Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Dawn isn't coming. Sometimes, the sky is just dark because the sun's gone down.

Ack ack ack ack. via Ezra, Niall Ferguson -- Britain's own Ignatieff -- has a piece in the New Yorker about the Marshall Plan. And he has me most of the way through the article before he starts annoying the crap out of me. Because most of what he says is decently written, and factually correct at least. (In modern terms, the US transferred close to 3/4 of a trillion dollars during the term of the Marshall Plan. Lots o cash.) But here's the part that simply annoyed me to pieces.
In all likelihood, then, Western Europe could have pulled through without the Marshall Plan. But it certainly could not have pulled through without the United States.
This part is almost certainly untrue, despite the well-trodden view that it represents. After the end of the war, Stalin was absolutely petrified of the possibility of another war, and it's kind of bizarre to argue that Europe's economic recovery would have happened anyway without also acknowledging that Western Europe's military recovery would also have happened. The turmoil of the post-war years didn't stop the French from sending troops to Indochina or the British to Africa, or later both countries to the Suez, did it? The most likely outcome, America-free, is a less generous European social contract, not Soviet domination of every state east of the Pyrenees.
At the time that Marshall made his speech in Harvard Yard, no one could be sure that all would turn out for the best in postwar Western Europe. No one could even be sure that the United States would deliver on Marshall’s pledge. All people could remember was the sad sequence of events that had followed the previous World War, when Western Europe was swept by general strikes and galloping inflation, while the United States Senate reneged on Woodrow Wilson’s “plan” for a new order based on collective security. The Marshall Plan was not the only difference between the two postwar eras, but, to West Europeans struggling to make ends meet, it was the most visible manifestation of American good will—and a mirror image of the Soviet policy of mulcting Eastern Europe. This, more than its macroeconomic impact, explains its endurance in the popular imagination. At a time when, according to the Pew Research Center, only thirty-nine per cent of Frenchmen and thirty per cent of Germans have a positive view of the United States, that is something worth remembering, and pondering.
For authors like Ferguson, who seem to basically have an intractably sycophantic view of American power, it will always be just before the dawn of a new Marshall Plan. There's always some new bold international initiative that America could spearhead that would change the world for the better and sail past what we thought were the horizons of the possible. And yet, America never delivers. Or at least, not since the Marshall Plan has America delivered the kind of immense, nearly-unconditional aid that Europe got after the war.

Does that make America bad? No, of course not -- we don't have any claim on their money. But you'd think it would make people like Ferguson more circumspect about how central America's role is in the world. Ferguson whines about how modern Europeans just don't appreciate how good America was to their grandparents, which is probably true but also couldn't matter less. So (also via Ezra, you should really just read him instead) I find that this article on Nicholas Sarkozy has by far the more important statement about Continental views of America:
Now, for the first time, it’s possible to imagine modernization as something independent of Americanization: when people in Paris talk about ambitious kids going to study abroad, they talk about London. (Americans have little idea of the damage done by the ordeal that a routine run through immigration at J.F.K. has become for Europeans, or by the suspicion and hostility that greet the most anodyne foreigners who come to study or teach at our scientific and educational institutions.) When people in Paris talk about manufacturing might, they talk about China; when they talk about tall buildings, they talk about Dubai; when they talk about troubling foreign takeovers, they talk about Gazprom. The Sarkozy-Gordon Brown-Merkel generation is not unsympathetic to America, but America is not so much the primary issue for them, as it was for Blair and Chirac, in the nineties, when America was powerful beyond words. To a new leadership class, it sometimes seems that America is no longer the human bomb you have to defuse but the nut you walk away from.

What Brown, Merkel, and Sarkozy all have in common is that they do not want to be defined by their response to America—either unduly faithful, as with Blair, or unduly hostile, as Chirac became. Instead, as Levitte says, they all want to normalize relations with a great power that is no longer the only power. Its military weakness has been exposed in Iraq, its economic weakness by the rise of the euro, and its once great cultural magnetism has been diminished by post-9/11 paranoia and insularity. America has recovered from worse before, and may do so again. But it is also possible that the election of Nicolas Sarkozy may be seen not as the start of a new pro-American moment in Europe but as a marker of the beginning of the post-American era.
America's fall in the world (relatively speaking) is a self-inflicted wound, like they always are. After Vietnam, America's allies still believed they needed Americas protection -- now they almost certainly won't. That's going to be a radically different landscape than the late 1970s, early 1980s. Especially so if the NATO mission in Afghanistan collapses as I suspect it will.

1 comment:

NonyNony said...

After Vietnam, America's allies still believed they needed Americas protection -- now they almost certainly won't.

Gods I hope this is true. Because the rest of the world constantly tells us "we don't need you - butt out" maybe we'll finally listen.

It would be great to stop acting like we have some kind of moral imperative to be the policemen of the world, and if the rest of the world would stop with the enabling behavior, maybe we'll finally sit down and shut up for a while.

(I like to believe that's what will happen, but I know it won't - our military-industrial complex is just too powerful and provides far, far too much money in our economy for our politicians to stop making nods towards being the policemen of the world. But one can live in hope, I suppose.)