Advice to Donald Trump – do Marshall Plan-style deals in Syria and the wider Middle East
The multibillionaire businessman who is shortly to become President of the United States of America is an ace deal-maker. Since his shock victory in the elections of 8 November the world has wondered how on earth this larger-than-life figure who has never before held political office will handle the complex challenges of the Middle East where wars are destabilising entire nations, leading to refugee exodus, extremism and terrorism. Trump has yet to appoint his Secretary of State, the person who will take over from Obama’s man John Kerry, whose valiant efforts have so far failed to secure peace in the Middle East on any front.
My advice to Trump, based on a lifetime’s living and working in the Middle East, most notably of late in Syria, where I still own my courtyard house in the Old City of Damascus, is to play to his own strengths – and the region’s – and combine them to mutual advantage.
His own deal-maker abilities are legendary, but so are those of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Israel – the area which for 400 years under the Ottoman Turks was known as ‘Greater Syria’. Located on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, these communities have always been outward-looking, open to trading opportunities from east, west, north and south. The very identity of these countries has been shaped by their engagement in commerce and deals. Across the centuries as civilisation after civilisation crisscrossed the terrain, some stayed and settled, leading to a society that is multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-ethnic. The merchants and businessmen in the Middle East are actually the true power holders, not the politicians or the armed forces.
What he should do therefore, in my view, when he becomes President on 20 January 2017, is to devise a massive Marshall Plan-style deal for the Middle East from which everyone will benefit. Negotiations will be tough and complex as to who gets what, just as they were in 1947 with the Marshall Plan. It described itself as “An Act to promote world peace and the general welfare, mutual interest and the foreign policy of the United States through economic, financial and other measures necessary to the maintenance of conditions abroad in which free institutions may survive and consistent with the maintenance of the strength and stability of the United States.” In other words, entirely consistent with his “Make America great again” slogan, while simultaneously solving many of the world’s destabilising foreign policy crises. Sometimes called “The European Recovery Plan”, the Marshall Plan, named after then Secretary of State General George Marshall, the fund of $12 billion (equivalent today to roughly $120 billion), was administered over a four-year period. It rebuilt regions devastated by war, removed trade barriers, modernised industry, dropped regulations, encouraged increased productivity and the adoption of proper business procedures.
The Trump administration would not need to start from scratch. It could cooperate with the 1,000-strong team already in Beirut working on a project called the “National Agenda for the Future of Syria.” Under the auspices of the United Nations’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, a team of regional experts including civil engineers, agricultural specialists, architects, water experts, conservationists, hospital administrators, traffic coordinators and more, is planning for “Day One”, when the fighting ends. Their Deputy Executive Secretary, Abdullah al-Dardari, was till 2011 the Deputy Prime Minister of Syria for Economic Affairs and Minister for Planning, a highly skilled and dedicated man, and the work is apolitical, designed to be implemented irrespective of who the future political masters may be.
Thierry Grandin, consultant to the World Monuments Fund, describes their work, saying: “It is good to do the planning now, because on day one we will be ready. It might come in a year, it might come in 20, but eventually there will be a day one. Our job is to prepare.”
In Iran a similar approach could be adopted. A policy expert in the US is reported as saying Trump is so unpredictable “he could open hotels in Iran or go to war with Iran.”
Iran has an acute accommodation shortage and cannot meet demand for the new surge in tourism that followed the dropping of US sanctions. Doing deals to build hotels – something Trump has plenty of experience in – would be an ideal way to maintain good relations with Iran.
What a turn-up it would be if Trump could harness his business acumen to steer the ultimate deal for peace in Syria and the wider Middle East that no politician before him has achieved. Maybe I am a hopeless dreamer, but that really would be a deal to remember.
The Marshal Plan was rooted in self-interest. Will Trump find a justification as potent as fighting the ‘spread of Communism’ ?
All deals are rooted in self-interest. His motivation/justification would, I believe, be his need to defy his critics, not to fail like all his predecessors, his desire to leave a lasting legacy – vanity can be a powerful driver.
If there was gain ini it for Trump it might work and be a win win for him and the Middle East. But, as I recall, the Marshall Plan was received by grateful, cooperative countries eager to recover from a devastating war. Syria and Iraq seem to be so divided by fanatical factions with unimaginable atrocities committed by all sides on each other that Marshall Plan type aid might not be adequate to fully heal as well as rebuild these nations.
Lovely to read something hopeful, even if it does seem like a far off dream. Always enjoy your blogs Diana, thank you!
It would have been impossible under previous American presidents, but if Trump decides to see the Middle East in terms of deals, I don’t think it is entirely far-fetched. Just because something is difficult, it doesn’t mean you should give up – on the contrary, it means you just have to try harder! The political will to arrive at a settlement has been and still is absent, so maybe the commercial will could trump it and come to the fore…
Maybe, but a lot of what is portrayed as sectarian divisions in Syria and Iraq is often more about money than religion, such as Iraqi Shi’a joining the Syrian conflict because they get paid c$1,300 for a 45-55 day deployment in Syria (see today’s FT, page 5 “Shi’a fighters pour into Syria to defend Assad” by Erika Solomon). With careful controls in place, money might be used more constructively towards rebuilding instead of destroying, especially if the rewards for rebuilding were ultimately greater.
I am really interested in your work and I enjoyed reading your book. I am writing a fictional novella that relates to the Syrian war. I have several questions that I would like to ask you. Is there a way I could personally contact you?
Thank you so much in advance.
I was hoping I could get in contact with you to ask a couple questions concerning the Syrian war. Emailing works best for me, but let me know what you think.