Irrespective of the debate over which department and agency should do what in Iraq and what role international organizations should play, there is a bigger issue of how we approach Afghanistan, Iraq and all of Central Asia and the Middle East post-Saddam Hussein and the Taliban. We don't want to make the same mistakes there we made in Europe in 1945-47.
If freedom and democracy are to flourish in Central Asia and the Middle East, a vibrant economy will be an absolute necessity. As we learned from Europe post-World War II, creating economic prosperity will require more than simply restoring order, providing humanitarian assistance and financial aid to rebuild physical infrastructure. We need a program of support and reform available to the entire region - a 21st-century Marshall Plan, if you will, directed, as Secretary of State George C. Marshall put it, not against national enemies or peoples, but against the common enemies of poverty, national rivalries and economic stagnation.
Such an effort must be based on an understanding of what America did wrong between the end of World War II and 1947, what we did right subsequently and why it worked. A review of the real Marshall Plan reveals dangers and pitfalls to be avoided as well as lessons about the ability of the United States and a coalition of willing co-sponsors to transform a region that by conventional wisdom is not ready for capitalism or democracy.
American reconstruction of Europe began with the U.N. Rehabilitation and Relief Administration from 1944-47, which provided food, medicine and emergency assistance. Yet if the goal of the United Nations was to make Europe prosperous again, it was an abject failure. Writing from France in the spring of 1947, Undersecretary of State for Economic Affairs Will Clayton described a "breakdown of the modern economic division of labor," with farmers hoarding goods from the cities and workers in the cities unable to find work, let alone pay for food and energy. Several years of aid had not restored economic incentives or the social fabric of production but arguably had attenuated them.
"The UNRRA," skilled at handing out packages of food and water but lacking any strategic vision of how to lift Europe's economy, "cannot do this job," Clayton told President Truman. "The United States must lead." It wasn't that the UNRRA hadn't done its job. It had. But there was a much broader task - regional economic strategy and growth that those institutions were not capable of carrying out.