restricted access The Faulty Premises of the Next Marshall Plan
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The Faulty Premises of the Next Marshall Plan

The Marshall Plan. Few U.S. diplomatic efforts evoke such a nostalgic sense of pride and accomplishment. Proposed in June 1947 by President Harry Truman's secretary of state, George C. Marshall, the plan has been credited with helping Europeans recover after the devastation of World War II, preventing communism from gaining support among populations filled with despair, ensuring that Western Europe could become prosperous and strong enough to deter Soviet aggression, and creating a liberal postwar order that planted the seeds for U.S. economic and political dominance as well as for the creation of today's European Union.Although critics of the plan have argued that the financial assistance only marginally fostered the economic growth already taking place on the continent or that it was a tool for enriching U.S. capitalists by expanding markets, the Marshall Plan belonged to an era when it seemed that people all over the world loved the United States. Nearly six decades later, dramatic change is again unfolding on the world stage, marked by the emergence of new threats and the establishment of new rules and institutions. Faced with today's challenges in the Middle East and Africa, U.S. policymakers from across the political spectrum are championing the Marshall Plan as a model of successful foreign policy, an illustration of U.S. strategic foresight and economic as well as political benevolence that can be transplanted from post–World War II Europe to the Middle East and Africa today.

The bipartisan appeal of the policy is remarkable. Among Republicans, for example, President George W. Bush has highlighted the Marshall Plan's [End Page 7] achievements in discussions on Afghanistan's reconstruction.1 Former representative and 1996 Republican vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp has outlined ideas for a Marshall Plan for the Middle East and Central Asia,2 and former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) has called for a Marshall Plan to help the Palestinians.3 Political liberals at home and abroad have also adopted the Marshall ideal. Former president Bill Clinton invokes the plan as a way to win the war on terrorism.4 Gordon Brown, the British chancellor of the exchequer and Tony Blair's presumed successor as prime minister, has articulated the need for a Marshall Plan for Africa.5

Such invocations and proposals reflect the belief and desire that a policy of Western assistance on a scale similar to what took place in Europe nearly 60 years ago can help foster peaceful, stable, and secure allies in the Middle East and Africa; drain support for terrorism; and establish the foundation for a new world order based on prosperity and freedom. As is often the case with the use of historical analogies in policy debates, the Marshall Plan has taken on a kind of mythology, that of an all-powerful nation helping others in need to defeat a mortal enemy. It is understandable why the idea has become today's policymakers' favorite model. They can identify with two of the most esteemed U.S. statesmen, Truman and Marshall, to argue for a policy that reflects a United States (or West) that is generous, strategic, and successful.

Yet as the United States tries to think strategically about crafting an approach to help underdeveloped parts of the world, it is crucial to gain a deeper understanding of why the Marshall Plan worked and to disentangle myth from fact. When thinking about the prospects for a new Marshall Plan, few bother to consider the essential features of the original policy—including the plan's multilateral approach, which encouraged European countries that had just fought a brutal war against one another to work together, and its creation of an entity outside the government bureaucracy, the Economic Cooperation Administration, to deliver the assistance.These aspects of the policy are most commonly referenced, although four other critical issues related to the Marshall Plan should also be highlighted.

First, before there was a plan, there was a vision—a vision of a united Europe that would do for that continent what the creation of the United States had done...


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