Overall, giving by conservatives in America to support organizations and projects concerned with foreign policy and national security, as well as to groups and efforts at work “on the ground” in other countries that promote democracy or provide humanitarian aid, seems to have changed in many ways during the past decade, if not longer—concerningly to some, warrantedly to others. Hence this small online symposium.
To begin fostering some discussion and consideration of the important subject, we have simply presented three broad questions to a panel of five respondents:
The respondents, each with deep knowledge and wide experience in the area, are Wilson Center president Mark Green, former Joyce Foundation and German Marshall Fund president Craig Kennedy, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft chief executive officer Lora Lumpe, former Bradley Foundation vice president for program and Giving Review co-editor Daniel P. Schmidt, and Hudson Institute former president and distinguished fellow Kenneth R. Weinstein.
Weinstein’s responses are below. Here are links to the others’ responses: Green, Kennedy, Lumpe, and Schmidt.
Weinstein has also chaired the Broadcasting Board of Governors and was nominated by President Donald Trump to be U.S. Ambassador to Japan.[caption id="attachment_78113" align="alignnone" width="334"] Weinstein (Hudson Institute)[/caption]
Conservative philanthropy is, for better or worse, deeply linked to the vicissitudes and policy preferences of the conservative movement in America. This has been especially the case over the past decade. Mainstream conservative foundations were critical to America’s victory in the Cold War, and, over many decades, provided significant funding to sustain the institutions and intellectuals that shaped eventual victory over the Soviet Union. In some sense, these same institutions also hold some blame for what led to the undoing of the conservative consensus on American foreign policy over the past decade or so by their support for the Iraq War. This support, I believe, arose in an era of what might be called “voluntarism” in American foreign policy: the naive belief that, just as we defeated the Soviet Union and reformed the welfare state at home, we could and should intervene in Iraq to change the Middle East all for the better.
When that war failed to bring the expected results—and frustrations deepened about the prospects for Iraq, especially given the harm being done to American soldiers there—it became increasingly difficult to support and underwrite policies of deep global-security engagement, first, among the conservative base, and then, among conservative elites. The longstanding and traditional impetus among limited government conservatives to focus on home, rather than abroad, came to the fore. (This tendency was exacerbated by the increasing tendency of so many on the right to put money directly into elections and political advocacy campaigns to try and shape politics directly, rather than into shaping the policy framework through research and analysis.)
And several of the main institutions responsible for promoting sober analysis of the major geostrategic threats America faces turned their focus from foreign and defense policy. (I should note that Hudson Institute, which I served as President from 2011-2020 never turned its back from this kind of work, even when it was increasingly challenging to get this work funded by mainstream conservative foundations.) Simultaneously, the academic study of international relations became detached from strategy, history, and culture, either increasingly driven by systemic models, focused on abstract models of conflict resolution, or shaped by the left’s broader narrative among the dangers of American power. The result was that the tradecraft of grand strategy and deterrence central to America’s global role fell into decline.
The turn of so much of mainstream conservative philanthropy away from engaged foreign and defense policy work has been to America’s detriment, and to the detriment of the world as well. Serious policy work doesn’t happen overnight: it often takes years of analytic work to develop. This is especially the case in the era of social media, when sloganeering and vitriol often take the place of serious thinking. Reduced funding and emphasis have made it harder to cultivate sensible foreign-policy experts in academia or think tanks doing important research or mentoring promising students.
Moreover, it has made foreign and defense policy—with certain notable exceptions, such as promoting a strong U.S.-Israel relationship—a much lower priority for the conservative movement. Leading conservative candidates in key congressional races have fallen victim to some of the same “blame America” rhetoric than has traditionally been the province of the American left. We’ve now seen the results of a disengaged and uncertain America on the world stage from the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, as well as the spread of left-wing populism in Latin America.
As one Japanese strategist noted, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was a 9/11 moment, a moment to rethink what we are doing. The invasion showed the world that the unthinkable could be thinkable, that the unimaginable could be reality. The era of post-modern fantasy of global cooperation, already challenged by the rise of Xi Jinping’s hegemonic authoritarian tendencies, is over. If ever there was a call to rethink what America and our allies are doing in foreign and defense policy, this was it.
The security of the U.S. and our major allies in Europe and Asia is increasingly threatened. It is time for conservative philanthropy to face this challenge with the focus it deserves, and return to supporting serious, sober, creative, security-oriented foreign-policy work today as it did in the 1970s and 1980s.