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But The 1948 Marshall Plan

Had a 4-Year – Not a 25-Year – Design

The original 1948 Marshall Plan (officially, the 'European Recovery Program') ran for just over 3 years, although sizable contingents of ‘Allied’ troops – over 60,000 U.S. soldiers – remain on German soil to this day. The quiet calculation behind NATO was not just to contain the Soviet Union; Most of Europe was very anxious to keep the new Federal Republic of Germany in a ‘safe’ framework long after the 3-year Marshall Plan was nominally over.

On the democracy count, the Marshall Plan did hope three years (originally planned for four) would suffice, since every adult German in 1948 had already had 14 years of experience with democracy during the Weimar republic 1919 - 1933. That’s in sharp contrast to today’s Palestinian adult population which has had almost no experience with democracy. While the Jan 06 elections in Palestine were an important step, as is any move setting a higher standard for citizen representation, a free election on its own – unaccompanied by a written constitution (or, as in Britain, by long-established norms on the limits of a parliament’s mandate) – can be akin to putting loaded rifles into the hands of untutored soldiers. The recipients of those arms overstep democratic bounds, or, in the case of Hamas, also ‘understep’ bounds, ignoring treaties signed by previous governments. Including certain treaties still supported by most of the public.

Not only are norms absent in these Mid-East elections; the choices open to the public are just as limited. And not just the candidates – who simply reflect the problem. What is lacking is voter exposure to the vision a real democracy has on offer.

When citizens vote in any Arab country, they invariably get two choices: an undemocratic, corrupt ruling party, and an undemocratic, less corrupt, religious party. Almost never in sight is a party that tells voters they need protection from every government – that citizens need a free press, a free economy, and a court system unfettered by both nepotism and religious doctrine. The only options on view – and the only options repressed societies are thus able to grasp conceptually – are exchanging one autocratic rule for another.

It doesn't help when a U.S. president himself sells democracy short. “At the start of 2006, more than half the people in our world live in democratic nations,” intoned George W. Bush at the time. That was, and is, errant nonsense. Out of the 196 nations in the world, fewer than 35 grant – and adequately enforce – equal rights for women, for minors, for the gay community, for religious and ethnic minorities. And these nations don’t house even 15% of the planet's population, let alone, 50%.

To Get The Bermigo Plan Right,

First Correctly Grasp What A Democracy Is

Democracy is a multifaceted creature. It contains not just a full set of hard rules, but is also a ‘social contract’ between the rulers and the ruled. And no less important, democracy is a vision. While not based on divine authority, it is similarly constructed around immovable articles of faith – a platform of ethics – which guide believers on how to treat their fellow man. In fact, it is in just this sphere that democracy offers two unassailable advantages over conventional religion.

For one, it prescribes the essence, and not the details. This allows each generation to refine implementation without being hampered by legal prescripts fashioned in biblical times. Fashioned, incidentally, often in self-defense against competing beliefs, and not because the co-opted prescript had the slightest ethical grounding.

Democracy’s second unassailable advantage over conventional religion is that it demands a code based only on personal, tangible experience – if you were in the other guy’s shoes, what freedoms and protections would you want? In other words, the entrance fee into a democracy’s articles of faith doesn’t require the convert to also accept that Jesus, Mohammed, or anyone else, had divine status.

The average citizen in North America and Western Europe has imbibed this democratic vision from birth; the average citizen in the Middle East (and in Israel, too, to some extent) has simply not been raised with this same vision.  

And until the entire democratic mélange is clearly visible, free elections will almost never deliver the goods. And that’s a cardinal reason a Marshall-type plan has to run so much longer in Palestine than it did in Germany.

The German Difference

Germany always had a culture of liberal thought, and could naturally return to it following World War II. Palestinians, though, have never had such a tradition. That doesn’t mean Arabs are more resistant to change, or that they yearn for freedom less than others. But just as the racist crowd needs to come clean, so does the politically correct posse and face the blunt fact that most of the root concepts of a democracy are simply not part of the Arab vista.

Note, too, that the number of years a Marshall-type plan has to run for is not some ‘moral’ grading. The quick, four-year term of the 1948 plan didn’t mean Germans were on a higher moral plane than others – far from it. No society prone to such evil as Germany can rank anywhere, but among the most non-civilized of peoples in the annals of human history. But, in comparing Germany, we’re talking not about an almost ‘genetic’ defect that takes hold in specific circumstances – we’re talking about the ability of a society to embrace democracy in more normal circumstances.

As veteran IHT columnist, William Pfaff, remarked, what further eased Germany’s entry/re-entry into full democracy was that her two main political parties, the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats, had been democratic before the war, and could step right in. Palestine has no established parties with genuine democratic roots to take up the reins. Also to consider is that Germany in 1948 was flanked on six borders by fellow democracies when the Marshall Plan was implemented. Under Bermigo’s plan, Palestine’s borders with Israel will be closed – and her two other neighbors (and, outer ring of Arab neighbors) are not democratic.

Keep in mind, too, when evaluating the Bermigo Plan – or any plan, for that matter – that clan-based societies place tradition and family connection far above merit. So, reviewers of Bermigo’s blueprint who agree that democracy in Palestine is indispensable for ending Israeli-Palestinian violence must then look honestly at how long it takes to change clan-based societies into a meritocracies. And it takes a helluva long time. In fact, most experts feel that even a 25-year ‘escort’ will only just bring the process past ‘irreversibility-point’ in Palestine.

In addition to all the daunting factors already noted, there’s the uncommonly deep grievance Palestinians hold against Israel – their loss of so much land and property in 1948 – that prods them to keep attacking her. To keep this deep desire for revenge at bay, a protected counterweight will be needed for at least 25 years. Else, this natural – but self-destructive – impulse won’t have time to subside enough, and the entire Bermigo enterprise will unravel the minute the cap is taken off. The Germans did not have this unrivalled bitterness to contend with; unlike the Palestinians, they did not irrevocably lose over 50% of their homesteads. The Jews, yes, did lose everything – and more – but landed up with Israel. The Palestinians landed up with nothing.

And, a final perspective to consider when comparing the original 4-year Marshall Plan to the 25-year term that Bermigo advocates for Palestine. It’s an angle that many commentators will examine in far more depth than the few paragraphs devoted here. Namely, did the Marshall Plan of just four years really suffice for Germany?

Look at Germany’s pitiful contribution to fighting evil in a post Marshall Plan world – practically zero. In Ruanda, for example, why didn’t Germany offer to send in troops? The German standing army numbers 225,000, and the timely deployment of a single troop division could easily have halted much of the heinous slaughter of 750,000 Tutsis by machete-wielding Hutus. Or, the ethnic cleansing in Darfur; again so preventable, and again, Germany just sat by.

In Iraq, why did Germany prefer keeping an evil tyrant in power rather than risk the uncertainty of overthrowing him? If Germans were too angst-ridden today to deal with such dilemmas, why castigate the U.S. for going ahead – even if the U.S. was engaging in a personal grudge match to unseat Saddam? Couldn't German society – which excoriated the U.S. and Saddam in equal measure – distinguish between the two ‘evils’?

In Bosnia, a nearby fellow European state, why didn’t Germany immediately step in to prevent the well-known widespread atrocities against civilians? In Afghanistan, only in 2005, did Germany decide to bolster its still dismally inadequate troop contribution from 750 to 3000. (And to no more than 4500 in 2008). Didn’t Germany owe it to America (let alone, Germany’s own security) to help thwart a repeat takeover of Afghanistan by a Taliban regime hosting Al Qaeda, the world’s prime Jihadist movement?

There’s a pattern here which the Marshall Plan of 1948 didn’t properly debug. Namely, that the antidote to Germany’s active support of evil during World War II should not be ‘pacifism’, but the active fight against evil. The Germans’ recoil into pacifism, scared of their own shadow, sullenly blaming America instead of confronting dilemmas head on, is a pitiful stand-in for the basic societal change the Marshall Plan had hoped for. It is simply the same old German escapism in concave form. What says it better – and worse – than the poll carried out among German youth where 50% felt Israelis treat Palestinians the way Nazis treated Jews?

An interesting take on this theme comes from Professor Moshe Zimmerman, head of the German Studies Dept at Jerusalem University. And ironic, because the left-leaning Zimmerman was himself roundly criticized for invoking a Nazi comparison re the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. His reference was in a very specific context, but most observers felt his words – given the sea of ignorance in which they would float – were reckless.

Zimmerman, a world-recognized expert on anti-Semitism, published a book in 1986, ‘Wilhelm Marr, The Patriarch of Anti-Semitism’. The Israeli professor recorded his research on Marr’s original handwritten texts in 19th century Germany, and pointed out that German anti-Semitism had far more profound roots than just some erratic and insane explosion in Hitler’s era. Zimmerman’s credentials on the topic are sterling – moreover, his leftist disposition only adds to his political acceptability in Europe. His book was indeed published worldwide – save for one country: Germany. There, not a single publisher would take it on.

This panicky need of Germans to define their own past, their constant fear of discovering some lurking demon, is part of the same, time-old, German pattern of evasion. Not that Germany is alone – Japan, for example, shares several parallel historical similarities. But this evasion serves no one, least of all, Germany herself. (Himself, in German..) In fact, were the Germans to actively fight tyranny around the world, it would probably far better emotionally prepare them to confront their demons, and thus, begin to expunge them.

So yes, George C. Marshall’s plan did deliver on most of the essential goods. But not on all. And one of the reasons was that it was hostage to the political considerations of the day. In fact, an isolationist Republican Congress was reluctant to commit to even four years. Marshall candidly recounted that the toughest part of his entire plan was neither designing, nor executing, his formidable blueprint – but selling that blueprint without fatally diluting it. The old general often recounted how he fought tooth and nail to ensure the plan retained its critical mass.

As earlier noted, a large Western military presence as part of NATO did provide informal continuity of Marshall’s plan in Germany for decades. Still, an unapologetic ‘quiet-but-tight’ embrace for longer than 3 years in other realms, too – and not just in the military domain – might have served Germans, and the rest of us, far better. That embrace could have been limited to just those preserves where Germany could not–and tellingly, still cannot–trust her own instincts.

[There’s a caveat here: Enlisting German troops for principled military ventures outside Germany – the kind of example I am referring to – would have required appropriate behavior from the former Allies, themselves. The post-war policy of America, Britain and France – to back any and all friendly, third-world goons – would have rightly repelled any Germans intent on fighting injustice to make amends. Perhaps the happy day will come – within the millennium, that is.. – when the free world will form a foreign legion that fights for the universal principles of freedom, alone. A legion invested with enough clout to ignore all guidelines hitherto set by Western greed].

To sum, the cardinal lesson of the 1948 Marshall Plan is: Don’t play around with the critical mass this type of plan needs. Obviously, no country is similar, so every Marshall Plan must be customized, and the ‘size’ of each component may differ significantly from country to country. But each component, in each country, has its own particular critical mass that is inviolate. In terms of the recurring 'airplane metaphor' this writer often uses (in describing facets of the Bermigo Plan), the wing-strength of a Cessna will differ greatly from that of a large jet, but both must meet their own specific, set standards. Standards calculated by engineers – not politicians.

And so, if an independent panel of historians, social anthropologists, psychologists and related research teams conclude that 25 years is the absolute minimum escort-time needed to deliver an irreversible democracy in Palestine, then the statesman’s job is clear-cut. Either, dump the whole plan, or, raise the cash and commandeer the political will on all sides to moor its 25-year term.