George Marshall and the Foundations of Smart Power

April 5, 2012 By Steven Leiser-Mitchell

2012 marks the 65th anniversary of the Marshall Plan, conceived by then-Secretary of State George Marshall, to aid the broken economies of Europe after World War II.  Passed with bipartisan support, the $44 billion plan was instrumental in the recovery of many European countries, most notably France and Germany, and allowed a resumption of trade goods to be exported to the world from the United States.  Marshall’s plan was the first significant use of American “smart power,” and helped pave the way for unprecedented growth in Europe and America.

Speaking at the Virginia Military Institute this week, Secretary Clinton addressed the assembled cadets on the importance of George Marshall’s legacy, and his creation of American smart power.  Clinton emphasized Marshall’s vision for American leadership which she characterized as being, “both perfectly suited to his time and far ahead of it.”  Improving the conditions of other nations in the world advances our own interests, economically and with regard to our national security.  “George Marshall believed that to guarantee our own security, we had to draw on all the tools of our power. And that has never been truer than today. Once again, our country is facing tight budgets, and there is a dangerous impulse to withdraw from our responsibilities, because, some say, we can no longer afford to engage internationally. But now, as then, we must recognize that strengthening America’s global leadership is the best investment we can make in our own future.”

Clinton spoke of the importance of updating Marshall’s legacy for the 21st century; a strategy built around the 3 D’s of defense, diplomacy, and development. She spoke on the need to continue this policy in Afghanistan, to “fight, talk, build,” because it “is definitely in our interest to help continue moving Afghanistan toward self-sufficiency and establishing lasting security.”  Clinton stressed the value of using diplomacy to prevent future conflict, citing the current sanctions in Iran.  “This sustained pressure is bringing Iran’s leaders back to the negotiating table, and we hope that it will result in a plan of action that will resolve our disagreements peacefully.”

Secretary Clinton framed the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, and the Civilian Response Corps as being extensions of George Marshall’s legacy.  Drawing parallels between the current economic environment and American concerns over foreign assistance during the Marshall Plan, Secretary Clinton argued that, “in order for America to have peace and prosperity, we have to invest in that potential for others.”  In some cases, that means providing impoverished nations with basic food, water, and shelter, which not only saves lives and stabilizes regions, but prevents the a future outbreak of extremism and hatred.  In the Horn of Africa, Clinton stated, “The United States has provided almost $1 billion in humanitarian assistance that has saved countless lives from malnutrition, starvation, and disease. And our sustained commitment has demonstrated the best of America, helping to undermine the extremist narrative of terrorist groups like al-Shabaab in Somalia.”

In December, retired 4-Star General Anthony Zinni argued that, “Now is the time for a new…Marshall moment.”  Speaking as a retired veteran with over 35 years experience, Zinni believes the United States cannot afford to over-militarize our foreign policy, that we must have a strong civilian corps with significant financial backing, because “the military can’t shoot its way to good governance.”

George Marshall understood the importance of rebuilding Europe after WWII, which Secretary Clinton characterized as being, “both perfectly suited to his time and far ahead of it.” As Secretary Clinton continued to push for a strong smart power presence in American foreign policy, she reminded the cadets at VMI that it was Marshall who first understood the importance of this concept.  She quoted from Marshall’s farewell speech, in which he said: “Along with the great problem of maintaining the peace, we must solve the problem of the pittance of food, of clothing and coal and homes.  Neither of these problems can be solved alone.  They are directly related to one another.”