The Right’s attitude toward the ultrarich has evolved since 2012, when the Republican Party’s presidential nominee was Mitt Romney, a man who campaigned for policies like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Many on the Right now recognize that there is no obvious connection between a person possessing fabulous wealth and favoring a free market economy, as evidenced by the politics of such robber barons as Jeff Bezos, Larry Fink, and Pierre Omidyar.
Yet even prior to that transformation, one name on the list of billionaires has always induced heated reactions on the Right: George Soros. There have been many books authored by and about Soros, and he has been prolific in publishing his opinions on market economies, democracies, and globalism.
In his fourth book, The Man Behind the Curtain, Matt Palumbo, a top researcher for the Bongino Report, condenses the life events and actions that led Soros from being a Holocaust refugee to a successful investor in the hypercompetitive city of London, to becoming one of the most connected and influential kingmakers in American politics.
The account begins with his early life in German-allied and later occupied Hungary, where the very young Soros cooperated with the Axis authorities in appropriating the property of other Jewish families. After the war, Soros was active in supporting anti-Soviet Eastern European movements. The book also delves into his trade practices, some of which even ardent free marketeers would classify as predatory capitalism, such as the shorting of the British pound sterling in 1992 to the tune of £10 billion in what became known as Black Wednesday. But the book quickly shifts its focus to his efforts to influence politics in recent times through funding useful organizations with his generous largesse.
A Perfected Blueprint for Subversion
Palumbo finds some of the most troubling examples in nations Americans either have forgotten or never paid attention to in the first place, such as Albania. This Balkan country’s former president and prime minister, Sali Berisha, has claimed since before his downfall in 2013 that Soros organized a campaign of allegations via a politicized media in order to replace him with a more pliable stooge, the current Prime Minister Edi Rama.
The template used in Albania included spurious claims of corruption and antidemocratic behavior and would be repeated elsewhere. The same playbook used there was copied in other nations across the world, most famously, the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine. In particular, as is mentioned in the chapter focusing on Ukraine, Soros associate Mikheil Saakashvili who served as president of Georgia from 2005 until 2013 migrated to Ukraine in order to avoid prosecution for several controversial crimes in Georgia. Among those was the suspicious death of sitting prime minister Zurab Zhvania in 2005 of carbon monoxide poisoning. Saakashvili’s decision to flee to Ukraine was later rewarded with his puzzling appointment to the post of governor of Odessa by another pro-Soros politician, President Petro Poroshenko.
For those who struggle to understand how governments rise and fall by Soros’ initiatives, Palumbo’s chapters on Ukraine and Eastern Europe delve into the dizzying detail of how Soros coordinated with the watchdog group AntAC (Anti-Corruption Action), media groups such as Euromaidan Press and other NGOs in an interlocking web of groups that pressured Ukrainian civil society to raise the heat on President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. Included in this group were U.S. State Department senior figures such as current U.S. Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt, who was then serving in the same capacity in Kyiv, and current Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, who was then the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs. Both of these major American diplomats placed their thumbs on the scale during the turmoil of 2013-2014 that resulted in Yanukovych’s ouster and the eventual rise of Poroshenko.
Soros’ success overseas has been in moving politicians and policy like chess pieces using money, media, and connections. He has used the same formula with mixed success in the United States, as Palumbo writes in his chapters on Soros’ influence in higher education, local political races, and media organizations. These activities have varied with intensity, but picked up significantly following the George Floyd protests in 2020.
Palumbo details the Soros connections to a number of American nonprofits such as the Reverand William Barber II’s Poor People’s Campaign that have streamlined and amplified the reach of movements that often have a hard time standing out from a crowd of similar groups.
Another way Soros has adapted to the American landscape was his process of forming and molding a flattering class of academics. The most crucial element of this was the founding of Central European University. The CEU’s main function was to serve as a glorified think tank to lend institutional heft to his already formed opinions of how “open society” governments and media should function.
Whereas the CEU started out as a post-Cold War vanguard in Budapest (since closed) constructed in his image, in the United States Soros has sought to influence existing institutions and subvert them from within. As an appendix to the book, Palumbo lists several universities and colleges such as Bard College in New York and the Talloires Network of Engaged Universities as other institutions co-opted or associated with Soros. In the case of Bard, a college with only about 2,200 students in undergraduate and graduate programs, Soros gifted the school a monster $500 million donation in 2021.
It is almost impossible to find an objective and unbiased analysis of Soros’ politics and personality, as most opinions related to him are either in condemnation of his manipulation of political and financial systems or apologia that attempt to paint such criticisms as sinister attacks on democratic “open society” or thinly concealed anti-Semitism.
Palumbo’s is certainly not the hyperbolic polemic that many previous critical biographies of Soros have been, but it takes a dim view of his effects on nations and their discourse, and goes on to warn about how he has prepared his Open Societies Foundation to continue this work once he passes away. What the book lacks is a deeper inspection of the Soros business and investing methodology, as it only scratches the surface of this theme.
Overall The Man Behind the Curtain offers a useful introduction to how this mercurial tycoon has blazed a path for so many similarly minded uber-wealthy influencers to shape politics for better or worse.