Learning from the lessons of history: thoughts on a Syrian reconstruction

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As we approach July 2014, few of us expected the war to continue into a fourth year; we had expected the “spring of several years ago” to be different. And while we have no clear understanding of when the war is going to end we must begin to give thought and devote our energies and efforts to the reconstruction projects and how to more equitably share the “resources and opportunities” to come – with all of Syria!

How should we think about the concept of reconstruction? How should we think about the rebuilding of our parks, our homes, our schools, our clinics and hospitals, and how should we think about rebuilding our lives, our memories, our future and our ability to heal.

The idea of reconstruction presents us with hope and the opportunity to correct errors, create jobs and professions, and to live as Syrians once again.

What can we learn from history? The lessons of other countries that had destructive wars, and went toward reconstruction offer a starting point.

For Lebanon, many say that the construction and reconstruction has been at the expense of the rest of Lebanon. The project was launched to reconstruct the downtown Beirut in 1995 after long years of war ended; and while there has been significant progress toward this goal, we have not achieved the breadth of reconstruction, healing and community building across the entire country as seen in the continuing strife throughout Lebanon. I would want Syria to learn from this lesson and adopt a more comprehensive approach.

When we look to the close of World War II, economists and leaders understood that the supplies of European countries in terms of their foreign currency reserves had been taken up in the expenses of the war and there would be an urgent need to secure funding for the necessary requirements of the State. Many of the most thoughtfuland insightful leaders also knew that the “winning powers and armies” had made a grave mistake by not rebuilding broadly and expansively. Indeed, this failure of leadership lead to the fault lines which brought us World War II. As we recognize the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, we should learn these lessons well.

This explains the passage of the U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall in 1948 with a budget of 13 billion dollars to be spent between 1948 -1951 – the largest part of these funds were for reconstruction and removal of trade restrictions and the modernization of industry German and other European industries.

Perhaps once considered a warring country, Germany has returned in the last decade as a global leader in industry leading to higher levels of production and wealth than the pre-war period; thanks in large part to good management and they benefited significantly from funding, and the speed of the reconstruction and the rehabilitation of their abilities and repayment of loans for the benefit of large number of German companies.

Returning to the crisis in Syria, the country has been significantly depleted in terms of foreign reserves and its capacity for significant production in the areas of agriculture, and the delivery of basic human services.

Experience shows that reconstruction projects can only be begin once the war has concluded and that there will be a priority is for relief, food, infrastructure, transportation and education.

I fear that we have forgotten the lessons of World War II; as a global community, we have not come close to anything as imaginative as the “Marhsall Plan” for Liberia, The Sudan, Somalia, and dozens of other countries over the last several decades. Where is our leadership and visionaries? Our humanity?

The fear is always in any reconstruction project in the absence of justice between regions or groups of people would lead us to repeat the Lebanese experience.

The real problem for the development has never been exclusively about the financial resources; these are important, and necessary but they are insufficient for building a sustainable peace, and the realization of the minds.

The harmony needed to reach a compelling vision for the future and its choices about work, wages and the balance between wishes and well-deserved achievements requires us to learn from history in order to build a better future for Syria, and our region. In doing so, we will – now and for decades to come – participate in and contribute to more peaceful days.

L.A

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