Foreign and Defense Policy, Europe and Russia

Italy vs. Obama?

U.S. President Barack Obama (L) and Italy's premier Mario Monti walk together after leaders gathered for a family photo at the G8 Summit at Camp David, Maryland, May 19, 2012. REUTERS/Andrew Winning

U.S. President Barack Obama (L) and Italy's premier Mario Monti walk together after leaders gathered for a family photo at the G8 Summit at Camp David, Maryland, May 19, 2012. REUTERS/Andrew Winning

President Obama barely feigns interest in Europe, but the State Department is in no position to neglect it. The composition of the next Italian parliament, which will control the purse strings of the military mission in Afghanistan, will be determined by voters in two weeks.

If the Left prevails in the elections, financial support for our mission in Afghanistan may be at risk. The Italian ISAF troops in the western part of the country have played a crucial role in securing Afghanistan’s border with Iran, and the “Carabinieri,” the Italian military police force, has provided training for their Afghan counterparts. A coalition intent on depriving Obama of these contributions will jeopardize the success of the mission, assuming Obama remains committed to it through 2014.

There are some pockets of support on the Left for Obama’s policies. Mayor of Florence Matteo Renzi, who went so far as to attend the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, promised during his (failed) campaign that Italian troops would remain in Afghanistan until 2014. The man to whom Renzi lost, Pier Luigi Bersani, is less amenable to any military cooperation with the United States. “Italy is strongly committed to Europe and a trusted friend of the United States,” he said, “but 2013 will be the closing year of our experience in Afghanistan.”

But if Bersani seems uncooperative, the alternatives look downright obstreperous. Nichi Vendola, the communist poet, governor of Apulia, and the Left’s rising star, has announced that his first task in a new government would be the “immediate withdrawal of Italian troops in Afghanistan.” And Beppe Grillo, the Italian Michael Moore, has called Afghanistan a “political, military, and humanitarian disaster.”

Sure, Italy is far away, its politics are a circus, and its economy a mess. But in Afghanistan, we still matter. For now.

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