A Right-Leaning Foreign-Policy Think Tank Shuts Down

The Foreign Policy Initiative, whose primary seed donor was billionaire Paul Singer, will cease operations soon.

Steve Marcus / Reuters

The Foreign Policy Initiative, a well-known, right-leaning think tank in Washington, is shutting down its operations.

FPI will close this summer, most likely in August, according to four sources with knowledge of the situation.

The think tank was founded in 2009 and its primary seed donor was Republican hedge-fund billionaire Paul Singer, among other benefactors. Singer was critical of President Trump during his presidential campaign, saying last summer that the then-candidate’s trade policies were “close to a guarantee of a global depression—widespread global depression.” But the two have appeared to make amends since Trump’s election.

“Even before the election, Paul, I think, had some questions about whether FPI was providing enough return for his investment in terms of moving the needle on things,” said one veteran Republican foreign-policy hand familiar with the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Like a lot of things, after the election of Trump, the question was: What are they going to do?”

Singer “decided to reduce the amount of money he was giving to FPI to a very low amount, and all the board members came to the conclusion that there was no point in continuing,” this source said.

Another Republican source familiar with the organization’s closing said that the group was seen as having outlived its usefulness. “The organization was set up to really accomplish two main things, which was basically to try to keep the Republican Party focused on Iraq and Afghanistan,” this source said. “That mission is no longer relevant.”

“This was not some rash decision—this was kind of part of the plan,” this source said. “The initial impetus for the thing was always to sort of beat back the isolationist strain in the party at the beginning of the Obama era,” said one Republican operative with ties to the organization.

Someone who has been involved with the organization at a senior level said that “it was always supposed to be temporary,” and that plans to wind down the group had been “in motion” for two years. FPI’s most recent publicly available 990 form, from 2015, shows that it received just over $1.5 million in grants that year.

FPI’s staff has dwindled in number as the organization prepares to draw down. Its former policy director, David Adesnik, recently joined the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and fellow Jamie Kirchick’s move to the Brookings Institution was announced this week. Sources said that no more than a handful of staff are left at the think tank.

FPI’s board of directors includes some of the most prominent names in the “Never Trump” Republican foreign-policy world, such as Bill Kristol, Robert Kagan, and Eric Edelman.

The person who has been involved with the organization at a senior level said that the decision to shut down the group did not have to do with its ties to Never Trump Republicans, but that this presidency does change the context in which FPI has been operating. “The Trump era is not why FPI shut down,” this person said. “But the Trump era does affect how those who founded FPI are thinking about what should come next.”

“I think there will be internal disagreements between the founders,” this person said, about whether to “isolate and abandon” the administration or to be “critical when necessary but cooperative.” This source said that Singer had not directed the group to shut down, and had in fact encouraged it to keep going through the 2016 campaign. “We should have wound it down sooner,” the source said.