Friday, March 25, 2005

Time for the Wolfowitz Plan 

Another one bites the dust - "Kyrgyzstan government collapses after protest":
"President Askar Akayev's government collapsed Thursday after opposition protesters took over the presidential compound and government offices, throwing computers and air conditioners out of windows in a frenzy of anger over corruption and a disputed election.

"The popular uprising in this impoverished Central Asian nation of 5 million forced Akayev to flee, was breathtaking in its speed and resulted in only a few dozen injured. The government was the third in a former Soviet republic after Georgia and Ukraine to be brought down by people power over the past year and a half."
Overthrowing a government is easy - it merely requires a relatively short burst of manic energy. The much harder part is building on the victory and ensuring that all that effort by the "people power" doesn't go to waste - it's a tough and gruelling and unenviable job.

As Glenn Reynolds writes, "Tim Russo is pessimistic about the outcome, regardless. He doubts that there will be sufficient engagement by Western nations to promote a real democracy. Judging by the limited attention this is getting outside the blogosphere, he may be right."

The European Union is likely to prove useless (but even small contributions count), so once again the job falls on the United States and perhaps some of the close allies like Great Britain and Australia. I really think we need a new Marshall Plan for all the emerging democracies that are popping up around the Eurasian landmass like mushrooms after the American rain. Let's call the Marshall 2.0 version the Wolfowitz Plan. It won't have to be of the same magnitude as the post-World War Two original; although the political, economic, social and moral devastation of decades under communist or Islamic despots in some ways surpasses the devastation of a few years of a global war, we can't - for domestic political reasons - expect the same financial commitment from Washington in 2005 as in 1945 (don't be deceived by the sum of $13 billion, or around $90 billion in today's dollars; that money after the war could do hell of a lot more than $90 can do today). Arguably, neither do we need such a largesse-spreading exercise; the sad story of foreign aid demonstrates that throwing money at a problem is not the solution. We need to understand our limitations, know what we want to achieve, and be smart in how we go about it.

These are the priorities:
You can still expect a great deal of pain, some unavoidable ingratitude and many, many setbacks. As I said, it's not easy - the much under-estimated Post-Totalitarian Stress Disorder will be the greatest enemy - but we have little choice. Doing nothing and hoping for the best is no longer a viable foreign policy option.

Update: In a related development:
"The State Department has a plan for avoiding a repeat of the prewar planning mistakes that marred the U.S. occupation and reconstruction of Iraq. But, like many initiatives in Washington, it will require some money.

"When President Bush sent Congress an $82 billion supplemental request last month for emergency funding for U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, it included $17 million in start-up funds for a State Department office that would help manage the aftermath of war and stabilize countries torn by civil conflict.

"The Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization would bring together civilian experts in such fields as political administration, law enforcement and economics and give them a seat at the table alongside the military during the planning of U.S. intervention in troubled states, Carlos Pascual, the head of the new office, said yesterday in a briefing with reporters.

"The office, relying in part on relationships with other federal agencies and private-sector groups, would accompany military troops in the field and lay the groundwork for rebuilding countries crumbling under conflict, Pascual said. It also would serve as an early warning system, monitoring a 'watch list' of nations at risk of sliding into the kind of dysfunction that gives rise to terrorism and civil strife."
It's a good idea, as long as it doesn't degenerate into yet another foreign affairs and aid bureaucracy. One of the keys to its effectiveness will be the involvement of not just "civilian experts", but also, as the specific need arises, people who have personal knowledge of the countries in questions, whether by virtue of birth or subsequent contacts. We will not succeed in all the noble tasks unless we can tailor the programs and initiatives to local ethnic, religious and cultural sensibilities. This does not mean compromising our aims, but merely finding the most effective ways of achieving them.


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