The McCain Gold Standard and Lessons from the Marshall Plan

07Jun07

mcca21499a1.jpgJohn McCain made a careless slip during last night’s debate: he dared to hope for the safe, prosperous and free future of the Iraqi people.

In the polemically-charged Post-Cold War era, such hopes are characterized as cultural narcissism. Subsequent actions, if undertaken by Americans, are deemed “imperialist.” It’s no wonder, then, that few politicians venture into the shrill waters where liberals/cynics/pundits alike blithely recast aid as empire building. Sadly, hope itself has become a casuality of political correctness, cultural convenience, and/or gratuitous irreverance.

Yet McCain remains undeterred. Not even five years in a prison camp, twenty-five years in Congress, nor three decades under the media microscope have dampened his belief and enthusiasm for the best of humanity.

John McCain’s optimism would have been right at home 60 years when the Marshall Plan went into effect across a divided and devastated Europe. The plan was marvelously effective and today the Western world basks in its fruits. And like McCain’s optimism, the plan’s lofty ideals and tragic circumstances are far from outdated. In an enlightening editorial for the CS Monitor, David Harken revisits the goals of the Marshall Plan and illustrates how they still apply to today’s conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere.

First, “the world situation is serious and enormously complex. That must be apparent to all intelligent people,” Marshall stated, with clear resonance in 2007.

Second, the US – and today the powerful European recipients of original Marshall aid – have a natural obligation to help. “It is logical that the United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health in the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace.”

Third, the purpose of reviving the world economy is to “permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist” and “any government that is willing to assist in the task of recovery will find full cooperation” from the United States.

Fourth, to effect a massive aid program of the sort Marshall had in mind, it would require “breaking the vicious circle and restoring the confidence” of aid recipients to govern themselves and create their own prosperity. The initiative must come from those receiving aid and it must be a multilateral endeavor. “There must be some agreement among the countries of Europe as to the requirements of the situation and the part those countries themselves will take.… It would be neither fitting nor efficacious for this Government to undertake to draw up unilaterally a program designed to place Europe on its feet economically. This is the business of the Europeans.”

Finally, the effort should cut across party lines. “Political passion and prejudice should have no part,” Marshall declared. In 1947, he mostly meant that Republicans and Democrats should work together. But intergovernmental prejudices also pose a challenge. If Americans and Europeans, as allies with a shared history and heritage, cannot find harmony in assistance plans for Afghanistan, Iraq, the Palestinian territories, and others, then it will be difficult to keep the spirit of the Marshall Plan alive.

On that note, the most valuable comparison between the complex, postconflict world of 1947 and the complex, still-conflicted world of 2007, comes in the need in both cases to overcome cynicism and despair in looking for the right kinds of assistance, balancing among economic, educational, political, military, and other forms of aid. “With foresight, and a willingness on the part of our people to face up to the vast responsibility which history has clearly placed upon our country,” concluded Marshall, “the difficulties I have outlined can and will be overcome.”

Click here to read the entire editorial.

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