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Talk Is Cheap, a Marshall Plan Isn't

August 04, 2003|Rachel Bronson

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was in Israel advocating a "Marshall Plan" for the Palestinians. Proposing new Marshall plans seems to have become common political sport.

In an April 2002 speech at the Virginia Military Institute, President Bush invoked the Marshall Plan to illustrate what was necessary for rebuilding Afghanistan. Before the war against Iraq, the president and his advisors regularly referred to the American success of reconstructing Germany and Japan after World War II under the Marshall Plan.

The Marshall Plan was the height of American generosity and internationalism. After World War II, the Truman administration realized that Washington's massive loan program was not making any headway against Europe's social and economic problems. So Secretary of State George C. Marshall began an effort to build grass-roots support for a massive grant program, an exhausting campaign he likened to a run for the presidency.

But let's remember what it really took to make post-conflict reconstruction successful in the European context. In current dollars, the United States poured about $79 billion into Europe between 1948 and 1952, with most of it coming in the first two years. Germany alone received $8 billion. Over its four-year life, the Marshall Plan cost the U.S. between 2.5% and 5% of its national income. Today that would amount to no less than $200 billion a year.

According to Marshall, the money was needed to reconstruct "the entire fabric of the European economy." In his famous 1947 Harvard speech, he stated "under the arbitrary and destructive Nazi rule, virtually every possible enterprise was geared into the German war machine." Germany was left with a mutated economic infrastructure in desperate need of transformation. As a point of comparison, Iraq's Baath Party held power 23 years longer than the Nazis.

But it took more than money to reconstruct Germany. After the war, law and order was a pressing problem and, unless managed, would have swallowed any and all international assistance. Accordingly, the U.S. took 30,000 of the nearly 100,000 war-weary U.S. soldiers still in Germany and ordered them to assume policing duties. A newly formed constabulary was issued special boots, .45-caliber pistols and horses in order to deal with the likelihood of riots and local scuffles. Each brigade was even assigned a veterinarian. The "Circle C Cowboys," known to the Germans as the "lightning police," eventually had their own training courses and a very new idea about what was required to promote American interests overseas.

Today, what is so striking about all this loose talk of new Marshall plans is how little prepared we are to put anything behind it.

In Afghanistan, between 2001 and today, the U.S. has committed about $2 billion in assistance to the Afghan people. After the end of the Iraq war, Andrew Natsios, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, told the American people that it would cost taxpayers $1.7 billion for the reconstruction of Iraq; a Council on Foreign Relations study published in January showed that restoring the energy grid alone could cost up to $20 billion. Surely Natsios, the former head of Boston's Big Dig, one of the boldest and most expensive public works programs in U.S. history, knows what it takes to rebuild a city's infrastructure, not to mention a whole country's.

Not surprisingly, the U.S. civil administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, has recently acknowledged that the problems in Iraq are a lot worse than the administration anticipated and would require serious commitment.

Of course, Iraq, Afghanistan and a future Palestine are not Germany, and critics rightly point to all the problems with the comparison. Germany was a defeated country, not a liberated one. The Iraqis and Afghans do not have the same experience with democracy as the Germans did. Americans are not as fluent in the language and culture of the Palestinians as they were with the Germans'. All this suggests that our task will be more difficult in the Middle East than it was in Germany, not easier. The investments will be more massive and the troop requirements more demanding.

The administration should come clean with the American people. If we are to re-create the Middle East, as we did Europe, it will be expensive in terms of lives and resources. It is worth it, but the case must be made. The American people supported the president's march to war, in no small part because they bought his argument that Iraq could become a model of democracy for the region.

Public support is there to be mobilized, but it will not come automatically. Until the administration fully acknowledges the depth of the commitment made on behalf of the American people by Harry Truman, Dean Acheson and George Marshall, it should be a little bit more humble when invoking the Marshall Plan's good name.

Rachel Bronson is a senior fellow and director of Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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