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Why We Need a New Marshall Plan

After 9/11, as a naive high school student, I didn’t get it. How would invading Afghanistan stop terrorism? How would a military invasion change the fact that Muslims across the world hated America? I disagreed with classmates who argued that you can't spend money and expect the world to love you. I was stumped. I didn’t know how we could get the rest of the world to love us, or at least stop hating us.

Two weeks ago, I started looking back to the days after 9/11, playing "Monday morning quarterback" with the decisions of President Bush and Congress. I compared Bush with Eisenhower, a president who choose to invest in our long-term future domestically to solve a national security crisis abroad. To beat terrorism we don't need new weapons, we need to invest in foreign language training, an edge that will carry over to the globalized economy.

The Eisenhower analogy only goes so far. To stop terrorism, or the political violence that wracks the third world, we need a solution that isn't counter-insurgency. The proper analogy is the Marshall Plan. To prevent future wars in Europe, America invested in the Marshall Plan; to stop terrorism, America needs to invest in a new Global Marshall Plan. At the very least, we need to dramatically increase our foreign aid budget.

Like investing in education, this is an idea President Bush almost had. In 2003, he launched the most audacious health care initiative, ever. PEPFAR--President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief--spent 15 billion dollars on fighting HIV/AIDS in Africa and lowered the AIDS deaths on that continent by ten percent. Hate President Bush and republicans if you will, but this program delivered results on a serious world issue, while improving the good name of the US.

Like No Child Left Behind, the issue is one of scale. We spend the equivalent of our yearly foreign aid every month in Iraq. Factor in Afghanistan and regular defense spending, and there is no doubt we spend way more on war than peace. We often mention carrots and sticks, but our budget only buys large, expensive sticks. And sticks don't help development.

We should have increased our foreign aid and international presence immediately after 9/11. Fortunately it isn’t too late. Our government should immediately double our foreign aid budget, and we should take it from the defense budget. Seeing as one aircraft carrier is about 4.5 billion dollars, and doesn't do squat to fight terrorists, the money is there.

Basically we need US billionaires to take the lead. Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett have done their part. Unfortunately, after those three, the push for philanthropy ground to a halt. We need our billionaires to do more frankly. I don't know how we convince the billionaires, short of using crazy taxation policies I don't agree with. I admit this is a pipe dream, but it would help our world stature.

Finally, we need to reinstate the Peace Corps or USAID in a meaningful way. It should be funded at least as well as one of our military branches. And it should strive to get away from government contracting as much as possible. One of the great failures of foreign aid is the addition of multi-national corporations as an extra-layer of bureaucracy between our government and the people we are trying to help.

I said investing in the world would improve the US’s long term future, but I haven’t explained how. The way I see it, huge swaths of the world live on a dollar a day. In other words, they have to buy food, and necessities, and nothing else. That means no IPADs, no Fords, and no Coca-Cola. If the rest of the world could buy more goods, then they will need the services the US can provide. We funneled what will eventually be trillions into the war in Iraq, money that didn’t end up returning to American shores.

five comments

I’m not going to pretend like we’re experts, but I would analogize this to COIN—if our Foreign Policy gives more, America gets more.

Also won big reason Europe never went to war again after WWII was the invention of nuclear weapons, just saying.

Anyways, more on this on Monday.

This is interesting and well written. Thanks for your contributions to the debate.

I agree completely.

One doesn’t have to spend much time looking at charts and graphs and maps to see that the majority of terrorism is born in contries that are desperate for foreign aid and stable governments.

Jeffrey Sachs wrote a book called The End of Poverty that discussed this in great detail. If you have time between your massive list of war memoirs, I highly recommend it.

If we are serious about ending terrorism, we as the most prosperous nation in history must seriously consider foreign aid to be a “better hammer”. Rather than wait until a situation escalates beyond control and we send the carriers and Marines in, we would be much better served to establish clinics and farms and infrastructure to alleviate the suffering that drives desperate people into the arms of extremism.


I can’t say how much I love your PEPFAR example. Eric and I have talked about this a number of times, but I really think that plan was a major “make the world a better place” moments for the Bush administration.

Yeah Matt I guess I just wished instead of being the end, that was the beginning of an entirely new foreign policy. Unfortunately war is more expensive than peace, and Iraq sucked up all the money available.

@Wingnut, thanks for the recommendation. On an older post I pointed out that failed states breed more terrorists than any other states, and it goes along with this argument.