The Foreign Service Journal - January/February 2018
28 JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2018 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL while assuaging French concerns about a resurgent Germany. Both the Marshall Plan and military security arrangements like NATO required a balance of power within Europe, one that would reassure French concerns about a renewed Germany and also build a European political, strategic and economic infrastructure that would compel the United Kingdom to play a more direct role in European affairs. As a bonus, the plan was designed to lessen the appeal of communism and socialism in Western Europe. Given general agreement within the executive branch and leadership circles that European recovery was essential to both U.S. economic and international security interests, Secretary of State George C. Marshall officially announced the Truman administration’s intent to pursue a major foreign assistance program in Europe during a brief commencement address at Harvard University on June 5, 1947. It would not be signed into law until nearly a year later. Enacting the Marshall Plan Despite its popularity in later years, the European Recovery Act generated genuine political opposition in the United States. Even within the executive branch, there was no consensus yet on how to administer European assistance, or even which agency should take the lead. So attaining congressional approval was no easy task. While there was some general discomfort in Congress and other circles with the idea of the United States committing to sustained international involvement following a major war, the most vocal and specific opposition to the Marshall Plan came from a conservative coalition of Midwestern and Western mem- bers of the Republican Party, including Ohio Senator Robert Taft and former President Herbert Hoover, who were non-interven- tionist isolationists. But opposition also emerged in sectors of the U.S. economy whose interests did not align with the vision presented by Truman’s economic advisers. For instance, owners of U.S.-based, labor-intensive manufactur- ing businesses andMidwestern agricultural interests, with strong Republican representation in Congress, initially favored protec- tionist tariffs over liberalized trade and argued that the United States should revert to a more isolationist economic stance after the war. Midterm elections in 1946 had delivered a Republican Congress in 1947 and caused some concern in the Truman administration that this setback would interfere with passing legislation for Euro- pean recovery on the Hill. However, Secretary of State George Marshall’s speech unveiling the plan had been well-timed. It came less than three months after President Tru- man had gone before Congress on March 12, 1947, to articulate what came to be known as the Truman Doctrine. In the course of asking Congress for support for the governments of Greece and Turkey against the threat of communist uprisings, Truman had announced that the United States was compelled to assist “free peoples” in their struggles against “totalitarian regimes,” because the spread of authoritarianism would “undermine the foundations of international peace and, hence, the security of the United States.” In the words of the Truman Doctrine, it became “the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pres- sures.”This stance would dominate U.S. foreign policy for decades to come and played a large role in providing a compelling argu- ment for strong bipartisan support in Congress for U.S. assistance, both military and economic, to nations that might be susceptible to communist influence sponsored by the Soviet Union. Congressional debate on the legislation that would fund the Marshall Plan began in the last weeks of 1947. By February 1948, polls suggested that 56 percent of the population surveyed viewed the proposal favorably. The business community, many farmers, internationalist “elites” and other groups favored it, recognizing the importance of European recovery for American prosperity. But isolationist Republicans, along with some con- servative Southern Democrats, initially opposed the plan, argu- ing that vigorous overseas investment abroad would sideline key domestic priorities like the tax cut many Republicans wanted Truman to pass. At Harvard, Marshall had promised that the U.S. commitment to reconstructing Europe would not only restore markets for Amer- ican goods, but would ameliorate “poverty, desperation and chaos” and promote “economic health in the world, without which there can be no political stability.”This framing, as well as a number of other factors, served tomitigate the objections of the stronger voices of opposition. Sen. Taft and other legislators endorsed the use of aid to strengthen Europe against Soviet aggression but, being less susceptible to the argument that it would help sustain U.S. It would be an oversimplification, however, to state that the Marshall Plan sprang only from the minds of these scions of industry and was primarily designed to benefit their narrow interests.