms of governance has led many of us to focus pretty single-mindedly on the insanities coming from Trump’s Washington. As a result, we miss events that might otherwise be more widely reported.

Had a Facebook friend not posted this article, I’d have missed it. As it was, it was so counter-intuitive, I immediately looked for confirmation. But it’s true: George Soros and Charles Koch have teamed up to support a new think-tank that will work toward what would be a dramatic change in American foreign policy– an end to this country’s “forever” wars.

An article in Slate explains this rather startling partnership,

Any initiative that boasts funding from both George Soros and Charles Koch—boogeymen of the right and left, respectively—is going to garner some attention. But the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a newly planned anti-war foreign policy think tank, aims to get noticed for more than just the money behind it. Its founders hope that, as operations ramp up in the coming months, the institute will provide a critique not only of the Trump administration’s foreign policy, but of the hawkish bipartisan consensus in Washington.

The group’s inception is driven by a shared concern over the United States’ long-standing reliance on military force over diplomacy, as well as the belief that “the foreign policy establishment is ill-equipped to interpret what was happening, particularly the foreign policy of Donald Trump, let alone to combat it and steer it in a better direction,” says co-founder Stephen Wertheim, a historian at Columbia University and writer on U.S. foreign policy.

The new  Institute will advocate for withdrawal of U.S. troops from combat missions in Syria and Afghanistan; perhaps more importantly,  it is expected to support substantial reductions of the defense budget, and foreign policies relying more on diplomacy and less on confrontation.

While much of the foreign policy establishment supports diplomatic initiatives like the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Wertheim believes that there’s not enough of an apparatus to support them. “Worthy initiatives like the Iran nuclear deal—it was way too hard to fight for them, and then it proved too difficult to maintain them,” he says.

The Quincy Institute takes its name from President John Quincy Adams, who famously warned Americans against going abroad “in search of monsters to destroy.”

They plan to set up offices in D.C. and begin hiring fellows in the coming months as well as release several reports before the end of this year. In addition to Wertheim, the group’s founders include Trita Parsi, the former president of the National Iranian American Council and a leading proponent of the Iran nuclear deal; Suzanne DiMaggio, an expert on negotiations with Iran and North Korea currently with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; journalist Eli Clifton of the Nation; and the historian and retired Army Col. Andrew Bacevich.

Koch has long been a favorite bogeyman for anyone who isn’t a right-winger or doctrinaire libertarian; he and his brother have spent millions promoting deregulation, opposing universal health care and fighting efforts to address climate change. But Charles is also known for what the article calls “iconoclastic views on foreign policy” and for supporting a less interventionist foreign policy.

Soros is a longtime supporter of civil society and democratic movements, and for championing civil liberties and liberalization of autocratic countries. But that support doesn’t necessarily translate into military interventions to accomplish those ends.

“We are all for democracy and human rights,” Wertheim says. “But what is the best way to promote those things? If we rhetorically promote human rights and democracy in ways that lead to war or the kind of starvation sanctions we currently see with Iran, that does not advance human rights.”

In my more optimistic moments (few and far between as those have become) I wonder whether the Trump Presidency’s awfulness may be sparking a positive blowback. I’ve seen a genuine resurgence of interest in civic knowledge, and it is impossible not to notice–and applaud–the enormous increase in civic activism and engagement.

As the Slate article notes, Trump’s foreign policy approach (which the article labels “idiosyncratic” and I would define as incompetent-fascist) has appalled everyone: “neoconservatives, liberal internationalists, anti-war leftists, libertarians, and conservative realists.” As this uncommon example of common ground illustrates, Trump has been a wake-up call in all sorts of ways.

Let’s just hope enough Americans actually wake up, and  once Trump is gone, don’t just hit the snooze button.


  1. A most remarkable philanthropic partnership between two polar opposite icons of political and policy influence. This is a disruption worth watching closely. Thank you Sheila

  2. This is shocking information to say the least! I am looking forward to watching how this disrupts both the current administration and all of the corporations that have been making enormous profits by selling whatever they make to our buyers at the Pentagon (if that is where the buyers are).

    This could disrupt many many high paying and powerful careers throughout our country and federal government and only powerful billionaires could have taken on this monumental task.

  3. The Koch’s are far from “boogeymen.” They spend hundreds of millions each election cycle ensuring red states remain red, and the Senate remains red.

    Soros funds ALEC Watch which writes about ALEC – a right-wing corporate organization founded and funded by the Koch’s.

    The Quincy Institute satisfies both of their agendas as the Koch’s are all about tax reduction for their fortune. We spend gross amounts on the MIC…going abroad in search of “evil-doers” is profitable for the MIC.

    The Koch’s have abandoned the national GOP and Trump. Since then, they’ve made several eyes popping moves, including their support of education. One of their ventures includes working with the Walton foundation.

    I remain skeptical of the Koch brothers who’ve been working diligently behind the scenes to make life more difficult for those less fortunate then silver spooned billionaires.

  4. We have comforted ourselves for years by saying, “It couldn’t happen here.” Now that we have 45, whose administration is a walking, talking violation of our Constitution, we can all plainly see that it did happen here. Small wonder activism has increased. I just hope we can sustain the outrage through November 3, 2020.

  5. Even military educators are teaching new recruits on how to stay out of conflicts as sort of a nonaggression training. The real problem is how do we get nations to the table to denuclearize as the times are different as monsters are now finding religious reasons to become the monsters through nuclear terrorism. It’s vital that whatever means we use including think tanks is important.

  6. Octogenarian billionaires facing their own mortality are just engaged in a spot of money laundering. This misplaced trust and admiration of wealthy white men helped elect Trump. Why should they play an outsized role in determining our foreign policy or anything else?

  7. Here is the statement from today’s blog that is the underlying theme for the salvation of our republic, not another think tank that will end up doing nothing to alter the horror show now being perpetrated by the absolutely most egregious people in our history: “Let’s just hope enough Americans actually wake up, and once Trump is gone, don’t just hit the snooze button.”

    Getting Trump gone also means getting rid of Stephen Miller, Mike Pence and John Bolton. Mike Pompeo is pure puppet and doesn’t have a single, independent brain cell. Then, there is Mitch McConnell, clearly the most damaging legislator in our history. He must be removed from the Senate totally. Failing these two actions by “We the people”, we deserve the demise we perpetrate by our own inaction.

    Another think tank won’t get Americans off their asses enough to pay attention.

  8. “Any initiative that boasts funding from both George Soros and Charles Koch—boogeymen of the right and left, respectively—is going to garner some attention.”

    Are we to consider this merger to be a bipartisan think-tank at a time when even pretense of diplomacy has been dropped and sucking up to the enemy is the norm for our current administration? We need to look deeper into how these two will be be making a profit on their investment of funds; as Todd stated, “I remain skeptical of the Koch brothers who’ve been working diligently behind the scenes to make life more difficult for those less fortunate then silver spooned billionaires.” A line by Rhett Butler in the movie “Gone With The Wind” fits here; “There is as much money to be made from the destruction of a civilization as there is from the construction.” Which is the goal of The Quincy Institute and who are their members other than Soros and Koch?

    We are currently living in the Trump “deconstruction” of our government; thereby resulting in the the deconstruction of the country…today’s version of the Republican’s Reconstruction of the south at the end of the Civil War.

    “As this uncommon example of common ground illustrates, Trump has been a wake-up call in all sorts of ways.” Appearances are deceiving and when two snake oil salesmen come together in what appears to be for the good of this country; we need to remove our rose colored glasses and our blinders and look beneath the surface of this appearance of a coming together of like minds.

  9. John Neal and JoAnn, You both nailed it for me.
    I do not for a minute believe that Koch and Soros woke up one day, slapped their foreheads and said, “Why Martha, I just realized that investing in the military industrial complex causes… death”.

  10. A couple of thoughts come to mind – Beware of Greeks bearing Gifts and Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing in this case.

    From another Blog:

    “U.S. Special Operations forces has deployed to 149 countries, or approximately 75% of all nations; on which the U.S. has perhaps 800 military garrisons outside its own territory; on which the U.S. Navy patrols most of its oceans and seas; on which U.S. unmanned aerial drones conduct assassination strikes across a surprising range of countries.”

    All of these deployments and military bases did not happen since President Agent Orange became President. The boot of American Militarism has been worldwide since the end of WW 2. Both political parties have embraced a bellicose foreign policy and there is the added benefit to Corporate America to produce the latest weapons of War and for hire mercenaries.

    Our crop of Presidential wannabes seems very reluctant to talk about specifics to reduce the massive Defense Department budget and all these out of the USA deployments.

  11. It appears that the vacuum created by the Trump foreign policy of threats to allies and acquiescence to dictators has finally reached the inner sanctum of ALEC and the Midases. Maybe. It looks as though steering our foreign policy is now up for privatizing by the rich and corporate class, one of the last areas of government they haven’t already conquered, and with a brainless president and Pomps and Bolts as aides at the helm, their timing is impeccable. They apparently have concluded that war, though usually good for business, is bad when much of the world has nuclear weaponry and the Atlantic and Pacific do not provide the necessary buffers as before.

    Given the Kochs’ history (and the history I suspect they want to make, i.e., one that favors their continuing and unimpeded acquisition of wealth), color me hopeful but doubtful.

  12. Gerald,

    The rich have been tickling this dragon’s tale since, as ML points out, the end of WW II. The Cold War and Korea, of course, cemented this military imperative of our foreign policy. Now, however, as you say, the moguls see the danger of waking the nuclear dragon at the hand of an idiot and his frothing war-mongers. They’re trying – maybe – to put the dragon back to sleep.

    The imbecile they favor, however, is incapable of doing their bidding, because he now thinks he’s part of the dictator club. It’s just like his pathetic need to belong to the big boy money clubs in New York. He was despised and laughed at there, just as he’s despised and laughed at by the REAL dictators. Add to all that the fact that his basic narcissism is compounded by his utter cowardice and you have the makings of the perfect storm for world war.

    Have a nice day.

  13. Diplomacy first is a worthy goal, but think about the violence that is so prevalent in our society. Perhaps it is in our nature to use force to get and keep what we want, beginning with taking the land from Native Americans. The gun rights proponents are so adamant about stockpiling weapons because they see guns as perhaps their first and last alternative to government oppression. The Y2K “crisis” saw many people hoarding food and ammunition with the intent of defending themselves against their neighbors in some sort of apocalyptic nightmare. Everyday shootings, road rage incidents, and encounters with law enforcement that end in shooting deaths tend to reinforce the idea that our first response to tense situations is often violent. We talk of peace only after some horrifying act of war or violence. Violence has become so entwined in our everyday lives. We need to work on that and foster cooperation and focus on working together to achieve common goals if we ever hope to see diplomacy work on the national stage.

  14. We can all find common ground if we simply loosen our tightly held grips on stereotyping and judging others as wrong. Perhaps if we all could turn around and face our own deep entrenchments of rwhat we consider right/wrong we might be able to move forward.

  15. The fact of so many bogiemen in the country nowadays has us hyper alert for them and the extremism which we’ve been taught by the entertainment and social media that we chose immersion in has us hooked on categories and blind to individual acts and people and even gestures. Everyone is a category first and only and never just a singular individual or action.

    For this action Soros and the Koch Bros are both doing what Gates and Buffet and many others have done often that we need to be even more commonplace: investing in a better place for everyone.

    The downside of the most powerful military ever is our temptation to use it and the salesmen to that end that live in our government. I think now the upside is out weighed by the downside. Colonialism is dead and the threat of us being conquered militarily is much lower than us being conquered ideologically which the military is unable to prevent.

    Thank you wealth for this move.

  16. Enough with “Think Tanks” already…the Koch’s money is in plenty of them, including the Federalist Society training and putting in place far right judges.

    We need billionaires to put their money into massive voter registration and voter encouragement across the country. A Fourth poll said that most Americans define patriotism as voting – let’s support that. We know that except for the 20% extremes the 60% are ready to vote for good governance candidates, of either party.

  17. Please come out on Friday night to support the Lights 4 Liberty Candlelight Vigil which will bring awareness to the deplorable conditions in the camps for migrants along our border and else where. There are 680 events planned worldwide. To find an event near you:

    All events will be providing additional ways anyone can take action to pressure this administration to change its policy. The administration is planing an event on the same day where Mike Pence will show the world how “nice” the camps are – a strategy used by Nazi Germany in the early phases of the Final Solution to convince the world that they were only locking up people in Germany who were criminals. When Anne Frank died in a concentration camp, she did not die in the gas chamber. She died of typhus which is caused by unsanitary conditions. We are headed toward a similar situation here with migrants. Please show the world your support for human rights — EVERYWHERE!
    Thank you.

  18. The Koch brothers’ support for education has been to privatize and re-segregate schools via vouchers and charters and to drain public schools to fund both.

  19. If they’re serious, they could support existing organizations promoting peace, some of which have years of experience, especially the Friends Committee on National Legislation, fcnl.org. Another is codepink.org. Plus these:
    Why recreate the wheel? What’s their real motive?

  20. Charles; you stated it with fewer words but asked the same question I did, “What’s their real motive?” They have never shown any altruistic motives in the past…why now?

  21. Interesting. There are now several groups of both political and non political entities trying to express “common ground” and develop real dialog. This is an example of weird people trying to get together. I am very skeptical that these two will find any common ground. Good effort. I hope it works
    From my view the better approach is through a group called Better Angels (https://www.better-angels.org/). I sense that there will be more such groups form because we are so tired of hearing polar opposites yell at each other.
    I hope Sheila will look at Better Angels and comment.

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