Earlier this month Pres. Bush invoked the post-World War II Marshall Plan as he proclaimed an ongoing U.S. economic and military role in Afghanistan. There’s been much talk recently of new Marshall Plans.

Often the term is seen by well-meaning people as a shorthand for selfless economic aid to poor and/or war-ravaged nations or communities – e.g., a “Marshall Plan for education,” “Marshall Plan for Africa,” etc. Bush’s speechwriters sought to wrap the U.S. mission in Afghanistan in just such humanitarian packaging.

But what exactly was the Marshall Plan?

At the close of World War II, communists and the left, who had led the heroic popular resistance to fascism, emerged as the leading political force in a number of European countries, most notably Greece, France and Italy. U.S. ruling circles were determined to prevent communist and popular-front governments from coming to power because this would interfere with their own plans to install U.S. capitalism as the dominant power in Europe.

This policy, which came to be known as the Truman Doctrine, was sold to the public by proclaiming a Soviet expansionist threat and labeling any communist, labor or popular front movement “Russian expansionism.” But the leadership of U.S. capitalism realized they could not impose their power in Europe by open military intervention.

“The administration is not happy about the emotional response here and abroad to the military and ideological aspects of the Truman Doctrine,” wrote New York Times columnist James Reston in 1947. “Consequently, a conscious effort is being made now to emphasize the positive economic problems of reconstructing Europe rather than the military and ideological program of blocking Russian expansion and Soviet communism.”

Enter the Marshall Plan, which was geared to build a market for U.S. goods and a private sector open to U.S. investment, and install governments that would cooperate with U.S. interests. Bypassing the newly formed United Nations, the Marshall Plan was the Truman administration’s unilateral program to impose the domination of U.S. capitalism in Europe.

All this sounds remarkably familiar. Recent news reports have noted a weakening of support for Bush’s endless “war on terrorism.” The Stop the War outpouring on April 20 is a manifestation of a growing “emotional response” to the “military and ideological aspects” of the Bush Doctrine.

So, it’s not surprising that Bush’s handlers turned to Marshall Plan talk, all the while obstructing international peacekeeping or humanitarian aid for Afghanistan. Like the original Marshall Plan, the real aim is to establish the dominance of U.S. transnationals abroad.

After World War II, with Europe shattered and Britain no longer a serious competitor, U.S. capitalism seized the opportunity to ramp up its economic, political, and military role in that region, to establish itself as the dominant power there and to contain and eliminate communist and progressive governments and movements.

Now, as the sole superpower in the post-Soviet world, U.S. war hawks representing the most right-wing sections of U.S. transnationals are rushing to establish military, political and economic control in Afghanistan and throughout Central Asia, including the former Soviet republics.

“Since September 11,” a recent Monthly Review analysis reports, “the U.S. has set up military bases housing 60,000 troops in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, along with Kuwait, Qatar, Turkey and Bulgaria. Also crucial … is the major U.S. naval base at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.” These are areas where either the U.S. had no presence in the past, or where the number of bases had declined since the end of World War II.

The article cites a December 2001 New York Times report that “[t]he State Department is exploring the potential for post-Taliban energy projects in the region, which has more than 6 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves and almost 40 percent of its gas reserves.”

And in a January Times op-ed article, Richard Butler, from the Council on Foreign Relations, observed, “The war in Afghanistan … has made the construction of a pipeline across Afghanistan and Pakistan politically possible for the first time since [U.S. corporation] Unocal and the Argentinean company Bridas competed for the Afghan rights in the mid-1990s.”

With military bases on one hand, and economic “aid” (always with strings attached) on the other, this administration can accomplish two things: One, make Afghanistan and the entire region safe for Unocal and other U.S. energy transnationals to do their thing. Two, establish a strategic military and economic beachhead aimed at forcing the two major countries in Asia – India and China – to move away from their independent paths and bring them firmly into the U.S. orbit.

These are the real meanings of Bush’s Marshall Plan verbiage. Military strikes or Marshall Plan – either way, the message is not warm and fuzzy.

The author can be reached at suewebb@pww.org


Susan Webb
Susan Webb

Susan Webb is a retired co-editor of People's World. She has written on a range of topics both international - the Iraq war, World Social Forums in Brazil and India, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and controversy over the U.S. role in Okinawa - and domestic - including the meaning of socialism for Americans, attacks on Planned Parenthood, the U.S. as top weapons merchant, and more.