This George Soros and Charles Koch Collaboration Is Exactly What U.S. Foreign Policy Needs | Opinion

Presidents have delivered their fair share of foreign policy speeches over America's 243 years as a sovereign nation.

There was George Washington's farewell address to the country in 1776, in which he warned the American people about the pitfalls of overextension and permanent alliances. Franklin Delano Roosevelt's December 8, 1941, speech to an emergency joint session of Congress requesting a declaration of war against Japan is in the history books of every middle school across the country. And who can forget Ronald Reagan's appearance in front of the Brandenburg Gate on June 12, 1987, in which the two-term president bellowed "tear down this wall" from the rafters?

But there is one speech that often gets overlooked in the popular lexicon: John Quincy Adams' 1821 foreign policy missive on Independence Day pleading for the United States to act with judiciousness and restraint around the world.

America, Adams told the House of Representatives, "goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy." To do so "would involve herself beyond the power of extrication." The United States could put itself in the hazardous position of being stuck in unending conflict, sapping its strength, jeopardizing its values and diminishing its liberty.

Adams may be dead and buried, but his warning about monsters lives on—no more so than in the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a new think tank that was formally launched this week.

Washington, D.C., can be a brutal place for a fledgling organization. Breaking new ground is exponentially more difficult in the foreign policy business, where commonly held assumptions about American power and its unique role in the world quickly solidify into public policy and become a reality in the blink of an eye. The Quincy Institute, however, is not shying away from a fight.

Compared with the more established Brookings Institution or Wilson Center, the Quincy Institute is a relatively small venture with a core full-time staff of a dozen people. Its objectives and principles, however, couldn't be more important at a time when the American public is clamoring for pragmatism.

One of Quincy's top priorities is to break through the hard shell that is the U.S. foreign policy consensus in the Beltway, a consensus that revolves around a hubris and reflexive interventionism that has often dug drained the country's pocketbook, created more problems and driven U.S. statecraft into a ditch.

It's not every day that Charles Koch and George Soros come together on a venture, but the two philanthropists have done precisely that with this new project. Both recognize what the American people want in their foreign policy—more diplomatic engagement with friends and foes alike; freeing the country of undue burdens best left for Washington's partners to manage; and the use of military force only when absolutely necessary to defend the U.S. national security interest. And both realize that the ruling class headquartered in the insular Beltway has abysmally failed at delivering it.

It doesn't take a doctorate in international relations or 30 years of State Department experience to understand why an organization like the Quincy Institute is desperately needed. If U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War period was relatively focused on winning the bipolar competition with the Soviet Union, the lack of a main great-power rival over the past 25 to 30 years has contributed to a sense of disarray, misadventures and misfires.

The list is as long as an 8-year-old's Christmas wish list: NATO enlargement for enlargement's sake; contributing to tremors in U.S.-Russia relations; an invasion of Iraq that was fueled by baseless assumptions, extreme self-confidence and non-existent weapons of mass destruction; a regime change operation in Libya that has in part transformed the North African country into a fiefdom for unaccountable militias, terrorism and irregular migration; and an indefinite war in Afghanistan that can only be charitably described as pointless.

Restraint-oriented common sense has seemingly gone out the window, like loose paper in the wind. And rather than closing the windows, the network of think tanks and policy institutions in Washington, D.C., has generally taken the role of the risk-averse gambler who drives on the highway like a lunatic with an index finger casually touching the wheel.

Drone protest endless war
A fake drone is silhouetted in front of the White House during an anti-war march in Washington, D.C., on March 21, 2015. The demonstrators were protesting the "endless U.S. war in the Middle East." Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty

In any other industry, poor judgment is punished. People would be reprimanded or demoted, possibly even fired based on bad performance. Regrettably, the foreign policy elite has been immune from what is standard operating procedure everywhere else. Counterproductive, unwise decisions are largely swept under the carpet as if they never happened. Time moves on. The same mistakes are made. And the people who kick the ball into their own net are either promoted, move into new positions or are given television contracts.

In short, accountability in the foreign policy business is desperately lacking. As Stephen Wertheim, a co-founder of the Quincy Institute and its director of research and policy told me, "U.S. foreign policy is deeply broken. It has plunged the country into endless war and offered no way out. The people responsible have not been held accountable, and the American people have noticed."

If the Quincy Institute is able to shake up the scene, expand the dialogue and help deliver the commonsense foreign policy the American people increasingly desire from their leaders, then the new organization will be doing the country a great public service.

Daniel R. DePetris is a columnist at the Washington Examiner.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's alone.