By Rosario A. Iaconis
New York Daily News
May 25, 2017
President Trump may not be a crook of Nixonian proportions. And he might not have committed an impeachable offense in firing former F.B.I. Director James Comey or divulging classified intelligence to Russian officials.
But the 45th POTUS is most certainly an unmitigated neophyte on the global stage — at a perilous juncture in history.
Ignorant of the past, incurious about the present and woefully ill-prepared for the future, Trump is in dire need of a foreign policy tutorial as he heads for the 43rd G-7 summit in Taormina, Italy.
In his first 100 days, the President has evinced a predilection for strongmen and autocrats while abjuring traditional democratic allies. Indeed, the Donald has lauded a literal murderers’ row of tyrants — from Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Russia’s Vladimir Putin to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to North Korea’s “dear leader” Kim Jong-un, whom Trump would be “honored to meet.”
When Trump arrives on the sundrenched Sicilian city of Taormina, he would be wise to heed the counsel of the G-7 Summit’s host — Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.
But not merely as a matter of etiquette, diplomacy or protocol.
Italy is the Eurozone’s third largest economy, the continent’s second-biggest manufacturing power (after Germany), a pillar of NATO, a leading partner in counterterrorism, a peacekeeper par excellence and a longstanding and steadfast American ally.
Not long ago, while serving as foreign minister, Gentiloni underscored his nation’s geopolitical primacy – echoing historian Michael Grant: “Italy’s central position in the Mediterranean is a call to self-assertion.”
Indeed, the road to Western unity runs through Rome.
For all of Theresa May’s Thatcheresque posturing and Churchillian rhetoric, Brexit has diminished London’s global role.
Though German Chancellor Angela Merkel heads the continent’s strongest growth engine, Berlin’s obstinate insistence on austerity economics has sown discord in the EU and nearly impoverished Greece.
As for France, Emmanuel Macron’s victory over Marine Le Pen stanched the bleeding in Paris. However, Monsieur Macron is no messiah. Like the Donald, the French president is a babe in the foreign policy woods.
Moreover, the French-inspired Libyan misadventure, which brought Al Qaeda back to Tripoli and beyond, led to the assassination of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. (The Western allies had ignored Rome’s warnings regarding military action in Libya, a former Italian colony.)
Given Washington’s vacillating leadership in the metastasizing cauldron of the Middle East, it is abundantly clear that NATO necessitates its Italian ally’s naval, peacekeeping and diplomatic prowess. Indeed, from ISIS to Libya and Syria to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and relations with Iran, Rome should be the key go-to partner.
The Italian Navy launched the highly successful Operation Mare Nostrum to bolster maritime migration security in the southern Mediterranean. While it was in effect, this bold naval undertaking rescued at least 150,000 migrants from drowning.
But Rome’s reach extends far beyond the wine-dark sea.
In truth, an ancestral yearning for the Pax Romana animates Italy’s fealty to global peace and prosperity. The Magic Boot ranks sixth in contributions to the UN’s regular budget. And its peacekeeping forces in the Balkans, Africa and the Middle East are second to none. (Just ask the Israelis.) Having adroitly restored Albania’s stability in 1997, Italy was also successful in initiating a dialogue with North Korea.
And the Italians have yet another lesson for Donald Trump.
Though Italy was Germany’s Axis partner during the Second World War, not one Jew under Italian rule perished in the Shoah — until the German occupation in 1943.
In fact, Italy’s “army of Schindlers” — as Dorothy Rabinowitz noted — thwarted the Nazis so that tens of thousands of Jewish lives were spared the horrors of the Holocaust. The Italians chose morality over anti-Semitism. And 21st-century Italy remains a staunchly Judeophilic nation. (Are you listening, Steve Bannon?)
Iaconis is an adjunct professor in the Social Sciences Department at Suffolk County Community College.