Imagine spending 12 percent of the entire U.S. budget to help displaced and mostly impoverished Middle East, African and Afghan refugees to rebuild their lives? The Marshall Plan of 1947 did just that for war-torn postwar Europe. It was an indispensable helping hand for an entire generation recovering from devastation and dislocation after World War II.
The historic $12 billion dollar assistance program was the enduring humanitarian legacy of a bipartisan coalition in Congress, working with its proponents President Harry S. Truman and Secretary of State General George Marshall. Today, more than 65 million refugees have been rendered homeless — 21st century victims of war and strife that exceed in number those victims displaced in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s.
Might a united international community duplicate the generosity shown then? The United Nations High Commission for Refugees says about $7.5 billion is needed next year to meet the needs of the displaced in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, more than half of them women and children. Can a multinational aid effort be organized to even bring them hope for survival? Hardly likely, most experts agree. But try we must. There are signs a new generation today wants to help.
In the words of Karen Donfried, today’s president of the German Marshall Fund (GMF) of the United States: “You can imagine an international alliance — including the U.S., the European Union, Australia, New Zealand — to form a Marshall Plan for these times.”
Ms. Donfried was addressing a packed house of diplomats, scholars and retired U.S. foreign service officers at the American Foreign Service Association on December 4. This monthly informal luncheon group is sponsored by the Public Diplomacy Council, PDAA and representatives of the USC Annenberg Center’s Washington office.
The German Marshall Fund is a non-profit organization dedicated to strengthening trans-Atlantic cooperation through support for civil society and fellowships for leaders of the next generation. Karen Donfried reviewed several fundamental lessons of the Fund that might well apply in any framework for a similar humanitarian effort today:
1) We didn’t unilaterally decide how the Marshall Plan money would be used in the countries helped. Recipient countries had the largest voice in such decisions.
2) We made a solid case for aid not only in Congress but brought some recipients here to engage in and help shape the dialogue.
3) We sought advice, as well, from potential donors across America. Marshall Plan alumni at the state or municipal level are key. In Ukraine today, some localities are forming the country’s first veterans administration with help from the West.
As PDC President Adam Powell put it at a recent meeting of the Broadcasting Board of Governors:
“The U.S. media are largely ignoring the power of diplomacy in reporting the critical needs overseas. Yes, we need to focus on a common struggle in the fight against disease and the potential of education for both boys and girls globally. The voices for America in this room can do that (leaders of VOA, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, the Middle East Broadcasting Network, and Radio-TV Marti to Cuba).”
Those five networks, according to 2017 research, reach 278 million people in more than 60 languages each and every week.
VOA’s Africa Division, for example, has produced a landmark documentary on the efforts of Nigerian local citizens to strengthen civil society and prevent a recurrence of the Boko Haram atrocities. The documentary, now available at www.voanews.com is a compelling on scene look at actual Boko Haram trials and executions and of the determined efforts of local officials and volunteers to alleviate conditions that fuelled the rise of that organization. In the words of one of those local civil servants: “Nigeria is not Boko Haram and Boko Haram is not Nigeria.”
Equally empowering perhaps is more than a hundred on scene VOA reports from drought stricken East, Central and West Africa this past year of on scene eyewitness interviews in a series entitled Hunger Across Africa. The award-winning programs include appeals from prominent leaders around the world for help in alleviating the plight of starving millions. Viewers, listeners and Facebook Live users the world over are transported to heartbreaking scenes in Niger, Nigeria, Somalia and Somaliland, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi and Senegal. As one relief worker puts it: “Looking into the eyes of someone dying of hunger becomes a disease of the soul.”
Michael Canning, a retired U.S. press and cultural officer who served in eight countries on four continents, has become an active film reviewer in Washington, D.C. He recently watched Human Flow, a two hour documentary by renowned Chinese artist Ai Weiwei that “gives laymen a sense of the spread and scope of this century’s most consistent and poignant human catastrophe: the forced displacement of millions across borders.” Without over voice narration, Canning adds, “this is done principally through the stunning use of photographic drones that gives us hawk’s eye views of world refugee camps and immigration routes.
“These sweeping pans, often over the most desolate barren landscapes, are calculated to make you marvel and moan about what we humans are doing to each other.” In his review on our blog, Mike Canning says the documentary recently shown in a few local Washington, D.C. cinemas is a compelling exploration of “one of the great human rights questions of our time. The question for many,” he concludes, “will be what we can possibly due to mitigate it.”
The new Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Irwin Steven Goldstein provided some answers about a way ahead at his November 1 confirmation hearing. In his words:
“We need to show how America is leading the fight against AIDS and malaria, in places where these diseases take their deadliest toll. We need to show how America is bringing educational opportunity to girls and boys where schooling is still seen as a privilege and not a right. We need to show that through government agencies such as USAID, through our robust private sector, and in our own capacity as individuals, Americans ease suffering and help rebuild lives in every corner of the globe every day.”
Mr. Goldstein’s first public appearance in his new role was at a hearing of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy December 8. He told the panel he happened to now occupy an office dedicated to Secretary of State George Marshall, with the great general’s portrait on the wall. “Seventeen people have asked if I would start a new Marshall Plan,” he added. “In reaching out to publics around the world, we have to communicate the values of honesty, independence and democracy. We cannot expect people to respect what we say, if we don’t respect what they say.”
A sampling of challenges, all so prevalent in the world’s refugee camps and life threatening flights across land and sea. May the way ahead be pursued with renewed vigor in America in concert with its allies.
That sounds like the foundational principle of a multinational Marshall Plan of the 21st century. The better angels of our nature and that of our partners around the globe demand no less.