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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 4/2/09

The End of the Marshall Plan

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General George C. Marshall, "the organizer of victory," as Winston Churchill called him, developed and implemented a plan to raise up Europe out of the ashes of WWII and, not incidentally, provide Americans with trading partners, thus to establish a route from a wartime to a peacetime domestic economy. Of course the European Recovery Program was intended also to provide a solid capitalist foundation for the economies of western Europe, then being threatened and harassed by local communist parties, the Comintern, and outright belligerence by the Soviet Union. By all accounts the Marshall Plan was a huge success, bringing European economies back online and multiplying their growth beyond even the wildest expectations of President Truman, the Congress, or Marshall. The formal Marshall Plan was ended in April 1952. But in a very real sense the set of reliances and relationships that were coaxed and developed out of the Marshall Plan continued, if not in precise formal understandings, but in deep values and assumptions throughout the second half of the twentieth century and at least until yesterday. Yesterday, President Obama announced to the world in London that the United States could no longer be expected to be the sole engine of world economics. The Washington Post chose for reasons that may make sense in D.C. to emphasize the use of the term "voracious" Obama used to describe our half century of being the market for the world's goods and financiers of nearly anything, almost as if our current indebtedness around the world were not beyond "voracious" and well into psycho-pathological obsession. In any case, a world ended yesterday, and it has been little heralded, but soon enough Americans and other Earthlings of all stripes and spots will understand that their relationships with the third most populous country, still the largest and most robust economy in the world, will change irremediably forever. First, let it be understood that President Obama's announcement, his choice of words, his choice of venue, his surrounding aura of courtesy (rather than arrogance), of attentiveness (rather than obstreperous jingoism), and of humility (rather than obnoxious indifference to the causal factors of the current crisis) send a coordinated message. America may have through self-interest "saved the world" fifty years ago, but it is not going into decline, despite what you may read in Paris or Beijing. We intend to participate as befits our economic health, and we are currently, like Miss Otis of another bygone era, indisposed. The rest of the world would be wise to pay due court and make sure we recover. But, even more than that, President Obama's simple message leaves open so many questions that I can imagine the delegates, the heads of state like Sarkozy and Merkel, wondering exactly what America and its leaders imagine the American role will be. That has got to give them sufficient pause to consider what their leverage on the decision-making process and their responsibility for the outcomes might be. It was a stroke of utter genius, for in the space of fifteen seconds, Obama turned assumptions that have governed the world for three generations into history. America in the depths of a thoroughly avoidable meltdown mildly states the victory of her madness and now restates her intent to change the method thereof. The rest of the world has emerged, even China, even India, to full modern adulthood and has taken an adult swig of the same cool-aid that poisoned contemporary Wall Street. If America needed any better mark of her success as a model and reason to now desist, it would be that pigs around the world have emulated America without regard to their own safety and come up with the French disease, the Spanish disease, the Yankee pox, British boils, Russian rash, and unpronounceable economic maladies emanating from Asia. Amid the contentions of the G20 and NATO, the Obama statement changes everything. It says, beyond economics, that others must carry their own weight. Nicholas Sarkozy can rant about re-regulation, but the truth is that he must help lead EU into regulations that make sense and provide plugs and sockets to the rest of the world. Angela Merkel can do her thing about how resilient the German economy is and how nicely it provides for modest unemployment, but exports will soon be tanking for the world's most successful exporter, and the Gastarbeiter two-cultures problem will only be exacerbated, leaving eastern Germany wondering. And then there is the specter of a G2-the United States and China. Obama's statement has cleared the way for the U.S. to negotiate seriously and more freely on a bilateral basis with China, as well he might, for China holds a huge amount of U.S. debt. This is a double-edged razor blade, by the way, for the situation has gotten so out of hand that China cannot divest itself of this debt without pauperizing itself. Still, the relationship is fraught with opportunities for mischief and misunderstandings. The press likes to make the statement that China owns our debt, leaving the implication that China owns us. Nothing could be further from the truth. The assumption that the U.S. is the go-to guy in the world whenever there are genocides, economic meltdowns, armed insurrections, cartel shenanigans, and the like is now defunct. Moreover, Obama has other shoes to drop, and everyone knows it. Laying off GM's CEO was a key maneuver and a clear statement that Barack Obama understands the lay of the land and the times of the tides. JB
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James R. Brett, Ph.D. taught Russian History before (and during) a long stint as an academic administrator in faculty research administration. His academic interests are the modern period of Russian History since Peter the Great, Chinese (more...)

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