The Marshall Plan Should Inspire Romney’s “New Course in the Middle East” Reply

Romney should draw more lessons from Sec. of State George Marshall’s example.

By Bradley Bosserman

Mitt Romney’s October strategy appears to hinge on attacking President Obama’s handling of the Middle East. He took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to call for “A New Course,” yesterday he gave a major address on his Middle East strategy, and his latest stump speech now features a litany of supposed Obama blunders, declaring that “we had an ambassador assassinated. We had a Muslim Brotherhood member elected to the presidency of Egypt. Twenty-thousand people have been killed in Syria. We have tumult in Pakistan, and of course Iran is that much closer to having the capacity to build a nuclear weapon.”

Even after his speech at the Virginia Military Institute yesterday, it is difficult to grasp Romney’s strategy as he either fails to articulate his preferred policies, or calls for actions that have already been taken by the Obama administration. Many important questions remain unanswered. If Romney views the outcome of the Egyptian election as a problem, would he have preferred the Arab Spring to not have occurred? If the president’s decision to intervene only non-militarily in Syria is the wrong course, does he support an invasion? If the Obama administration’s approach to Iran is insufficient — despite implementing the most restrictive sanctions in history, resulting in popular riots in Tehran — does Romney favor launching a war to stop the nuclear program? The only hints he offers as to how he would answer these questions is a promise to more fully embrace Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and an invocation of George Marshall, declaring that he will draw on the lessons we learned “since World War II.”

So what were those lessons? Between 1947 and 1952 the United States implemented the Marshall Plan, supporting recovery and democracy promotion in Europe through trade liberalization, industry modernization, security pacts, and $13 billion in aid. These were the policies that led to lasting growth, stability, and European integration. Romney’s vision of the U.S. response to the Arab Awakening, however, is nothing like the Marshall Plan. In fact, it isn’t really a plan at all.

A new survey conducted in Tunisia by the International Republican Institute reveals that actually applying the lessons learned during those post-war years could be the key to solidifying the democratic transitions in the Middle East. Tunisians are drafting a new constitution, President Marzouki is bending over backward to make his commitment to democracy well-known to the West, and a plurality now prefer secular government — with support for the separation of church and state up 18 points since January. But these positive indicators are fragile and threatened by an ongoing economic crisis. That same survey indicates that 70 percent of respondents believe the economy to be bad or very bad, while the top three priorities Tunisians think need to be urgently addressed are unemployment, economic reform, and living standards. Faced with this reality, it is easy to imagine the strategy that would be suggested by George Marshall. In announcing his plan in 1947, he declared that it was “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. Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos. Its purpose should be the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist.” These words are no less true for North Africa today than they were for Western Europe following World War II.

The Obama administration has been reprogramming money in order to help aid these economies as they undertake the difficult task of reform, transformation, and growth. An ad hoc Middle East Response Fund managed to scrape together $185 million for the region in FY2012, with Tunisia in particular benefiting from another $30 million in loan guarantees and $20 million in “Enterprise Funds.” The State Department, however, has consistently been stymied by Congress when trying to advance a more robust economic development strategy, and they have been largely left searching for change under the couch cushions.

Congresswoman Kay Granger (R-TX) recently blocked $450 million in aid to Egypt. Senator Rand Paul (R-TN) attempted to pull all foreign assistance from Pakistan, Egypt, and Libya. House Republicans voted to eliminate the $770 million MENA Incentive Fund, the president’s signature economic tool designed to support moderates in the region and make strategic fiscal investments. The programs proposed by the White House are hardly of a scale that would constitute a Marshall Plan for the Middle East, but they are animated by the lessons learned in the post-war years and recognize that building long-term stability requires real and lasting economic relationships. If Gov. Romney actually believes that “we need to apply a coherent strategy of supporting our partners in the Middle East,” then he ought to use his soap box to call for Congressional Republicans to stop blocking the president’s strategy for supporting our partners in the Middle East.

Bradley Bosserman is a Foreign Policy Analyst at NDN, a Washington-based think tank, where he directs the Middle East and North Africa Initiative. He has written numerous reports on foreign policy issues at Johns Hopkins University, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Roosevelt Institute, and the New Policy Institute. He contributed a chapter to the recent CSIS publication, U.S. and Iranian Strategic Competition, and his analysis has appeared in The Hill, the Boston Globe, Next New Deal, and Huffington Post.

Photo Credit: Office of the Secretary of Defense, National Archives


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