Prall: A Marshall Plan for the Middle East


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A strategy akin to the Marshall Plan might be more productive in the fight against radicalism and terrorism than bombs or boots. The original Marshall Plan, implemented after World War II, subdued communist movements in Western Europe and Greece. This was achieved by the United States spending billions on the infrastructure, manufacturing capacity, and reconstruction of Europe. Faced with another ideological threat and war-torn region, why not focus our spending in Iraq on bettering the lives of those in danger of becoming threats to the global community, thus averting their would-be terrorist activities?

In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq. The death toll in the country was 134,000 civilians and 189,000 fighters, journalists, and humanitarian workers as of 2013. According to Reuters, the cost has exceeded $2 trillion. After taking into account the innumerable lives radically affected by war, consider that Iraq is still a ravaged, unstable, collapsing nation.

For decades, the policy at the federal level has been to arm groups or governments in the Middle East that share a common enemy, without analyzing the long-term consequences.

It is not a coincidence that when you spend trillions on weapons aimed at a country, it becomes a more violent and dangerous. Terrorism is a faceless enemy, but its creators (poverty, hunger and instability) are faces the world is more than accustomed to. People who are happy, content, or in a stable situation seldom become terrorists. Would ISIS have the manpower and influence it does today if the factors that manufacture desperation and violence had been eradicated rather than incited?

The Marshall Plan found a balance between assistance and respect that could be found again. In seven years, the economic toll of the most destructive war in history was reversed. The United States spent $17 billion on aid in Europe, approximately $160 billion in 2014 money. The 2013 U.S. military budget was $625 billion. If you distributed the same $160 billion spent on stability and restoring autonomy in Europe in Iraq over the past decade, just $16 billion annually could have fostered job development, economic prosperity, and diversification in Iraq.

Respect for autonomy helped the Marshall Plan succeed. A sticking point for both sides of an aid offer is that the dollars may come with a catch, implied or otherwise. The idea of the Marshall Plan was to get Europe on its feet again, not subjugate the region to become a U.S. province in economic shackles. With that same kind of respect administered in Iraq, both the United States and the Middle East would have a lot to gain from a comprehensive aid package that lacked any imperialistic demands.

Post-Word War II Europe and today’s Iraq are certainly different. The Marshall Plan isn’t the sole reason Europe rose from the ashes, but it was a jump-start to an economy in shambles.

I think it is worth considering the consequences of the methods used to handle the two situations. Both regions fought, or are fighting, a form of existential threat (communism and terrorism). Aid led to prosperity; war has led to resentment. You can’t kill terrorism, but you can remove the factors that breed terrorists.

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