Forbes: Are George Soros’ Billions Compromising U.S. Foreign Policy?
Richard Miniter, OP/ED | 9/09/2011
George Soros is rich enough to buy his own foreign policy, but is it wise to let him have one?
Soros’ strange pattern of investments and gifts, especially in the former-Soviet states of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, amounts to a personal foreign policy.
While other rich men fund think tanks and charities abroad, the sheer scale of Soros’ spending sets him apart. Soros, through foundations and his Open Society Institutes, pours some $500 million per year into organizations in the former Soviet world, according to their own estimates. That, in many cash-starved countries, is enough capital to change who runs the capital.
And Soros gets results. Through strategic donations, Soros helped bring down the communist government in Poland, toppled Serbia’s bloodstained strongman Slobodan Milosevic, and fueled the “Rose Revolution” in Georgia. Soros has also funded opposition parties in Azerbaijan, Belarus, Croatia, Georgia, and Macedonia, helping them into either power or prominence. All of these countries were once Russian allies.
Of course, Soros doesn’t work alone. His investments often ride a populist wave of discontent or are made alongside American or European governments and non-profits. No amount of money can singlehandedly bring down a popular foreign leader. But a weak leader can be pushed from power—and Soros likes to give the humpty-dumpty shove to the world’s autocrats.
And that creates problems for the U.S. Since Soros’ most significant dictator-toppling efforts are concentrated in the post-Soviet world, Soros’ foreign policy creates friction between the U.S and Russia and generates hostility from a range of energy-rich Central Asian states, which provide key bases for the Afghan war. Some nations, including Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, have even banned Soros or his philanthropic front-groups.
The bigger problem: Russia and other nations tend to see Soros as a tool of U.S. policy. While Soros is not, his high-profile involvement in the domestic affairs of these faraway lands poses problems for Washington. Soros has made it harder for President Obama to “hit the reset button” with Russia and has complicated relations with a host of other nations. Getting Russia’s vote on the U.N. Security Council to halt Iran’s nuclear-weapons program or further isolate North Korea is made more difficult by Soros. Bases for U.S. special forces or Predator drones are harder to get in Central Asia. Worse still, Soros’ foreign policy draws America into a clutch of ethnic and land disputes in Central Asia that are more fraught and more violent than Israel-Palestine and, unlike Israel, do not involve a vital U.S. interest.
There are good reasons not to privatize the dictator-toppling business. Elected governments are supposed to balance competing national interests (hence the seeming incoherence of some aspects of America’s foreign policy) and officials can be held accountable for their actions, either by voters, courts, legislatures or other governments. And democracies forge their foreign policies in public debates.
Soros’ foreign policy is different. He pursues his own vision, undisturbed by his effect on other nations or the interests of his own. It is hard for foreign governments to hold him accountable and his goals and methods are usually kept secret.
While the risks of Soros’ foreign policy to the U.S. are clear, they are clearly ignored by Washington policy makers and the White House press corps. Why?
Left and Right are Both Wrong
The sad “red team-blue team” nature of American journalism blinds it. If someone helps the Left, or the Right, he is not criticized by ideological press allies.
Ever notice how the publications that once pilloried Soros now praise him and vice versa? In the 1980s and 1990s, when Soros was seen as an anti-communist due to his support of the Polish Solidarity movement to the tune of $3 million per year, the Right defended him as a principled philanthropist. Conversely, the Left saw conspiracies starring Soros as a CIA asset or a catspaw of American empire.
The political polarities reversed when Soros spent a fortune trying to defeat President George W. Bush in 2004. Soros donated some $3 million to the Center for American Progress, founded by former Clinton Administration officials, another $2.5 million to MoveOn.org for its anti-GOP efforts and poured $20 million into America Coming Together, a front-group for the Democratic party. Soros went on to fund drug-legalization efforts in California and National Public Radio in Washington, D.C.
Like buying indulgences in a medieval church, Soros had bought his way into liberal heaven.
Now it is the Establishment Left that hails Soros as a disinterested benefactor while the Right imagines vast conspiracies involving the Council on Foreign Relations and the International Crisis Group. Former Fox News host Glenn Beck began referring to Soros as “spooky dude” and presented hours of charts and chalkboard blueprints of Soros’ non-profit empire. The Right, which by temperament might be disposed to regard him as some kind of Ayn Rand hero, increasingly views him as a shadowy manipulator of markets and men.
So, in the place of real investigative reporting, the press presents us with one of two portraits: Soros is either a disinterested global philanthropist or an evil genius in the control room of some complex, cosmopolitan conspiracy. Who holds which view rotates as Soros’ pattern of giving shifts.
No matter who holds which view, both are wrong. No one is that disinterested and conspiracies in modern democracies are the pastimes of the powerless.
In reality, Soros has the politics of the gifted speculator that he is. When he sees volatility and the ability to use a relatively small amount of money to leverage world events in his desired direction, he invests or donates. Sometimes he wants to make money. Often he just wants to make a difference. When you have billions, leaving a legacy is often more important than piling up treasure. But what does that legacy mean for the U.S.?
Soros and Anti-Americanism
His money has created a unique foreign-policy legacy, as Britain’s New Statesman noted in 2003:
In 1984, [Soros] founded his first Open Society Institute in Hungary and pumped millions of dollars into opposition movements and independent media. Ostensibly aimed at building up a ‘civil society,’ these initiatives were designed to weaken the existing political structures and pave the way for eastern Europe’s eventual colonization by global capital. Soros now claims, with characteristic immodesty, that he was responsible for the “Americanization” of eastern Europe.
From 1991, his Open Society Institute channelled more than $100 million to the coffers of the anti-Milosevic opposition, funding political parties, publishing houses and ‘independent’ media such as Radio B92, the plucky little student radio station of western mythology which was in reality bankrolled by one of the world’s richest men…
In less open societies, like Russia, it easy to believe that Soros is simply acting as a kind of one-man mission-impossible team for American diplomats. If he fails or is caught, the secretary will deny all knowledge and the tape will self-destruct—at least in the imagination of some Russians. This leads some governments to act as if Soros and America are one—and to hold America accountable for Soros’ actions. Denials just make those governments more certain of their suspicion that Soros is working for Uncle Sam.
If you read the breathless Russian press coverage of Soros, you’d think Glenn Beck was a decaffeinated moderate. Consider the Russian press coverage of Azerbaijan president Aliyev’s visit with Soros in New York in 2004. While the Russian press accurately noted that Soros favored John Kerry for president, it jumped to the wild conclusion that Soros could get a Kerry Administration to change its Central Asia policy.
Instead, we need a sober and sustained investigation into Soros’ overseas adventures before his involvement causes real trouble for the U.S.
Since the sprawl of Soros’ financial ties could fill a book, let’s limit ourselves to Soros’ activities in Georgia and Azerbaijan.
Georgia on Soros’ Mind
After the “Rose Revolution” in Georgia, a number of Soros employees found themselves in power. Consider the case of Alexander Lomaia, who went from running Soros’ Open Society Georgia Foundation to being Minister of Education and Science and later Secretary of the Georgia’s Security Council.
Nor was Lomaia alone in making the jump from Soros’ cubicles to government suites.
Georgia’s opposition Labor Party leader, Shalva Natelashvili, contends that “Effectively, George Soros is the president of Georgia, whereas [President] Saakashvili and [Prime Minister] Zurab Zhvania are his governors. Soros’s foundation nominated nine ministers of the Georgian government, and all of them were appointed. When they accomplish their mission, they will have to hand over the key posts in the government, economic and political levers of power, ports and railways to Soros. These are the ministers of the economy, culture, security, justice, education and so on. We do not even pay salaries to our government ministers, Soros does. Saakashvili and his team-mates sold themselves out.”
The opposition leader provided no real evidence that Soros is paying the salaries of government ministers, but the damage is done. The movement of Soros personnel into power makes the opposition’s claims seem plausible to many Georgians. And this fuels anti-Americanism among Georgians, where there was virtually none before. If the opposition comes to power, we can forget about U.S. military and intelligence cooperation—which came in handy during the Iraq war.
Soros is actively working to leverage his influence to support Samir Sharifov, perhaps by promoting another “Rose Revolution.”
Meanwhile, regional officials are warning that Soros’ involvement may be pushing the region toward war. “Armenia is interested in war, more so than Azerbaijan. They want to gain further justification of the occupation in Karabakh, so they would be looking for an opportunity to provoke. So war is a possibility but it will only start with a provocation,” Azimov, Azerbaijan’s Deputy Foreign Minister told Turkey’s Hürriyet Daily News in a recent interview.
Azerbaijan officials openly wonder if Soros is freelancing or acting with the approval, spoken or unspoken, of the State department and White House in support of Azerbajan’s Sharifov. Actually, they wonder only as a matter of politeness. They think they know the answer and that Soros is doing Obama’s bidding. This is a dangerous misconception to give them.
How Soros Makes the World More Dangerous
The backlash against Soros’ foreign policy is growing in Central Asia. Ercis Kurtulus, head of the Turkey’s Social Transparency Movement Association (TSHD), said: “Soros carried out his will in Ukraine and Georgia by using these NGOs…Last year Russia passed a special law prohibiting NGOs from taking money from foreigners. I think this should be banned in Turkey as well.”
Soros is hated because many Eastern Europeans and Central Asians believe that he is using his money to subvert their political systems. Rightly or wrongly, this view tends to promote anti-Americanism. And it gives dictators a talking point to use against American diplomats.
Ironically, Soros does not have a particularly pro-America foreign policy, even though he does champion selected human-rights issues and bring down dictators. In his book The Age of Fallibility,Soros writes: “the main obstacle to a stable and just world order is the United States.” He opposes America’s war on terror and sees America’s global leadership as a net negative for the world.
Does Soros care that his personal foreign policy is putting America at risk? Not likely. When asked whether he felt responsible for his role in the 1997 East Asian currency crash, he famously responded: “As a market participant, I don’t need to be concerned with the consequences of my actions.”
As a matter of principle, he is right. Markets correct when they are free to move and penalizing speculators does more harm than good. But political markets—determining which officials ascend in which lands—have different ethics. Soros doesn’t seem to see the difference.
And, so far, neither do the officials of the Obama Administration. Let’s hope they learn before it is too late