Could a new Marshall Plan work in Iraq?

On June 5, 1947, Secretary of State George C. Marshall proposed an aid program, commonly known as the Marshall Plan, to rebuild a Europe suffering from the ravages of World War II and the imminent threat of Soviet communist aggression. Since that time, the Marshall Plan retains a life of its own and lives on as a symbol of stability, international development and cooperation. By and large, the Marshall Plan has been credited with rehabilitating wartime foes, promoting freedom, repairing prostrate economies, and creating a new order that planted the seeds for US world dominance as well as for the creation first of the Common Market, then the European Economic Community (EEC) and then today’s European Union (EU). Nowadays, calls for new Marshall Plans invoke the original as a result of a variety of issues in domestic politics and international relations, but often with very little understanding of what the Marshall Plan embraced. Thus, whenever policymakers propose a new government initiative, whether for the so-called Third World, the former Soviet Union, Southeastern Europe, Africa, Mexico or Central America and rural America or the rebuilding of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, they call for a new Marshall Plan similar to the post-war recovery program for Europe. This gives the impression of taking for granted that there are no problems that could not be solved by a new Marshall Plan. Proposing new Marshall Plans seems to have been a common sport both in the United States and elsewhere. Since the late 1940s, many Latin American leaders have been calling for a «Marshall Plan for a Latin America.» Former president Ronald Reagan’s Caribbean Basin Initiative bears «the stamp of Marshall Plan influence.» In 1981, socialist European statesmen such as Austria’s Bruno Kreisky demanded a «Marshall Plan for Third World nations in the Southern hemisphere» and launched a development summit in Cancun, Mexico. When the Soviet empire collapsed in late 1989, there was also much talk of a «Marshall Plan for Eastern Europe.» Recently, Gordon Brown, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, articulated the need for a «Modern Marshall Plan for Africa and the developing world.» In the same spirit, the Bush administration, although skeptical about nation-building, regularly referred to the American success of reconstructing Germany and Japan after World War II under the Marshall Plan in conjunction with the reconstruction effort in Afghanistan and Iraq. In an April 2002 speech to graduates of the Virginia Military Institute, Bush cast the American commitment to Afghanistan in the tradition of the Marshall Plan’s achievements. Following Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Bush team pointed out that «its plan to rebuild Iraq is modeled on the farsighted spirit of the Marshall Plan.» Andrew S. Natsios, former administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), has compared the reconstruction effort to the Marshall Plan, stating that «the roots of USAID are actually in the Marshall Plan.» Based on the same idea that the US aid initiative led to Europe’s postwar recovery, former representative and 1996 Republican vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp outlined his ideas of a «21st-century Marshall Plan» for the entire region of Central Asia and the Middle East, while former house majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) called for a «Marshall Plan to help the Palestinians.» The Bush administration is not alone in calling for a new Marshall Plan for the broader Middle East. After the September 11 attacks, former president Bill Clinton invoked the Marshall Plan as «a way to win the war on terrorism.» This was echoed by Representative Jim Turner (D-Texas), then ranking member of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, who proposed the Winning the War on Terror Act (H.R. 5291) by drawing lessons from the original Marshall Plan. The former prime minister of Iraq, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, recommended that the time is ripe for a «new international Marshall Plan towards Iraq and the broader Middle East.» Not surprisingly, the US civil administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, defended the Bush Administration’s spending request for $87 billion with a comparison to the Marshall Plan, saying that without a serious commitment, Iraq would become a «global menace.» In the same spirit, Senator Lamar Alexander pointed to the need for a «four- or five-year» Marshall Plan for Iraq. Undoubtedly, all these calls bear elements that mirror the original Marshall Plan’s objectives as they involve long-term initiatives to reconstruct conflict-ridden or war-torn societies out of a hope that poor countries will have a chance to develop economically, or out of a desire to root out terror networks. Naturally, to accomplish for Iraq, the broader Middle East or Africa what the Marshall generation did for Europe, is a step forward. Yet, in many ways, there is a lack of an overall goal equivalent to the post-World War II vision of a free, democratic, prosperous, tolerant and united Europe. Nonetheless, what is so striking about all these loose calls is how little the United States and other international players are prepared to put behind such long-term initiatives. Thus, even if it is politically appealing for the Bush administration to evoke the original plan in order to confront today’s challenges in post-Saddam Iraq, such as establishing governance, eliminating corruption, safeguarding private property and protecting human rights, budget priority has not been their immediate concern. (1) Athanasios Lykogiannis received his doctorate from the London School of Economics (LSE). He is the author of «Britain and the Greek Economic Crisis, 1944-1947: From Liberation to the Truman Doctrine» (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2002). He is currently conducting research on US policy in post-Saddam Iraq.