A man in full: Raw Story interviews George Soros
Liberal investor George Soros (Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung/Flickr)

The following was originally published Sept. 18, 2006.

Raw Story’s John Byrne: I know you didn't want to get tied down on a particular presidential candidate, or individual personalities, but I'm wondering if the Democrats were to take the House in November, and you were sort of the leader of the party -- or the Speaker -- what would be your top three priorities?

George Soros: Well, I haven't given any real thought to that. I’d have to reflect on it. Clearly, using the subpoena power to bring to light the misdeeds by the administration would have to be, I think, a top priority.

Now, as far as legislation is concerned, controlling one house -- probably not really sufficient to have a constructive program so it would be more a question of holding the government accountable, because that's all you can do. But it's a very important thing to do and in fact, I think it's essential to capture the House.

JB: You mentioned during the speech that you were pleased that [Sen. Lincoln] Chafee (R-RI) had expressed his opposition to [UN Ambassador John] Bolton. In the area of moderates -- particularly the area of moderate Republicans increasingly isolated from their own party, do you support moderate Republicans and conservatives?

GS: I think, I consider it essential to re-establish a well functioning democracy. To recapture the Republican Party from the extremists -- I don't think it can be done without a defeat that will lead the Republicans to regroup, when the extremists are distracted. Right now the extremists are still ridding themselves of the moderates in the Republican Party, as you have with the seen with the serious challenge to Chafee. It's interesting that the White House and the National Republican Committee decided to back Chafee, because they want to retain control of the Senate, and they are willing to put up with a maverick like Chafee -- you know in order to do that so it shows that they are that beleaguered. But I don't yet see moderates knocking out Republicans. There are many radical or extremist challengers to moderates within the Republican Party, and very few -- if any -- to the extremists from moderates. So the process for regaining the Republican Party hasn’t yet begun.

JB: You mentioned that during the speech you didn't think Iran should possess nuclear weapons capabilities. I'm wondering if there are specific steps you would urge or if you were Secretary of State how you would work diplomatically?

GS: You have to avoid posing the question, should we allow Iran to have nuclear weapons, or should we use military force to prevent that. Because if you put it this way at the outset because the answer has to be no to both of those alternatives, because a missile attack would be even more counterproductive than the invasion of Iraq, because it would at the moment -- the regime in Iran is not very popular with the people. If there was an attack the whole nation would line up behind the leadership just like America lined up behind the President, and the same would happen to the Muslim world, and to the developing world altogether, so Iran would emerge as the leader of an anti-American block. And a missile attack would prevent the development of a nuclear weapon, so it would be totally counterproductive. Has to be ruled out.

On the other hand, having Iran with nuclear weapons is also unacceptable. However, you have at least five years before Iran could develop nuclear weapons even if it started, went beyond the red line and broke the [Nuclear Proliferation Treaty] officially. So those five years have to be used to find some solution of the problem and this I would seek on two levels. One is a regional level, and it was an accommodation with Iran which would recognize Iran's security concerns, which would somehow meet those requirements, which would induce them to abandon their nuclear program. And that's even in this present state in which Iran is in the hands of extremists, is not at all inconceivable.

The other is to recognize that the long-term nuclear proliferation treaty has broken down, and there now is actually an incentive for other countries to acquire nuclear weapons, and if Iran does it neighboring countries will have to follow. Therefore you really need to reconstruct a more effective nonproliferation treaty that would address the legitimate concerns of the non-nuclear powers. And that would involve -- I think -- rules that would apply equally -- a nuclear freeze that would apply equally to the nuclear 'haves' and the nuclear 'have-nots,' with intrusive inspections which would apply to the United States just as much as to Iran. And I think there's a good chance then that Iran would abide by such a treaty and if not, I think there is a better chance of bringing the right kind of pressure which may at that point not exclude military action to get Iran to comply. So that could be the departure for us.

JB: In the introduction to your book, I'm curious about your argument of sovereignty as an anachronistic concept particularly in lieu of … the European Union and the difficulties they’ve had with common foreign policy … and also the seeming weakening of the UN. I'm wondering how you make that argument …and what the consequences are of that argument?

GS: I think that you're right to point to the European Union because I think that the European Union could and should be a prototype of a global open society, where it would actually subordinate some aspects of your sovereignty to common rules that apply to all. And the UN has been successful in that respect. It has now lost its' way, and I think it would be very important for Europe to regain its vitality, being inspired by the idea of providing a prototype for a global open society. Because if you can't do it on a European scale where after all there’s a lot of affinity among the countries, then you certainly can't do it on a global scale. So actually based on this argument I intend to open an open society initiative in Europe in the near future. Europe could play a more important role than it currently plays.

JB: Do you see Europe as a counterveiling force to the US?

GS: I think Europe could become an example for the US. In other words, if they developed a common foreign policy which they at the moment don't have, then I think they would be a worthy partner for the United States to cooperate with them, to change its' own approach to world affairs and re-establish what used to be the West. Because effectively, the West was the Atlantic Allicance, and NATO, America and Europe, and America became unilateral. And if Europe became more unified in foreign policy then I think America would have a good partner for re-establishing a functioning world order.

JB: In Russia and moving even father east to China: I know that in the last week China has reported a surplus of 18 billion, and I think it was in the last month. And we’ve seen in Russia a crackdown on the free press, and Putin consolidating power -- do you see this as a failure of a push for an open society in these regions?

GS: I think you're…

JB: It’s sort of conflating two issues -- I guess with China the question is of economic power, and pushing a status quo, and I think in Russia the question is more about oppression.

GS: Yes, that's right, and I think two very different situations. I think that China is the main beneficiary of globalization; rapidly rising in terms of economic growth and wealth, and it’s basically a positive development. And China has the doctrine of harmonious development which I think is a very wise doctrine in wanting to avoid common political conflicts so as to gather strength, and wealth.

JB: I was particularly intrigued by your suggestion during the speech about saying that American values, or American style democracy isn't necessarily the best form of government for different regions. And you also mentioned that if re-relections were held in Egypt that the Muslim Brotherhood would probably take power there. I'm curious about how you feel about Hamas taking power in the Palestinian region and whether you think the West’s shunning of the Hamas government is an example of hypocrisy in supporting democratic government.

GS: I have a somewhat unusual take on all this because . . . I think that you really can't have a settlement of the Palestinian problem without Hamas, just as you can't have one without Fatah and while Hamas has taken a radical position, having entered government, that position can be modified. And there’s potentially a split -- this is what I wrote in the book -- between the political arm which now having been elected by the Palestinian’s must consider the benefit of the Palestinian population, must be concerned with the benefits of the Palestinian population and the military wing which is run out of Damascus, and has a radical ideological position. This is borne out by the fact that the Hamas prime minister agreed with Abbas -- the Fatah president -- to form a nationally unified government. And when that happened, the military branch provoked an incident that brought on massive Israeli retaliation, which prevented this national unity government from coming into existence.

And just yesterday I read in the paper that government has now begun reformation. So I think this is actually an opportunity for Israel to engage in political negotiations that might lead to a viable settlement, I mean a settlement that would have both main political forces agreeing to it in Palestine and thereby it’s an agreement that could actually stick. And having come to the end of the road of massive retaliation because it hasn’t worked very well in southern Lebanon against Hezbollah, maybe there could be a change of attitudes on the Israeli side and recognize the need for a political settlement. So actually the conditions are more favorable for progress in that direction than before.

JB: But what of cutting off funding as it relates to democratically elected governments?

GS: Well it's … I think it's a very, very tricky problem where I think that it's basically… I have to think very carefully here what I say…

JB: I know this is a very complicated issue.

GS: Very complicated . . . very complicated. One could say that actually cutting off the funds seems to have worked because it brought about a national unity government.

JB: You mentioned Hezbollah -- I was curious about, I know the Bloomberg reporter was trying to get you to speak specifically to pulling out of Iraq. I'm wondering in lieu of what was perceived as a sort of Hezbollah victory over Israel in southern Lebanon, do you think that by pulling out of Iraq would give succor to terrorist movements or feed the argument that’s being made?

GS: I think the argument is valid that pulling out of Iraq, cutting and leaving in a disorderly way would have disastrous consequences. But staying there is also having disastrous consequences, because civil war is actually gaining momentum. So there has to be a change of policy, and I think that change has to be that we've got to get out but minimize the damage that our getting out will cause. And probably the best way to do that is to set a date -- let's say a year from now -- as the exit and use that year to arrange for an orderly exit. And you would then mobilize forces for that because all the factions have something to gain by avoiding a civil war, and all the neighboring countries have an interest in avoid civil war leading to a regional war. So actually, Iran that is at the present time enjoying this discomforture of the United States would then have to do something constructive to prevent civil disorder that could easily spread to Iran because Iran is only half Persian… so I think that you – Turkey…

JB: You would like the neighbors to take a more active role . . .

GS: …to be more constructive and arrange for an orderly exit.

JB: Jumping back to an open society for a moment. You speak a lot about oppressed people and oppressive regimes. I'm curious about what you feel about the role of protecting the rights of gays and lesbians in these societies, and obviously in some areas it’s an issue where they sort of contradict with American values and what priority that plays in your policy making.

GS: The issue is not that much to the fore as it is in this country because of the long tradition of hiding gay and lesbian tendencies or activities. So you don't have, actually -- there hasn't been enough freedom for a gay/lesbian movement to develop. That's the general situation.

JB: Where does it fall on a sort of priority list?

GS: Of the foundation?

JB: With other issues, I mean, freedom of the press -- obviously, it just must be a more difficult issue to address in some of these countries.

GS: It is, and it's a big issue because an open society basically has to decide its own priorities. So while for instance the foundation tends to support whatever gay/lesbian movement there is, you see, I think it would be inappropriate to go in there and create one if there isn't one. So it's really for the countries themselves to find a way to recognize the rights of gays and lesbians, and women, in general. I mean the position of women generally is far inferior to what it is in the West. There is more of a women's movement, as far as I’m aware, there’s a lot stronger women’s movement than a gay and lesbian movement.

JB: You talk in your book about the global energy crisis and you mention today that global warming is an increasingly important issue. I'm wondering if you were to advise major corporations -- obviously you have a lot of business acumen – how would you tell them to address this issue, and do you see economic incentives for corporations to focus on it?

GS: Yes there is an increase in the [focus of] business but you can’t leave it to business. There is an attempt to claim that business can take care of it, but that is not true. Because you've got to create incentives to which business will respond and that has to be a political decision. So you need something for instance like a carbon tax and then you can leave it to business to respond and to maximize profits with a carbon tax in place.

JB: I also wanted to touch briefly on nonproliferation, which I know is very important to you. Do you think the US should be allied with Pakistan as it’s come out so much that the AQ Khan network was instrumental in providing nuclear materials to a variety of countries?

GS: The relationship with Pakistan is very fraught because only Musharraf has positioned himself -- he is our indispensable ally to prevent the country from falling into extremists’ hands. But in actual fact, if free elections were held, all the indications are that the secular parties would gain an absolute majority, the religious parties would get 15-20% of the vote. Now if they [get] 15-20% of the population and it's radicalized can do an a lot of damage. But I think that's one country where holding free elections would have beneficial results, because it would put the extremist threat in proper perspective.