Despite political crisis, Italy still backs the US

Prodi gov't approves Italy's peacekeeping in Afghanistan, not sending troops to fight in the south, and a complete withdrawal from Iraq.

italy Massimo DAlema 88 (photo credit: )
italy Massimo DAlema 88
(photo credit: )
The motion of confidence in Italian foreign policy that fell short of approval by two votes (158 instead of 160) in the Italian Senate last week, where the governing coalition holds a split-hair majority, causing Premier Romano Prodi to hand in his resignation, was a vote against the spirit, and not so much the substance, of Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema's policies. The issues are very Italian and revolve around competition between coalitions of the Left and the Right. Although the opposition had presented its own, not very different, motion for approval, it was withdrawn and they were allegedly prepared to vote confidence in the government's foreign policy. They changed their minds after hearing the foreign minister's insistence that the Prodi government's policy represented a break from that of the previous, Berlusconi government. Form, not content, was at stake. The Prodi government, in fact, is following the same strategies laid out previously: an Atlantist stance in line with that of the European Union: Funding Italy's peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan but not sending troops to fight in the dangerous south of the country, and a now completed withdrawal of Italy's soldiers from Iraq. These actions were carried over from Berlusconi decisions. Although Italy sees itself as a "peacemaking" rather than a "peacekeeping" country, its substantial role in Lebanon was not even discussed in the parliamentary debate before the vote. Under the present government, Italy has supplied the largest military contingent for UNIFIL in Lebanon, which it now commands. And Italy held firm to its decision to acquiesce to the US request to expand its military base in the northeastern town of Vicenza despite a huge public anti-American demonstration held last week. The new international commitments made by the Prodi-D'Alema coalition solidly back US and Israeli concerns, despite rhetoric and actions that might lead one to think otherwise - such as D'Alema's "diplomatic" arm-in-arm walk through Beirut with a Hizbullah minister (for which he was harshly criticized). D'Alema likes to stress Italy's adherence to a "multilateral" (meaning EU or UN) policy rather than just bilateral (Italy-US); he shies away from use of force, preferring to propose international peace conferences for Afghanistan as well as for the Middle East, and he has toned down the former center-right's coalition's strong verbal support for the US and Israel. He has opted to reiterate that Italy's unquestionable loyalty to the US may at times permit "friendly dissent", and that a more inclusive, "equidistant" policy between Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab countries permits him to commit to Israel's security while continuing to cultivate ties to the Arab world. Without doubt, the governing coalition has major internal problems, made up as it is of widely divergent splinter parties, including those of the extreme Left. To satisfy the ambitions of all concerned, Italy now has the most numerous cabinet in its history, multiplying the numbers of its ministers, vice ministers, secretaries and undersecretaries. Other major problems beset this government - such as the arrest of a new generation of extreme-left Red Brigade terrorists, discovered armed and with plans to hit a myriad of targets including US and Israeli institutions in Italy. This group, resuscitated after more than 30 years, had made its base in sections of the Leftist unions. Although six out of 10 Italians now want national elections, and the center-right is itching to return to power, it seems unlikely this will happen. Prodi's Unione coalition is considering expanding its membership. Whether or not there will be another Prodi government, possibly with some reshuffling of ministers, and whether or not D'Alema keeps his position as foreign minister, it can be safely predicted that Italy's transatlantic commitments will not be weakened to please a vociferous minority.