Sixty years ago this month, the policy planning staff and many other parts of the Department of State, not to mention the American population, were busy thinking about “the European recovery problem.” They were scrambling to realize the vision spelled out just weeks before in Secretary of State George C. Marshall’s speech at Harvard’s commencement. Policy makers had to sort out real issues related to the mechanics of foreign aid — financing, delivery structures, regulations, requirements, the role of the private sector and coordination with international partners. The Conference of European Economic Cooperation (the embryonic form of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) met in mid-July of that year, enabling a number of European countries to join in the program’s design and the needs assessment. The Marshall Plan became a legislative act, launching the United States down a path of federal institution building and infrastructural reforms that began with the creation of the Economic Cooperation Administration.
Sentiment inside the Beltway has turned sharply against China. There are many issues where the two parties sound more or less the same. Trump and others in the administration seem heavily invested in a ‘get very tough with China’ stance. It’s possible that some Democrats might argue that a decoupling strategy borders on lunacy. But if Trump believes this will play well with his core constituencies as his reelection campaign moves into high gear, he will probably decide to stick with it, if the costs and the collateral damage seem manageable. But that’s a very big if, especially if the downsides of a protracted trade war for both American consumers and for American firms become increasingly apparent.