The Mar­shall Plan That Ran Aground

Global Asia - - BOOK REVIEWS - Re­viewed by John Delury.

The last time gen­er­als played so prom­i­nent a role in US pol­i­tics and diplo­macy was at the end of the Sec­ond World War, when Gen­eral of the Army Ge­orge Mar­shall was pos­si­bly the most revered man in Amer­ica. He was ready to re­tire to his coun­try home, but Pres­i­dent Harry Tru­man saw him as an ir­re­sistible choice to take on the hard­est job in post-war for­eign af­fairs: Bro­ker­ing a peace in China be­tween Chi­ang Kai-shek’s Na­tion­al­ists and Mao Ze­dong’s Com­mu­nists. Daniel Kurtz-phe­lan, edi­tor at For­eign Af­fairs, re­con­structs his year-long mis­sion in exquisite de­tail, chron­i­cling a tragic fail­ure at in­ter­ven­tion by a great states­man on be­half of a na­tion at a peak of global power. His­to­ri­ans of Us-china re­la­tions have stud­ied the episode in depth, but The China Mis­sion is the first telling geared to a wider au­di­ence.

Mar­shall’s com­pli­cated, ex­as­per­at­ing re­la­tion­ships with Chi­ang and Mao make a fas­ci­nat­ing case study in third-party me­di­a­tion. His strug­gle is a cau­tion­ary fa­ble of the lim­its of US in­flu­ence in Asia, and con­trasts with the bet­ter-known “mir­a­cle” tale of Amer­ica’s re­build­ing of Europe, known sim­ply as the Mar­shall Plan. As Kurtz-phe­lan points out, Amer­i­cans to this day in­voke “a Mar­shall Plan for X” as the cookie-cut­ter for­eign-pol­icy so­lu­tion to ev­ery ill — the most re­cent ex­am­ple be­ing the no­tion that North Korea could de­nu­cle­arize in re­turn for the chance of mas­sive Amer­i­can investment. But with the rise of China to great power sta­tus and the re­treat of Amer­ica from global leadership, the Mar­shall Mis­sion may have greater res­o­nance and hard lessons than the Mar­shall Plan.

The China Mis­sion: Ge­orge C. Mar­shall’s Un­fin­ished War, 1945-1947 By Daniel Kurtz-phe­lan W.W. Nor­ton and Com­pany, 2018, 496 pages, $28.95 (Hard­cover)

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