Da The Boston Globe del 14/04/2006
Originale su http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2006/...

Keeping US, Italy link afloat

di Raffaello Pantucci

FEW AMERICANS will have noticed this week that they have lost another reflexive European ally. Those few who have noted center-left leader Romano Prodi's extremely narrow and still contested victory in Italy will fear that we are about to watch as the election result in Italy, like Spain before it, equates to a chilling in a previously solid bilateral trans-Atlantic relationship.

But policy makers on both sides of the Atlantic have long suspected that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's position in Italy was untenable. On the national stage, the billionaire TV-magnate's claims of success with the economy have been regularly undermined by facts on the ground, and on the international stage he brought Italy to war with him in Iraq against the wishes of roughly 70 percent of the populace.

Added to this, Berlusconi's personal troubles (his election campaign was shadowed by corruption investigations), and his oratorical gaffes (during the campaign he compared himself to Jesus and Napoleon, and swore celibacy until after polling day) made him a somewhat irregular ally. From Washington's perspective, Berlusconi was a staunch American supporter who vigorously led his nation to support America in Iraq and was rewarded with the honor of speaking before the joint houses of Congress. He was very vocal in both his support for President Bush's policies and his personal admiration of the man.

His opponent and victor, former president of the European Commission Romano Prodi, can seem the polar opposite both in style -- Prodi has the nickname ''Professore" while Berlusconi proudly sports the nickname ''Cavaliere" -- but also in substance, offering a platform on which he has made it clear that he will withdraw Italian troops from Iraq. The question is whether Prodi will be able to keep his more hard-line left-wing coalition partners in check and prevent them from hijacking the rhetoric of the Italian withdrawal and spinning it in the international press to reflect their anti-Americanism.

Berlusconi was always going to withdraw the troops anyway, but the difference is that Prodi's withdrawal will sever the main physical bond between US and Italian foreign policy, without Prodi having the political capital within his coalition to be able to find other pillars to sustain the wider Italian-American relationship. To US policy makers this scenario sounds a great deal like the one that played out when center-left Spanish leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero defeated pro-American leader Jose Maria Aznar, an election that heralded in the current situation where Prime Minister Zapatero and President Bush have yet to communicate with each other.

Luckily Italians were spared the atrocity that acted as a spark for Zapatero's victory; however, even without a bombing in Italy ahead of the elections the same end result is still nevertheless possible. Yet to allow Italian-American relations down this diplomatic path is neither necessary nor advisable. Not only would the United States lose another European ally, but Italy will find itself going against the grain of the gradual warming in trans-Atlantic relations championed by new German Chancellor Angela Merkel. This outcome could be avoided as long as both sides step back from the heated rhetoric that could follow an Italian withdrawal from Iraq in the wake of Prodi's victory.

On the Italian side, Prodi could emphasize his strategy of a ''phased" Italian withdrawal: one that envisages replacing a military force with a civilian presence concentrated on aiding Iraqi reconstruction. Washington would benefit from recognizing the fact that the United States can ill afford to lose another ally in Europe in such a manner. While Spain has remained a relatively fringe player in Europe, Italy has been a core member from the days of the European Coal and Steel Community.

There is little more that Washington can do at this point beyond being prepared to work hard to keep avenues open that may become more hostile. Prodi needs to be careful that he does not allow the latent anti-Americanism of Italy's far left to inculcate itself too deeply into Italian foreign policy and be sure that he handles the Italian withdrawal from Iraq with great care.

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