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.