Voice

What Marshall Plan-mania?

In honor of President Obama's Afghan drawdown plans to be announced today tomorrow, David Brooks' column on Afghanistan that opens and closes as follows:

So far, few politicians have embraced my plan for a Marshall Plan Tax. The idea is that every time a think-tanker, op-ed writer or retired senator calls for a new Marshall Plan or a moonshot-type initiative to solve a social problem, they would have to pay a tax of $50. Within a few months, we’d have enough money to pay for an actual new Marshall Plan.

The problem with my proposal is this: Do Marshall Plans work? If this country really did galvanize its best minds and billions of dollars to alleviate poverty somewhere or to solve some complicated problem, could we actually do it?

Well, the U.S. has been engaged in a new Marshall Plan for most of the past decade. Between 2002 and 2010, the U.S. spent roughly $19 billion to promote development in Afghanistan. Many other nations have also sent thousands of aid workers and billions of dollars....

This experience should have a chastening influence on the advocates of smart power. When she became secretary of state, Hillary Clinton sketched out a very attractive foreign policy vision that would use “the full range of tools at our disposal: diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal and cultural.” But it could be that cultural and economic development works on a different timetable than traditional foreign policy.

Perhaps we don’t know enough, can’t plan enough, can’t implement effectively enough to coordinate nation building with national security objectives.  

Brooks looks at development in Afghanistan and safely concludes we haven't gotten much bang for the buck. 

Brooks' points on Afghanistan seem on the mark, but my problem is with his framing.  First of all, it's not like the foreign policy community is clamoring for more Marshall Plans.  Given the current U.S. budgetary picture, I think it's safe to say that foreign aid will be the first thing that will be cut in any fiscal deal.  Indeed, here's thje Google Trends analysis of the term: 

Google Trends analysis of

Second, as Tom Maguire points out, Brooks "misses a blindingly obvious point," which is that, "the original Marshall Plan we were re-building Europe, not building it." 

Third, and most important, the Marshall Plan was implemented in an environment in which traditional security has already been secured.  It's one thing to promost economic development in a place in which security is assumed.  Trying to promote economic development, peace and statebuilding at the same time is a hell of a lot harder. 

Brooks is right to highlight the massive problems with statebuilding in Afghanistan.  His attempt to generalize from that woebegotten, landlocked Central Asian battle zone to the rest of U.S. foreign aid is a serious analogy foul, however. 

In Box

Get Smart: How to Cram for 2012

The foreign-policy books you should be reading to get ready for election season.

According to the New Yorker, Barack Obama boned up on international affairs to prepare for the presidency by reading Thomas Friedman. For foreign-policy cognoscenti, this is like reading John Grisham novels to study for the bar exam. With most of the Republican 2012 wannabes, like Obama, having spent their careers focused on domestic issues (or in the case of Donald Trump, the Miss USA pageant), it seemed only fair for FP to help these international relations neophytes. So we asked an array of seasoned foreign-policy professionals and general smart folks to provide reading suggestions for our aspiring leaders. The one obvious conclusion? All roads to understanding American foreign policy run through Joe Nye. 

Joseph S. Nye Jr.
Professor, Harvard Kennedy School

Thinking in Time, Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May. Still the best primer on the uses and abuses of history in policy.

Diplomacy, Henry Kissinger. Chapter 2 on the lasting and contrasting influences of Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt is alone worth the price of the book.

The Future of Power, Joseph S. Nye Jr. At the risk of seeming immodest, I believe policymakers should understand the two great 21st-century power shifts -- the recovery of Asia and cyberpower -- described here.

Robert Gallucci
President, MacArthur Foundation; longtime U.S. diplomat

The Future of Power, Joseph S. Nye Jr. A textured and subtle realist approach.

Winner-Take-All Politics, Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson. A well-argued explanation of how democracy has produced the lopsided distribution of wealth that now characterizes America.

Liesl Schillinger
Book critic, New York Times

Ali and Nino: A Love Story, Kurban Said. Beautifully contrasts Eastern and Western attitudes about progress and faith.

The Desert and the Sown, Gertrude Bell. A remarkably enduring portrait of Middle Eastern character and pride.

Hiroshima, John Hersey. Shocking eyewitness accounts that will help those who seek the executive office to consider the awful responsibility of the power they seek to wield.

Philip D. Zelikow
Former State Department counselor; professor, University of Virginia

The Power of Place, Harm de Blij. Seeing the global and the local.

The Shock of the Global: The 1970s in Perspective, edited by Niall Ferguson, et al. Interesting ruminations about how to comprehend today's crises.

Thinking in Time, Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May. Lux aeterna.

Steven Pinker
Cognitive psychologist, Harvard University

Winning the War on War, Joshua S. Goldstein. Believe it or not, war is in decline, and we know some of the historical forces that drove it down.

Overblown, John Mueller. The title refers to the threat of terrorism.

Getting Better: Why Global Development Is Succeeding and How We Can Improve the World Even More, Charles Kenny. Don't write off the developing world.

Robert Dallek
Presidential historian

Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War, Andrew J. Bacevich. Every candidate for the presidency should read books that strike cautionary notes about how recent leaders miscalculated or allowed themselves to be led astray by false beliefs.

The Lost Peace: Leadership in a Time of Horror and Hope, 1945-1953, Robert Dallek. At the risk of being self-serving.

The Nuclear Delusion, George Kennan.

Vali Nasr
Former State Department advisor; professor, Tufts University

The Future of Power, Joseph S. Nye Jr. A measured rebuttal to the "America is in decline" chorus.

Monsoon, Robert D. Kaplan. Argues convincingly that the great game for global power and domination in the 21st century will play out in the Indian Ocean.

The Rise of Islamic Capitalism, Vali Nasr. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring and Osama bin Laden's death, it is more important than ever that a new president looks at the Middle East through a new lens.

Heather Hurlburt
Executive director, National Security Network

The Best and the Brightest, David Halberstam. Some of American foreign policy's greatest disasters have come when a small group of very bright people became too sequestered.

Unwarranted Influence: Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Military-Industrial Complex, James Ledbetter. Considers how the factors that gave rise to Ike's concern still bedevil presidents trying to manage security spending today.

China: Fragile Superpower, Susan L. Shirk. A book-length primer and a good place for amateurs -- or their campaign staffs -- to start.

John Arquilla
Professor, U.S. Naval Postgraduate School

"Three Blasts from the Past" that every candidate should read:

A Foreign Policy for America, Charles A. Beard. The historical case for less interventionism. Problematic in his time -- perfect for now.

U.S. Foreign Policy: Shield of the Republic, Walter Lippmann. A wartime view of the world to come and of the need to balance commitments and capabilities.

Solution in Asia, Owen Lattimore. A prescient analysis of the inevitable rise of China and of how and why this could prove beneficial for the United States.

Andrew Kohut
President, Pew Research Center

Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World, Margaret MacMillan. The peace talks that turned out to be the scene-setter for the international tumult for the rest of the 20th century.

Ghost Wars, Steve Coll. The backdrop to what we inherited with the invasion of Afghanistan.

Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics, Joseph S. Nye Jr. The importance of attraction as a means of persuasion in international affairs.