Commentary Magazine


Topic: Silvio Berlusconi

The Berlin-Rome-Tehran Axis

One of those dirty secrets that broad swaths of European media and politicians avoid like the plague is the ways in which European countries are propping up Tehran’s regime and its proxies Hamas and Hezbollah via their pro-Iranian trade policies. Last year, Italy and Germany turned out to be Europe’s major economic respirators for Iran’s stagnating economic system, with an overall joint business volume of 10 billion euros.

Last summer, the EU signed off on watered-down economic sanctions targeting Iran. Nevertheless, the EU did awaken from its slumber and banned the delivery of crucial energy technology to the Islamic Republic. Whereas the more robust U.S. sanctions prohibit the acquisition of Iranian gas and crude oil, European countries are permitted to consume vast amounts of the stuff. Iran’s lifeline is the sale of its crude oil, and Italy has an Iranian oil addiction, with imports mushrooming by 90 percent in 2010.

Traditionally, Germany has  been Europe’s No. 1 trade partner with Iran. During the second Bush administration, U.S. diplomats urged German engineering firms and banks to end their flourishing deals with Iran. Bush had some striking successes, such as major German financial institutions like Deutsche Bank shutting down their Iranian operations. Bush twisted arms in Germany.

President Obama is limping on both legs in trying to convince Chancellor Angela Merkel to shut down Iranian banks in Germany. Last summer, he called Merkel to persuade her to pull the plug on the Hamburg-based European-Iranian trade bank, an entity that was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department because of its involvement in Iran’s illicit nuclear-proliferation and ballistic-missile program. Merkel simply snubbed Obama.

Despite Merkel’s promises to the Israeli Knesset in 2008 and to the U.S. Congress in 2009 that Israel’s security is “non-negotiable“ and that Iran’s nuclear-weapons program must be stopped, business as usual takes priority over the so-called German-Israeli special relationship and defending Western and global security.

It seems that the time is ripe for President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton to flex their diplomatic muscles and publicly urge Rome and Berlin to implement unilateral sanctions against Iran, as Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi are a making a mockery of President Obama’s multilateral effort to isolate the Islamic Republic.

One of those dirty secrets that broad swaths of European media and politicians avoid like the plague is the ways in which European countries are propping up Tehran’s regime and its proxies Hamas and Hezbollah via their pro-Iranian trade policies. Last year, Italy and Germany turned out to be Europe’s major economic respirators for Iran’s stagnating economic system, with an overall joint business volume of 10 billion euros.

Last summer, the EU signed off on watered-down economic sanctions targeting Iran. Nevertheless, the EU did awaken from its slumber and banned the delivery of crucial energy technology to the Islamic Republic. Whereas the more robust U.S. sanctions prohibit the acquisition of Iranian gas and crude oil, European countries are permitted to consume vast amounts of the stuff. Iran’s lifeline is the sale of its crude oil, and Italy has an Iranian oil addiction, with imports mushrooming by 90 percent in 2010.

Traditionally, Germany has  been Europe’s No. 1 trade partner with Iran. During the second Bush administration, U.S. diplomats urged German engineering firms and banks to end their flourishing deals with Iran. Bush had some striking successes, such as major German financial institutions like Deutsche Bank shutting down their Iranian operations. Bush twisted arms in Germany.

President Obama is limping on both legs in trying to convince Chancellor Angela Merkel to shut down Iranian banks in Germany. Last summer, he called Merkel to persuade her to pull the plug on the Hamburg-based European-Iranian trade bank, an entity that was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department because of its involvement in Iran’s illicit nuclear-proliferation and ballistic-missile program. Merkel simply snubbed Obama.

Despite Merkel’s promises to the Israeli Knesset in 2008 and to the U.S. Congress in 2009 that Israel’s security is “non-negotiable“ and that Iran’s nuclear-weapons program must be stopped, business as usual takes priority over the so-called German-Israeli special relationship and defending Western and global security.

It seems that the time is ripe for President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton to flex their diplomatic muscles and publicly urge Rome and Berlin to implement unilateral sanctions against Iran, as Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi are a making a mockery of President Obama’s multilateral effort to isolate the Islamic Republic.

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Strange Herring

Billboard with picture of Jimmy Carter asks “Miss Me Yet?” No.

Reagan Republican gets star on Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Facebook may cause syphilis, MySpace may cause meningitis, and Leon’s getting la-a-a-r-ger.

24 is officially 0. Jack Bauer to become evangelist.

Iran apparently building two nuclear facilities in order to “explode the sun and unleash a legion of semi-mythical half-beasts to rule the galaxy as an expression of our rage.” UN gives plan the “OK.”

Avatar fans learn Na’vi between therapy sessions. Klingon, Vulcan, and conversational Spanish apparently closed.

Starbucks turns 39. In celebration, the price of a Venti Cinnamon Dolce Frappuccino® Blended Crème mocha-choca latte ya-ya, with extra ya-ya, is dropping a dime, to $64.89.

Lady GaGa breaks world record by accumulating one billion hits to her Web video. In other entertainment news, Snooki explores Kierkegaard’s teleological suspension of the ethical as it relates to big hair on this week’s Jersey Shore.

Painters freer than ever to follow their muse. Sad clowns still dominant subject matter, followed by dogs playing poker and Elvis on velvet.

Twenty-five-year-old Frenchman arrested for hacking into Barack Obama’s Twitter account. So no, the president did not Tweet the lyrics to “When Doves Cry” last Thursday.

Silvio Berlusconi calls rival in Italian election ugly, cites Cicero, Machiavelli, and “the tall one” from Laverne and Shirley.

Man sentenced to prison for trying to break into prison after being released from prison. Wreaks havoc with recidivism rates. (“If they put me in general population, I’ll break into solitary confinement,” he warns.)

Steak and deep-fried food prove to be good for you, just as Woody Allen predicted.

British press mocks American animal-rights advocate.

That cutthroat get-ahead-at-any-cost colleague may just be a run-of-the-mill psychopath. Which explains the success of the iPhone.

Sinead O’Connor demands “full criminal investigation of the pope.” Vatican demands full criminal investigation of Throw Down Your Arms.

And finally, Doris Day is America’s No. 1 Favorite Actress. (Oh, so sue me…)

Billboard with picture of Jimmy Carter asks “Miss Me Yet?” No.

Reagan Republican gets star on Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Facebook may cause syphilis, MySpace may cause meningitis, and Leon’s getting la-a-a-r-ger.

24 is officially 0. Jack Bauer to become evangelist.

Iran apparently building two nuclear facilities in order to “explode the sun and unleash a legion of semi-mythical half-beasts to rule the galaxy as an expression of our rage.” UN gives plan the “OK.”

Avatar fans learn Na’vi between therapy sessions. Klingon, Vulcan, and conversational Spanish apparently closed.

Starbucks turns 39. In celebration, the price of a Venti Cinnamon Dolce Frappuccino® Blended Crème mocha-choca latte ya-ya, with extra ya-ya, is dropping a dime, to $64.89.

Lady GaGa breaks world record by accumulating one billion hits to her Web video. In other entertainment news, Snooki explores Kierkegaard’s teleological suspension of the ethical as it relates to big hair on this week’s Jersey Shore.

Painters freer than ever to follow their muse. Sad clowns still dominant subject matter, followed by dogs playing poker and Elvis on velvet.

Twenty-five-year-old Frenchman arrested for hacking into Barack Obama’s Twitter account. So no, the president did not Tweet the lyrics to “When Doves Cry” last Thursday.

Silvio Berlusconi calls rival in Italian election ugly, cites Cicero, Machiavelli, and “the tall one” from Laverne and Shirley.

Man sentenced to prison for trying to break into prison after being released from prison. Wreaks havoc with recidivism rates. (“If they put me in general population, I’ll break into solitary confinement,” he warns.)

Steak and deep-fried food prove to be good for you, just as Woody Allen predicted.

British press mocks American animal-rights advocate.

That cutthroat get-ahead-at-any-cost colleague may just be a run-of-the-mill psychopath. Which explains the success of the iPhone.

Sinead O’Connor demands “full criminal investigation of the pope.” Vatican demands full criminal investigation of Throw Down Your Arms.

And finally, Doris Day is America’s No. 1 Favorite Actress. (Oh, so sue me…)

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Is Europe Heading Right?

Silvio Berlusconi is planning to appoint Roberto Calderoli, a far-Right critic of Islam, to his cabinet. Two years ago, during the first Danish cartoon firestorm, Calderoli went on television wearing a T-shirt bearing one of the offending images. A brave and admirable defense of freedom of expression in and of itself. But Calderoli didn’t stop at T-shirt activism. He threatened, cringe-inducingly, to walk a pig over the site of a proposed mosque in Padua. Then he made a headfirst dive into quasi-Fascism: After France lost to Italy in the 2006 World Cup, Calderoli bragged that France had “sacrificed its identity by fielding niggers, Muslims and communists.”

Berlusconi’s plan to appoint the former Reform Minister, along with other recent electoral shifts on the continent, raise a vital two-part question: Is Europe moving right? And, if so, how far?

Over the past six or so years, continental utopianism failed to produce the kind of unified EU we had been hearing so much about. Moreover, Europe’s hush-hush approach to Euro-Muslim relations failed to address the continued waves of unassimilated Muslim immigrants, witnessed everywhere from France to Italy to Spain to England to Holland. Europe talks a fabulous game of tolerance, but plays a ruthless game of tribal rugby. With some exceptions (Spain, for example) there’s increasing evidence that that most intemperate beast, the European Right, is awakening.

Witness the candidacy of Le Pen in France, or the career of Holland’s Pim Fortuyn, ended by assassination. Or take this week. In Italy, there’s the case of Berlusconi and his extreme potential appointee. Over the weekend, in England, staunch anti-Islamist Boris Johnson defeated Islamist apologist Ken Livingstone in the London mayoral race. Not troubling (perhaps even heartening) in itself. But on the heels of that victory, the extreme-Right British National Party’s Richard Barnbrook became the first BNP candidate ever to nab a seat in the London Assembly. To get the flavor of what Barnbrook is all about, consider this from the Daily Mail:

In public, Barnbrook has long favoured what one acquaintance calls a “Stormtrooper” brown suit and matching tie, which even his supporters feel is rather too suggestive of a Nuremberg rally for his electoral good.

Yikes. The problem with the European Right is that for every Berlusconi there’s a Calderoli, and for every Boris Johnson there’s a Barnbrook. Without a politically-defined national identity comparable to that of the United States, European nations are unable to mount a defense of ideals separate from a defense of (usually racialized) identity.

But one solution to the European conundrum may lie in the example of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. He has said he wants to make France more like America. This means cutting back the extensive state benefits that keep the French from fully contributing to their country and attract hordes of equally unmotivated immigrants. It means saying no to Islamization without discarding religious plurality. It’s been slow going for “Sarko the American,” but moderation takes time. Extreme policies can be enacted instantly, without regard for side-effects. But that lack of caution is precisely what makes it–and politicians like Calderoli and Barnbrook– dangerous.

Silvio Berlusconi is planning to appoint Roberto Calderoli, a far-Right critic of Islam, to his cabinet. Two years ago, during the first Danish cartoon firestorm, Calderoli went on television wearing a T-shirt bearing one of the offending images. A brave and admirable defense of freedom of expression in and of itself. But Calderoli didn’t stop at T-shirt activism. He threatened, cringe-inducingly, to walk a pig over the site of a proposed mosque in Padua. Then he made a headfirst dive into quasi-Fascism: After France lost to Italy in the 2006 World Cup, Calderoli bragged that France had “sacrificed its identity by fielding niggers, Muslims and communists.”

Berlusconi’s plan to appoint the former Reform Minister, along with other recent electoral shifts on the continent, raise a vital two-part question: Is Europe moving right? And, if so, how far?

Over the past six or so years, continental utopianism failed to produce the kind of unified EU we had been hearing so much about. Moreover, Europe’s hush-hush approach to Euro-Muslim relations failed to address the continued waves of unassimilated Muslim immigrants, witnessed everywhere from France to Italy to Spain to England to Holland. Europe talks a fabulous game of tolerance, but plays a ruthless game of tribal rugby. With some exceptions (Spain, for example) there’s increasing evidence that that most intemperate beast, the European Right, is awakening.

Witness the candidacy of Le Pen in France, or the career of Holland’s Pim Fortuyn, ended by assassination. Or take this week. In Italy, there’s the case of Berlusconi and his extreme potential appointee. Over the weekend, in England, staunch anti-Islamist Boris Johnson defeated Islamist apologist Ken Livingstone in the London mayoral race. Not troubling (perhaps even heartening) in itself. But on the heels of that victory, the extreme-Right British National Party’s Richard Barnbrook became the first BNP candidate ever to nab a seat in the London Assembly. To get the flavor of what Barnbrook is all about, consider this from the Daily Mail:

In public, Barnbrook has long favoured what one acquaintance calls a “Stormtrooper” brown suit and matching tie, which even his supporters feel is rather too suggestive of a Nuremberg rally for his electoral good.

Yikes. The problem with the European Right is that for every Berlusconi there’s a Calderoli, and for every Boris Johnson there’s a Barnbrook. Without a politically-defined national identity comparable to that of the United States, European nations are unable to mount a defense of ideals separate from a defense of (usually racialized) identity.

But one solution to the European conundrum may lie in the example of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. He has said he wants to make France more like America. This means cutting back the extensive state benefits that keep the French from fully contributing to their country and attract hordes of equally unmotivated immigrants. It means saying no to Islamization without discarding religious plurality. It’s been slow going for “Sarko the American,” but moderation takes time. Extreme policies can be enacted instantly, without regard for side-effects. But that lack of caution is precisely what makes it–and politicians like Calderoli and Barnbrook– dangerous.

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Good(ish) News from Iran

Gianfranco Fini, the leader of the Italian conservative party Alleanza Nazionale and an ally of Silvio Berlusconi in the upcoming April 13 Italian national elections, has offered a glimpse into Italy’s foreign policy if he and Mr Berlusconi win a majority.

According to a recent report in the Financial Times, Fini called Iran the “danger of today,” and said that

the EU should take a “very tough” stand and that Italy’s position as an important European trade partner gave it extra leverage in imposing sanctions against Tehran’s nuclear programme.

This is very good news, given that Italy is Iran’s second-largest commercial partner in Europe and that its business interests mainly contribute to strategic sectors of Iran’s economy–steel, energy, and civil engineering. But Fini’s welcome remarks should come with a caveat: turning these good intentions into good practice is a different story, even if Fini and his political allies win next week. Italy is currently the principal obstacle in efforts to expand EU sanctions to target Iran’s Bank Melli, its principal commercial bank

Melli is the main conduit for financial transactions for Italian companies operating in Iran. But it’s is also the main conduit of financing for Hezbollah in Lebanon and was instrumental in funding the terror attack against the AMIA Jewish center in Argentina in 1994. Italy’s current position is that Bank Melli–evidence of misdeeds notwithstanding–cannot be touched: too many commercial interests are at stake. Will Fini and his putative prime minister Berlusconi change course?

Gianfranco Fini, the leader of the Italian conservative party Alleanza Nazionale and an ally of Silvio Berlusconi in the upcoming April 13 Italian national elections, has offered a glimpse into Italy’s foreign policy if he and Mr Berlusconi win a majority.

According to a recent report in the Financial Times, Fini called Iran the “danger of today,” and said that

the EU should take a “very tough” stand and that Italy’s position as an important European trade partner gave it extra leverage in imposing sanctions against Tehran’s nuclear programme.

This is very good news, given that Italy is Iran’s second-largest commercial partner in Europe and that its business interests mainly contribute to strategic sectors of Iran’s economy–steel, energy, and civil engineering. But Fini’s welcome remarks should come with a caveat: turning these good intentions into good practice is a different story, even if Fini and his political allies win next week. Italy is currently the principal obstacle in efforts to expand EU sanctions to target Iran’s Bank Melli, its principal commercial bank

Melli is the main conduit for financial transactions for Italian companies operating in Iran. But it’s is also the main conduit of financing for Hezbollah in Lebanon and was instrumental in funding the terror attack against the AMIA Jewish center in Argentina in 1994. Italy’s current position is that Bank Melli–evidence of misdeeds notwithstanding–cannot be touched: too many commercial interests are at stake. Will Fini and his putative prime minister Berlusconi change course?

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Fixing Europe: God or Free Markets?

In an interview with Peter Robinson at NRO’s Corner, classicist Bruce Thornton explains why Europe’s fate is sealed by its demographic decline:

“[c]hildren are expensive. They require you to sacrifice your time and your interests and your own comfort. If your highest good is pleasure, if your highest good is a sophisticated life, then children
get in the way. Why would you spend so much money and so much energy on children if your highest good is simply material well-being? That’s sort of the spiritual dimension of the problem.”

Robinson elaborates: “There are so few children in Europe, in other words, because there are so few believers.” Well, possibly. These two factors are regularly mentioned as reasons: We Europeans are hedonistic, self-indulgent and pampered creatures. Having lost our faith in God, we seek instant gratification in the materialistic pleasures of a consumerist existence. We are thus unwilling to make sacrifices to raise children. Few would dispute that career, standards of living, high levels of education, women emancipation and the sexual revolution – some of the results of secularization – have led over the last three decades to a situation where youngsters tend to marry much later in life and have less children. And this, no doubt, largely applies to the urban, upper-middle-class segment in Europe—post-national, secular, globalized, trendy, and well-paid.

But there are other reasons, which came painfully to the fore in Italy’s electoral campaign this week, during a television blunder by center-right leader and prime minister-hopeful, Silvio Berlusconi. During a talk show, Berlusconi was asked by a young woman how young couples can hope to build a family given the precarious nature of their job situation. Berlusconi, jokingly, recommended that she should marry his son or someone from the same high income category.

Berlusconi’s suggestion to marry a millionaire might sound like Marie Antoinette suggesting that if French people had no bread they should eat brioche. To be fair, Berlusconi was joking – he went on to elaborate in much more serious ways.

Here is the problem: Given Europe’s labor markets, the nature and costs of Europe’s welfare systems and the standard cost of living in European countries, young people cannot afford to marry until much later in their adult life. If you are a European in your 20′s, it will be hard to find steady employment with reasonable pay. Due to high employer costs resulting from welfare legislation and labor laws (once hired on a regular contract, it is hard and costly to fire you), you are not likely to get anything but underpaid, short-term contracts. Read More

In an interview with Peter Robinson at NRO’s Corner, classicist Bruce Thornton explains why Europe’s fate is sealed by its demographic decline:

“[c]hildren are expensive. They require you to sacrifice your time and your interests and your own comfort. If your highest good is pleasure, if your highest good is a sophisticated life, then children
get in the way. Why would you spend so much money and so much energy on children if your highest good is simply material well-being? That’s sort of the spiritual dimension of the problem.”

Robinson elaborates: “There are so few children in Europe, in other words, because there are so few believers.” Well, possibly. These two factors are regularly mentioned as reasons: We Europeans are hedonistic, self-indulgent and pampered creatures. Having lost our faith in God, we seek instant gratification in the materialistic pleasures of a consumerist existence. We are thus unwilling to make sacrifices to raise children. Few would dispute that career, standards of living, high levels of education, women emancipation and the sexual revolution – some of the results of secularization – have led over the last three decades to a situation where youngsters tend to marry much later in life and have less children. And this, no doubt, largely applies to the urban, upper-middle-class segment in Europe—post-national, secular, globalized, trendy, and well-paid.

But there are other reasons, which came painfully to the fore in Italy’s electoral campaign this week, during a television blunder by center-right leader and prime minister-hopeful, Silvio Berlusconi. During a talk show, Berlusconi was asked by a young woman how young couples can hope to build a family given the precarious nature of their job situation. Berlusconi, jokingly, recommended that she should marry his son or someone from the same high income category.

Berlusconi’s suggestion to marry a millionaire might sound like Marie Antoinette suggesting that if French people had no bread they should eat brioche. To be fair, Berlusconi was joking – he went on to elaborate in much more serious ways.

Here is the problem: Given Europe’s labor markets, the nature and costs of Europe’s welfare systems and the standard cost of living in European countries, young people cannot afford to marry until much later in their adult life. If you are a European in your 20′s, it will be hard to find steady employment with reasonable pay. Due to high employer costs resulting from welfare legislation and labor laws (once hired on a regular contract, it is hard and costly to fire you), you are not likely to get anything but underpaid, short-term contracts.

The lack of economic stability for young adults has to do with the bias of a heavily regulated market, where legislation provides entrenched privileges for those who are already in but penalizes those newcomers who are still out. Without a reasonably paid job, you have little chance of getting a decent mortgage to buy a house, you will have no money to pay for much over and above rent and bills, and therefore there is little likelihood to get married and have those expensive kids. The aggregate burden of welfare impacts all sectors and the overall cost of living: Many European singles still live with their parents, and in some countries, like Italy, companies offer lower salaries precisely on the assumption that for a long time their employees will live at home with their parents and therefore minimize their costs. It’s less about God, then, and more about labor laws.

When Berlusconi tried to reform the labor market in Italy during his previous stint as Prime minister, the main author of the reform was gunned down by Red Brigades assassins – a painful reminder of the challenges a free-market economy still faces in Europe. No serious reform was eventually passed.

Adverse labor legislation prevents young couples from bringing children into the world – with or without a God – because though they may want to, they cannot afford it. It is not that young Europeans spend too much in the pursuit of pleasure. Rather, they cannot pay for the high costs of raising a family in Europe until much later in life. Bringing God back to Europe might contribute to a shift in those demographic trends – no doubt, Islamists would concur in principle even if they differ on which god to restore – but it seems just as effective to advocate a liberalization of the labor market. After all, it is simpler to legislate liberalization than to legislate faith. Allowing Europeans in their 20′s and just out of college to enter the job market more easily and with better rewards – even as they do so with more risks – would be more effective than relying on a return of God to Europe.

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Via Romana

Until April 2006, Italy was America’s staunchest ally in Europe after Tony Blair’s Great Britain. The Italian government supported the war in Iraq, despite its unpopularity in Italy, and sent troops there to participate in the post-war efforts to stabilize the country. Ex-PM Silvio Berlusconi was a regular guest at the White House, and even visited President George W. Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas—a privilege extended only to the nation’s closest allies. But in April of last year a Center-Left coalition unseated Mr. Berlusconi; now, scarcely a year later, the once-friendly relations between Italy and the U.S. have gravely deteriorated.

First, Prodi’s government made good on its promise to withdraw Italian troops from Iraq. Then came last summer’s war in Lebanon. Though Italy pledged troops for the new UNIFIL, Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema’s excessive display of affection for Hizbullah MP Hussein Haji Hassan during a visit to Beirut did not help matters between Italy and the U.S. Italy was elected to one of the rotating seats on the UN Security Council with America’s blessing, but the U.S.-backed candidate from the Latin American bloc—Guatemala—failed to obtain Italy’s support in the face of Venezuela’s challenge. Despite Condoleezza Rice’s personal call to D’Alema to express American concern, Italy abstained. Thus, while a constant stream of Europe’s other Center-Left ministers has visited Washington, Prodi and D’Alema have been left to wait in Rome.

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Until April 2006, Italy was America’s staunchest ally in Europe after Tony Blair’s Great Britain. The Italian government supported the war in Iraq, despite its unpopularity in Italy, and sent troops there to participate in the post-war efforts to stabilize the country. Ex-PM Silvio Berlusconi was a regular guest at the White House, and even visited President George W. Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas—a privilege extended only to the nation’s closest allies. But in April of last year a Center-Left coalition unseated Mr. Berlusconi; now, scarcely a year later, the once-friendly relations between Italy and the U.S. have gravely deteriorated.

First, Prodi’s government made good on its promise to withdraw Italian troops from Iraq. Then came last summer’s war in Lebanon. Though Italy pledged troops for the new UNIFIL, Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema’s excessive display of affection for Hizbullah MP Hussein Haji Hassan during a visit to Beirut did not help matters between Italy and the U.S. Italy was elected to one of the rotating seats on the UN Security Council with America’s blessing, but the U.S.-backed candidate from the Latin American bloc—Guatemala—failed to obtain Italy’s support in the face of Venezuela’s challenge. Despite Condoleezza Rice’s personal call to D’Alema to express American concern, Italy abstained. Thus, while a constant stream of Europe’s other Center-Left ministers has visited Washington, Prodi and D’Alema have been left to wait in Rome.

The refinancing of Italy’s mission in Afghanistan proved to be another point of contention. Though Italy’s presence in Herat and Kabul is appreciated, Americans have been growing resentful of the unwillingness of the Italian government to commit troops to the fight against the Taliban in the south. Italy is not alone in its reluctance—Germany and Spain also have not committed military resources to the south. But a recent article by the ambassadors to Italy of six NATO countries whose troops are fighting—and dying—in southern Afghanistan irked the Italian foreign minister. The article called on Italy not to disengage. D’Alema called it “inopportune.”

In the last three weeks, Italy further tarnished its government’s credibility with the U.S. Under pressure from Rome, the Afghan government agreed to let five Taliban terrorists loose in exchange for an Italian hostage, Daniele Mastrogiacomo, a correspondent for La Repubblica. The Prodi government’s deal with the Taliban did nothing for Mastrogiacomo’s Afghan driver and interpreter, who were beheaded.

In a twist of fate, Kabul then arrested Rahmatullah Hanefi, the local point man of an Italian NGO called Emergency, headed by the renowned leftist radical Gino Strada, who had mediated the hostage release. The Afghan government accused Hanefi of double-dealing with the Taliban. Defending his associate, Strada retorted that Hanefi was beyond reproach: he had performed honorably last fall, when he delivered the Taliban a substantial sum of money for the release of another Italian hostage. Relying on Strada—who equates Bush with Osama bin Laden and considers the U.S. the chief perpetrator of international terrorism—proved to have been a terrible error. Italy now stands accused of bringing about the release of terrorists, of having sacrificed two Afghans to rescue one Italian, of having damaged Hamid Karzai’s government, and of having emboldened the Taliban.

Even outside the theater of the global war on terror, Italy’s government shows a new hostility to America. When a joint venture of AT&T and Mexico’s America Movil sought to buy a stake in Italian telecommunications giant Telecom, government ministers raised the banner of the “national interest” to prevent the company from falling into foreign hands. Prodi said he would be happy if Telecom were to remain under Italian ownership, though he promised no interference. D’Alema went a little farther, expressing his hope for an “Italian initiative” to keep Telecom from a foreign take-over and hinting that the parliament could override market considerations.

In less than a year, Prodi and D’Alema have caused, more or less, a complete breakdown in Italo-American relations. Is it any wonder that they are still waiting for an invitation to the White House?

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