Tuesday, October 04, 2011

metaphors in the blender

“There’s no way to have a Marshall Plan for the Middle East and North Africa.”

So says the American Secretary of State in this morning’s newspaper.  Bemoaning that the “democratic awakening” in the Middle East and North Africa is occurring just as the American taxpayers have concluded that their federal government has been on a spending binge that would give drunken sailors a bad name.

This blog (at least, this blogger) attempts to avoid the fever swamp of politics.  Too many snakes, crocodiles, and methane for my taste.

But I could not let the State Department’s lapse in logic pass by without comment.

There are good reasons to pump American dollars into the sands of North Africa.  For instance, Christian charity.  Or even good old-fashioned Machiavellian ally purchasing.

But a Middle East Marshall Plan?  Hardly.

Hillary Clinton and I are about the same age.  What we have learned about the Marshall Plan we have read in history books.  But one of us seems to have a rather selective memory.

The United States implemented the Marshall Plan (more accurately the European Recovery Program) in 1947 to assist the European nations to recover their economies following the devastation of World War Two.  With one goal in mind -- to stop the spread of Russian-sponsored communism.

Within four years, with $13 billion of aid, Europe’s economy recovered well above its pre-war levels.  And that is why the term “Marshall Plan” is slapped on politician’s pet projects.  It is one of the few governmental programs (other than war) that succeeded in its stated goal.

But where is the metaphorical comparison between Europe and the Middle East.  Europe started with an industrial base prior to the war that was as strong or stronger than the American economy.  In fact, but for World War Two, America may not have surpassed Europe’s industrial output.

Anyone who has ever put a carburetor back together knows it is not the same thing as attempting to manufacture a car engine from scratch.

And that is where the Middle East is.  Most of the nations there grow crops or extract natural resources as the basis for their economies.  For many reasons, they do not have industrial economies.

Then there is that “democratic awakening” comment.  I was thrilled to see the authoritarian leaders in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia get dumped from their thrones.  (And I would not mind seeing the heels of several more head out the door to that old historical ash heap.)

But mobs overthrowing governments seldom lead to democracy.  At least, not the democratic republics we imagine would be in every nation's self-interest.

Paris 1789.  Moscow 1917.  Mexico City 1910.  The list could go on and on.  Almost always ending in tears.  But why?

Without a system in place that honors property rights, the rule of law, and respect for minorities, democracy will be nothing more than mobocracy.

And there is the rub.  The State Department would like to offer aid to speed up the process and to ensure that people favorable to our interests will prevent people coming to power who would be just as happy to see The West toted out to the ash heap along with the Yemeni president.

If we have learned anything, we know that aid to allies seldom gets us the deal we bargained for in the anarchic marketplace of nations.

What do you do when a product has a bad name?  I have been in Mexico long enough to know the answer to that question.  Got a cheap watch?  Slap Rolex on it and wait for PT Barnum’s suckers to line up for theirs.

That is why a program to buy friends in North Africa is touted as a Marshall Plan.  When that Rolex stops ticking, the current political lot will be gone.

And that is why we try to remember our history -- and why politicians of all stripes would prefer that we didn’t.


blog said...

Funding flaky regimes is a real problem for the U.S. government - they seem to get it wrong a lot - and probably much of it is as you suggest changing the guard of flaky governments.

NWexican said...

For a moment I thought I had landed on Felipe's old blog.
And then there is medical marijuana.......... :)

Steve Cotton said...

And, of course, its style appeals to my Quaker roots.

Steve Cotton said...

For me, it was a one shot deal.  I am feeling far less political this morning.  Of course, I haven't finished reading the newspaper.

NWexican said...

It is a bit of a wonder that as a retired "gubment employee" you'd have ANY interest in politics at all. After being in this business for 20 plus I gag at the thought. The whole process is so, umm, political.

Steve Cotton said...

Enjoy I shall.

There are times that Stephen Colbert reminds me of the old Oscar Wilde quote: "A cynic is a person who knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing."

Steve Cotton said...

Thus, the word "retired" in place of my old title.