Monday, February 23, 2009

U.S. foreign policy, 1947, Stalin, The Marshall Plan

Kissinger, Diplomacy, p. 453: “Once the challenge had been defined as the very future of democracy, America could not wait until a civil war actually occurred, as it had in Greece; it was in the national character to attempt the cure. On June 5, less than three months after the announcement of the Truman Doctrine, Secretary Marshall, in a commencement address at Harvard, did just that when he committed America to the task of eradicating the social and economic conditions that tempted aggression. America would aid European recovery, announced Marshall, to avoid ‘political disturbances’ and ‘desperation,’ to restore the world economy, and to nurture free institutions. Therefore, ‘any government that is willing to assist in the task of recovery will find full cooperation, I am sure, on the part of the United States Government.’ In other words, participation in the Marshall Plan was open even to governments in the Soviet orbit – a hint taken up in Warsaw and Prague and just as quickly squelched by Stalin.

“Anchored to a platform of social and economic reform, the United States announced that it would oppose not only any government but any organization that impeded the process of European recovery. Marshall defined these as the Communist Party and its front organizations: ‘. . . governments, political parties, or groups which seek to perpetuate human misery in order to profit therefrom politically or otherwise will encounter the opposition of the United States.’

“Only a country as idealistic, as pioneering, and as relatively inexperienced as the United States could have advanced a plan for global economic recovery based solely on its own resources. And yet the very sweep of that vision elicited a national commitment which would sustain the generation of the Cold War through its final victory. The program of economic recovery, said Secretary Marshall, would be ‘directed not against any country or doctrine, but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos.’ Just as when the Atlantic Charter had been proclaimed, a global crusade against hunger and despair was found to be more persuasive to Americans than appeals to immediate self-interest or the balance of power.”


It is rare, if not impossible, that we would only have one reason for doing anything at all important. It was a mistake of the Bush Administration to emphasis only one reason, and a wrong one at that, for removing Saddam Hussein, but back in 1947 we had more eloquent arguments for a similar “crusade.” One foreign-policy “reason” was containment of Soviet aggression, but that reason was going to be very difficult to explain to a populace that was barely interested enough in politics, let alone foreign policy, to come out to vote. Any case of individual containment, as in what occurred in the Korean War, was going to have to be “sold” on its own merits and not on the grandiose strategy of containment, but economic assistance was easier for Americans to understand.

We went through the “Great Depression” period understanding economic assistance: “brother, can you spare a dime.” Who didn’t benefit from or benefit a relative or friend during that period? Roosevelt’s programs of economic assistance were very popular; so when the attention of the American people was directed, in 1947, toward a devastated Europe, they didn’t need to be “sold.” Their hearts were already in the right place. Notice that Marshall attached a few strings to this economic assistance. They were consistent with Kennan’s, and Clark Clifford’s, opposition to Soviet Policy. They were consistent with the policy of containment.

And Stalin understood the Marshall Plan as such. He was right and there was truly an aspect of “containment” in the Marshall Plan, but there was also a very real desire on the part of most Americans to assist the needy, to spare their brother a dime. I don’t know if Stalin ever acknowledged that other reason, but now that the Cold War is over we can ask his ghost if it was worth it. Was it worth subjecting the Russian and Eastern European people to decades of impoverishment in order to further the goals of a “Communism” that had failed, that was never going to work and that would have to be abandoned in 1989?

We can perhaps defend Stalin by arguing that he didn’t know that Communist policies and programs were going to fail, but hadn’t the “altruism” of Marxist-Leninist goals already failed? Wasn’t the oppression, ruthlessness, and brutality he was imposing too diametrically opposed to that “altruism”? We have seen that the steps toward Communistic altruistic goals falter rather quickly and degenerate into a totalitarian dictatorship bent upon preserving its power – with no evidence of further pursuit of altruistic goals. Isn’t that what happened to Stalin? Isn’t that what happened to all those who came into power on the wave of communistic altruism?

Now the Cold War is over, not because anyone defeated Soviet Russia militarily, but because its altruism faltered and fell. “Communism” was not the superior system it long pretended to be. It was an inferior system that couldn’t compete with Western Liberal Democracy. We observe the same thing about Islamism. It too contains an economic system and it too, Western economists predict in advance, cannot compete. Shall Islamism take over nations in the way that Communism did in the 20th century? Shall it be given its decades of experiment? Shall it be allowed to fail on its own with no more than “containment” to oppose it? There is a strong argument that Islamism will never achieve the power or status that Communism did in the 20th century, that it will never rise above being a nuisance. Olivier Roy and Gilles Kepel have argued to that effect, and their arguments influence Francis Fukuyama and may have influenced President Obama as well.

So on the one hand, from the point of view of the U.S., we had to decide how best to oppose an avowed enemy, one who vowed to bury us. In regard to the USSR, we chose the dual strategies of “containment” of Communist expansion, and “economic assistance” to potential or actual “targets” of Communist expansion.

In regard to Islamism, a system which has also vowed to bury us, we don’t have a very clear strategy. We will certainly attempt to prevent any actual attacks, and as long as all we are opposing is terrorist-type activities, perhaps that is enough. Invading an entire nation to prevent potential aid to terrorists and disruption to an important region has been deemed by much of the world excessive; so it doesn’t seem likely that we shall try that again any time soon.

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