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Afghanistan: Bush Likens U.S. Effort To Marshall Plan

  • Jeffrey Donovan

President George W. Bush recently equated America's rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan to the Marshall Plan, the historic U.S. effort that helped a prostrate Europe to its feet after World War II. But the president's words have not been matched by any policy initiative of near that magnitude. Was the president being genuine in his commitment to Afghanistan or were the words simply empty rhetoric?

Washington, 24 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- A half century ago, then-U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall unveiled a boldly ambitious plan for America to rebuild the war-ravaged countries of Europe, including former foe Germany.

In a speech at Harvard University on 5 June 1947, Marshall declared it to be in America's vital interest to rebuild Europe after World War II. "Our policy," the former general said, "is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos." The plan led to the transfer of $13 billion to Europe from 1947 to 1951.

Last week, U.S. President George W. Bush likened current American efforts to rebuild post-Taliban Afghanistan to the Marshall Plan. In a speech at Virginia Military Institute -- where Marshall himself studied -- Bush said rebuilding Afghanistan must be a top U.S. priority.

"Peace will be achieved by helping Afghanistan develop its own stable government. Peace will be achieved by helping Afghanistan train and develop its own national army. And peace will be achieved through an education system for boys and girls that works."

He linked this effort to Marshall: "[Secretary of State] Marshall knew our military victory against enemies in World War II had to be followed by a moral victory that resulted in better lives for individual human beings."

But Bush provided no details on any new commitments to Afghanistan above the current $300 million a year the U.S. has pledged. This has led some to wonder whether the president was being sincere.

Robert Orr, a former U.S. humanitarian aid official who has served on the National Security Council, is optimistic. He says Bush's speech was important because it puts the president on record as supporting efforts in Afghanistan.

"By raising the rhetoric, the president has put himself and the U.S. government on the line for ongoing major commitments to Afghanistan. They still have not taken shape. The U.S. is still giving Afghanistan roughly $300 million per year; that is nothing close to what the U.S. did for Europe during the Marshall Plan."

Earlier this year, the international community gathered in Tokyo and pledged $5 billion to Afghan reconstruction, which is seen as vital to prevent a resurgence of terrorist bases there as well as to offer hope to a country devastated by more than two decades of war and stability to the region.

But some nations were critical. They said America, which spent roughly $1 billion a month during the first part of the war in Afghanistan, should have given more for rebuilding -- even if Washington is also the top donor to United Nations relief agencies operating in Afghanistan, such as the World Food Program.

Orr says he would like to see Washington give up to $1 billion a year to Kabul for several years. But he says he doesn't expect that.

While not a Marshall Plan, the Bush administration recently submitted a bill to Congress for supplemental funding of some $285 million to Afghan programs. The bill is expected to pass in one form or another sometime between now and next fall.

Orr, now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, had this to say: "The key now is to make sure the United States government can and will follow through on that [Bush's] grand vision."

But others say that it could be a costly political mistake to compare the new U.S. plan to Marshall's. Gary Dempsey is an analyst at the CATO Institute, another policy center in Washington. Dempsey is a confessed foe of "nation-building" plans that he says almost always -- save Marshall's -- backfire. "In invoking the Marshall Plan, we're in a sense setting ourselves up for failure because it's not going to have the success of the Marshall Plan -- by any stretch."

Dempsey says he's concerned the U.S. will get bogged down for years in a costly and ultimately unsuccessful bid to rebuild a country that is far different from the Europe rebuilt by the Marshall Plan.

"Europe had a tradition of the rule of law. They had the customs of commercial society, a highly educated population, industrial know-how -- all of these different factors that don't exist in Afghanistan."

Orr, however, says it is clear that Bush has changed his mind on nation-building. After coming into office critical of past U.S. efforts to rebuild in the Balkans, Somalia, and Haiti, Orr says Bush now believes that he must leave a positive American mark in Afghanistan if Washington is to retain international support for the next phase in its war on terrorism.

"If the United States does not definitively debunk the myth that it 'destroys but does not build,'" Orr says, "it will face an uphill battle finding allies for this and future rounds of the fight against terrorism."

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