Reaction: David Brooks’ Essay

David Brooks of the NY Times offers his take on multi-nationalism this morning. He comments on the lack of a modern day equivalent to the Marshall Plan.

Brooks observes, correctly, that the consolidation of democratic power world-wide rested with the United States. Marshall, Achseon and President Truman were able to leverage this political and staggering economic power into a plan that bolstered the US economy for decades while at the same time rebuilding Europe after the devestation of World War II.

He then goes on to lament even though there are issues the world would like to solve, the nature of decentralized power makes it nearly impossible for any single solution broker to push an agenda forward. Even if there is vast consensus, a small minority with a heavily vested interest can close the doors on a solution. He sees dispersed power as theoretically good, but in practice, inefficient at leveraging solutions to global problems. He uses the example of the Iraq War, framing it in the classic Cheney paradigm of the UN resolutions we were enforcing. The US “put the mantle of authority on its own shoulders” and paid a dear price.

I find Brooks’ hypothesis to be deeply flawed and rooted in a US-first mentality. He offers John McCain’s League of Democracies as the best idea on the market for leveraging like-minded nations to create solutions.

Let’s start with his historical comparison. The Marshall Plan took hold principally because Europe had no other choice. With it’s agricultural and industrial engines severly damaged after the war, western Europe lacked enough economic resources to rebuild it’s wealth and even enough food to sufficiently feed it’s people. The US was the only global power big enough and interested enough to provide the kind of long term aid necessary to rebuild.

The US needed a healthy Europe. While the domestic US economy was booming and accounted for 1/2 the world’s wealth, that kind of growth would only be sustainable if emerging markets were available for export. Even if those markets had to be built with US aid, in the long term this would create a viable market for US goods reaching far into the 20th century. 

With the notable exception of Climate Change, there is not a single issue in the world today that warrants the kind of necessary response as the collapse of the European economy did in the late 40’s. The disasterous slaughter in Darfur is indeed a humanitarian crisis of epic proportion, but the Darfur economy does not have the power to destroy the global economy and therefore global urgency is not seen.

But there is something more fundamental than that. The Marshall plan was just that-a plan. Actionable, negotiable, and concrete, it had moving parts that could be coordinated. While there is high-minded discussion about genocide, no global leader has proposed an actionable plan to stop it.

Then there is China. The world hasn’t taken action in the Sudan partly because of the power of the Chinese, and their oil interest in the region. If they are able to leverage that kind of power over a specific issue, then what would their reaction be to a League of Democracies. An organization they could not join? And what of Russia? A Democracy in name only, often with vastly different global interests than out own, would they join this League?

Then of course there is this example of the Iraq War. While Brooks rails against those with “narrow interests” it was exactly these kind of narrow interests that led use to essentially go it alone in Iraq. The UN itself didn’t support our action, even if we acted in it’s name. When the world did see an intiative worth supporting, like the war in Afghanistan there was no hesitation in joining our campaign. 

The problem with the global problem solving engine right now, is that solutions are brought forth from a single nation’s point of view, or even a small group of nations’ view. The repercussions for all players are rarely sought out and seldom thought of. There was a time when the US could leverage solutions to global problems with nothing but it’s own interest at heart. These days are over. The US needs a diverse global strategy, energy independence and a reconstituted military, capable of acting unilaterally when necessary, but also as the lead in a multinational force. 

In short, we need to stop taking about solutions, and start issuing plans.

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