Obama calls. Renzi, at attention, responds.
Last Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama announced his decision to extend the presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2016 and called for commitments from its allies to fall in line with Washington. The next day, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi answered from Venice. “Italy is a big country, and we are considering at this time the American request to continue for another year,” Renzi said. “If the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan continues, I think it’s right that on our side there is a commitment. We are thinking on the assumption of continuing our commitment.”
Obama’s decision was expected. In his speech at the White House last Thursday, the U.S. president announced that the current 9,800 troops operating in Afghanistan will not come home at the end of this year, as promised, but will remain for much of 2016 and will be gradually reduced to 5,500 after 2017. The remaining troops would have two main tasks: to train the Afghan security forces, which Obama considers “not yet as strong as they should be,” and to support counterterrorism operations “against what remains of al-Qaeda.”
The reply from Renzi arrived on time, as predictable as Italy’s subordination to all American foreign policy. “We have very complicated war scenarios,” and we have a duty to intervene, claimed the premier, who then awkwardly cited a recent visit by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to the Italian House of Representatives as an endorsement of the decision.
Renzi would do better citing himself: In June, he visited the Italian military base in Herat, Afghanistan, and asked the troops for “further sacrifice.” Another few months, he said, careful not to minimize the “successes in Afghanistan.” Friday he had second thoughts: It wouldn’t be a few more months; the 750 Italian soldiers in Herat and Kabul will stay another year.
That is, provided Parliament gives a green light to the extension.
The political reactions were predictable. For different reasons, both Ignazio La Russa, the former defence minister, and Arturo Scotto, leader of the Sinistra Ecologia Libertà party in the House (a green-left opposition party), pointed out that the decision “must pass through the Parliament.”
Legislative deliberations will be a good chance to discuss the results of the war and to recognize, finally, that the military occupation has been a failure.
Just look at the facts, free of rhetoric and propaganda.
The goals of the “international mission” have become more elastic with each new obstacle in the field, but at least three have remained constant over the last 14 years:
- Protect the local population
- consolidate democratic institutions
- defeat anti-government and terrorist groups.
On the first point: Statistics from the U.N. mission in Kabul show civilian casualties increase every year.
On the second point: The Afghan government is the most corrupt and inefficient in the world, and the national unity government — imposed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry — has institutionalized the antagonism between President Ashraf Ghani and quasi-Prime Minister Abdullah Abdullah.
On the third point, the failure is also total: The Taliban is alive and well. They’ve emerged from turbulence over the successor to Mullah Omar, installed Mullah Mansour as their leader and took the major city of Kunduz in a few days. Meanwhile, the threat of the Islamic State is reaching into the country.
Renzi says Italy is a big country and as such has a duty to intervene, to flex its muscles, to follow the decisions of the White House and the Pentagon.
It is actually the opposite: A big country discards senseless old paradigms and proposes new ones.
Renzi should scrap the old equation that combines foreign policy and militarism and the idea that defense can be understood only in military terms.
But he prefers to obey Obama. Always at attention.