Why Afgan Marshall Plan Won’t Work

In the comments to my “Taliban Retaking Afghanistan” post, commenter King Politics asked, “Can anyone answer why we didn’t embark on a Marshall Plan-style rebuilding effort of Afghanistan in 2003-04?”  In today’s Independent, former Afghan finance minister Ashraf Ghani makes a similar call.

My New Atlanticist essay “A Marshall Plan for Afghanistan?” I argue that the circumstances are simply too different.  While strongly supporting investing in Afghanistan’s human capital and infrastructure, I contend that we need to seriously rein in our expectations.

In 1947, the United States wanted to get Western Europe back on its feet. The most modern, developed states in the history of the planet had been devastated by war and were in serious danger of falling into the Soviet orbit. Their infrastructure had been destroyed and in some cases they were cut off by the Iron Curtain from former food suppliers and major trading partners. The Marshall Plan, therefore, was simply a rebuilding effort.

Afghanistan has not been a modern state since the dawn of the very concept of modernity. Indeed, a large part of the problem is thinking of “Afghanistan” as a state at all; it’s a collection of city states and tribal lands which happen to share a border thanks to colonial mapmakers.

By all means, let’s continue to invest in Afghanistan’s people.  Ghani’s goal of a licit income of $4 a day is quite reasonable.  But the idea that Afghanistan is going to become a modern, developed state in the lifetime of anyone now living borders on absurd.

Comments welcome, especially at the link.

Photo by Flickr user mknobil under Creative Commons license.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. caj says:

    If we think our continued presence there is ever going to make a difference I think we are sorely mistaken.
    Those people are never going away, it’s their land and their country and will fight to keep it that way forever if needs be.
    Do we never learn anything when we get involved in these wars all over the place…we like to think we are the dominant nation and can control everybody and that is far from the truth.
    We should pull our forces out of there and not build them up as far as I’m concerned….just a total waste of life and resources.

  2. mike says:

    you have to love the fact that the US is spending millions and millions every year to build madrassas (sp?) which will educate the next generation of radicals. Do they even allow female students?