SIGAR (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction) may have been throwing up his hands in disbelief when he announced last week the total aid given to Afghanistan since our recent involvement will soon exceed total Marshall Plan assistance following World War II. “SIGAR calculates that by the end of 2014, the United States will have committed more funds to reconstruct Afghanistan, in inflation-adjusted terms, than it spent on 16 European countries after World War II under the Marshall Plan,” reads the report.
The news media have picked up on this tantalizing piece of information. Their interest was piqued when SIGAR announced, among other concerns, there’s no clarity until a democratically elected government succeeds President Hamid Karzai.
The European Recovery Program as it was formally called was, of course, best known as the “Marshall Plan,” named for its instigator, then Secretary of State George C. Marshall. The Marshall Plan has proven to be a model for inculcating a stable post-war reconstruction. So successful was the Marshall Plan that the term is used as shorthand for a raft of initiatives and anything that seems in need of rescue can be expected to receive a call for a ‘Marshall Plan’ in its interest.
That SIGAR should refer to it so prominently in his quarterly report to Congress is revealing for several reasons. Secretary Marshall set a time limit for the Plan that bears his name. The program was begun in 1948 and concluded four years later. There were measurable goals in place to track progress, and four of five were met within four years. The Afghan program apparently has no such timeline in place with goals that are hard to achieve and not easy to measure.
Likewise Marshall knew his concept for economic development could be successful in democratic nations in which free trade with neighbors and friends could flourish. SIGAR’s concern regarding the Karzai replacement is at the top of his list of concerns.
Needless to say the reality of the Marshall Plan and its genius is far more complex than simply the dispensing of money. Marshall shrewdly recognized that having the Europeans themselves take responsibility for the implementation of the funds was key to much of its success. The Marshall Plan was also a means to resuscitate economies that had been decimated by war not create economies from nothing, as in the case of Afghanistan.