Small Wars Journal

Marshall Plans, Not Martial Plans

Marshall Plans, Not Martial Plans by Chris Murphy, New York Times

The carnage of the Syrian government’s assault on Aleppo, enabled by Russia and Iran, was unbearable to watch. Just as unbearable was the realization that the United States could not save the Syrian people from this horror.

That’s hard to admit, and harder for those in the middle of this humanitarian nightmare to hear. But the lessons of how Syria arrived at this moment of catastrophe, and how America arrived at this moment of helplessness, are clear. And if the United States does not learn from them, we will repeat them.

The first lessons come from our short-term mistakes, which have prolonged the conflict and misery and increased the human toll of the war. Civil wars tend to end by one of three means: One side eventually crushes the other; both sides fight so long that they reach the point of exhaustion; or an outside power steps in with overwhelming influence to force a settlement between the sides.

We most likely watched the first scenario play out when the army of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, together with Iranian militias and Russian forces, stormed Aleppo. Our primary mistake was miscalculating the lengths that Mr. Assad’s allies would go to prop up his rule, while believing our halfhearted measures would be enough to tip the balance.

The United States was never prepared to do enough to topple Mr. Assad. That was clear when concern over getting dragged into the conflict led both Republicans and Democrats to overwhelmingly oppose President Obama’s request for congressional approval of a limited bombing campaign to respond to chemical weapons attacks on rebel-held areas by the Syrian government…

Read on.


The Marshall Plan -- utilized in Western Europe immediately following World War II -- this appears to have been undertaken within the broad strategic context of "containing communism;" as in the Old Cold War.

(Thus, in the Old Cold War, it was the Soviets/the communists that -- seeking to advance their alien and profane political, economic, social and value norms throughout world -- found themselves "at odds" with the entire Rest of the World; a Rest of the World that did not wish to be so grossly "transformed.")

Since the end of the Old Cold War, however, it has been the victorious U.S./the West that has been (a) focused on advancing our alien and profane political, economic, social and value norms throughout the world and, thus, has often (b) found itself "at odds" with the much of the Rest of the World.

Thus, to suggest that the idea of a modern-day Marshall Plan -- for example, for nations within the Greater Middle East and/or elsewhere today -- this such idea must be considered within this (decidedly different?) strategic context, to wit: a strategic context which, today, might be characterized as "the West versus the Rest?"

My argument here possibly stated another way:

The Marshall Plan, employed after World War II and in the strategic context of "containing communism" during the Old Cold War (the Soviets/the communists being in an "expansionist" mode back then; the U.S. the West then doing "containment" and "roll back"); this such Marshall Plan was implemented so as to, in the face of communist aggression,

a. Restore, retain, preserve and protect the Western ways of life, the Western ways of governance and the Western values, attitudes and beliefs in Western Europe.

b. All of which, indeed, had long been present in Western Europe.

In sharp contrast, a modern-day Marshall Plan -- employed in the New/Reverse Cold War of today (the U.S./the West now in an "expansionist" mode; the Russians, the Chinese, the Iranians, etc. now doing "containment" and "roll back") -- and in the new strategic context of "advancing market-democracy;" this such Marshall Plan would be utilized to:

a. Facilitate, achieve, implement and/or impose Western political, economic, social and value norms; this,

b. In areas of the world where our such ways of life, our such ways of governance and our such values, attitudes and beliefs have (1) never before been significantly present and, thus, (2) are often considered to be both significantly alien and grossly profane.

These such matters -- and importantly this such distinction -- needing to addressed in a discussion of whether the implementation of a modern-day Marshall Plan, for nations within the Greater Middle East and/or elsewhere today, and in the context of a New/Reverse Cold War (U.S./the West now in an "expansionist" mode) would likely do more harm than good?

In this exact New/Reverse Cold War light (Russia, China, Iran, etc., now doing "containment" and "roll back"), in fact, to both clearly and easily understand the problems of Syria (et. al) today?


Tue, 01/03/2017 - 1:43pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

I am curious what you see as the causes of political instability?

Robert C. Jones

Tue, 01/03/2017 - 8:57am

So, two neighboring states find themselves mired in revolutionary conflict with myriad Sunni Arab groups. A third party non-state actor intervenes, consolidating some of those groups and forming a protostate carved from each, converting these conflicts from purely revolutionary to a blend of revolution with the various population-based groups, and civil war with the new protostate. We were so busy "liking" one government and "unliking" another, that we totally missed an opportunity to facilitate a solution for the population seeing no hope with either one. Sunni Arabs don't want to be ISIL any more than colonial Americans wanted to be French, but if no one else will help you, what do you do?

Both of these governments are deeply flawed solutions for governance in the eyes of the Sunni Arab people of the Region. The US clings to our plan for Iraq, and seek to help the government suppress the revolutionary conflict there; but perversely, seek to facilitate the revolutionary conflict on the other side of the border to force regime change in Syria. This is too illogical to explain.

Then, to make things even more illogical, we can't seem to grasp that a "defeat" of the government and security forces of the new ISIL protostate can only make our chances of attaining the stability we seek even less likely. Such a defeat merely converts a civil war back into a chaotic collage of violently competing revolutionary movements. Given that we are pretty good at statecraft to coerce small weak states, and pretty good at conventional war with small weak states; and pretty bad at dealing with revolutionary movements - why would we seek to convert the political conflict from a form we match up with to a form we do not?

Bottom line, until we can be pragmatic about what causes political instability, and deal with problems more for what they actually are, rather than for what we wish them to be, we will continue to be our own worst enemy. Provoking more terrorism than we cure, and bleeding our national will and treasure out on ankle biter conflicts that are only marginally in our interest to shape.

Overly partisan, but since it written by a politician that is excusable. To clarify, he isn't proposing a Marshall Plan for Syria, he is suggested an ounce of prevention is less expensive than a pound of cure in at risk countries like Jordan and Lebanon. While economics is important, it is not the only underlying issue. We may just end up throwing good money after bad.

He also stated as fact that if we intervened decisively, we would have got stuck in a bloody quagmire. At best, that is mere conjecture. It was more probable that if we supported the resistance it would lead to a protracted and bloody conflict, which it did. Suspect it would have been a different story if we enforced the red line and destroyed Assad's air force, or if we just stayed out of the conflict altogether. Obama will spend the rest of life trying to justify his decisions regarding Syria. The democrats will try to help, but at the of the day it is pretty clear he made poor decisions, of course that is a judgement based on the benefit of hindsight.

Dave Maxwell

Mon, 01/02/2017 - 10:51am

We throw out the phrase Marshall Plan without really seeming to understand or remember the history or we want to misapply to conditions for which the idea is unsuited.

Just to keep a few things in mind. We provided support to European nations after the surrender ended the Second World War. And most importantly we provided resources that allowed European nations to rebuild themselves. We did not rebuild Europe for them and most importantly the plan was implemented after the conflict had ended.

Today we throw around the Marshall Plan as if we can apply it to all situations and as if it is the answer to ending conflict.


QUOTE Seven decades ago, amid the rubble of World War II, the United States understood the value of spending money to repair economies, democracies and civil societies. That commitment to funding the building blocks of peace has disappeared. In 1949, the United States spent 3 percent of its gross domestic product on this type of foreign assistance. Today, that number is about two tenths of a percentage point, a 93 percent reduction.

To use another illustration: Today, the Defense Department has more military band members than the State Department has diplomats.

A new Marshall Plan for at-risk countries and regions will not guarantee global security. It took Europe more than 1,500 years after the fall of the Roman Empire to establish peaceful coexistence. In the Middle East, it’s been just 100 years since the Ottoman Empire fell, and the region has not yet found its way to a new order.

But what the United States is doing — using its military to try to bring about political change — isn’t working. Restraint can feel counterintuitive, even cruel, but the alternative is doomed to failure at a far more cruel cost. The most humane, and effective, policy is to spend money up front to prevent catastrophe. END QOUTE.

And I think the US government has about 15,000 Foreign Service Officers in the State Department, about 7,000 Special Forces soldiers (Green Berets) in the Army, and about 6,500 musicians in the four services.