Obama's sin of omission
Letter to the Editor,
San Francisco Chronicle,
July 31, 2008
If all roads lead to Rome, why is Barack Obama avoiding Italy on his tour of key allied capitals?
Did Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's tongue-in-cheek endorsement of John McCain rankle the senator?
Why risk alienating nearly 25 million Italian-American voters in swing states? One would think that Barack had learned his lesson after the Rev. Jeremiah Wright imbroglio. But then, Sen. Obama never expressed any outrage when his former pastor characterized Italians as "garlic noses" and oppressive Romans hell-bent on lynchings and apartheid.
On a geopolitical basis, however, Obama's exclusion of Italy is as foolhardy as it is myopic. According to the senator: "France, Germany and the United Kingdom are key anchors of the transatlantic alliance and have contributed to the mission in Afghanistan, and I look forward to discussing how we can strengthen our partnership in the years to come."
And what is Italy? Chopped fegato? (Ironically, according to a recent opinion poll of Western Europe conducted on behalf of Britain's Daily Telegraph, 70 percent of Italians would vote for Obama in the 2008 presidential election.) Has the senator forgotten the plethora of American bases in Italy: Aviano, Crotone, Sigonella and, of course, Naples - site of the U.S. Navy's Sixth Fleet?
As a Mediterranean power, NATO bulwark and peacekeeper par excellence, Italy has impeccable military credentials on the ground, in the air and across the high seas. Moreover, Italian diplomacy is both sinewy and nuanced, having effectively jaw-jawed with such pariahs as Tehran and Pyongyang.
Italian troops have helped to keep the peace in both Iraq and Afghanistan. And Italian soldiers have shed their blood in both of these forbidding lands.
The Italians currently lead the multinational contingent keeping the peace in Lebanon (in the aftermath of the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah).
Because Italy enjoys good relations with both Israel and the Islamic world, it can engage in shuttle diplomacy that could jump-start the two-state scenario for Israel and the Palestinians.
In 2009, Italy will host the 35th annual G-8 Summit in La Maddalena. Prime Minister Berlusconi may well use this occasion to remind his fellow G-8 partners - and the next American president - that the Italians have a noteworthy record when it comes to conflict resolution and peace. To that end, il Cavaliere can proffer the wisdom of Marcus Aurelius: "Arm yourself for action with these two thoughts: first, do only what your sovereign and law giving reason tells you is for the good of others; and second, do not hesitate to change course if someone is able to show you where you are mistaken or point out a better way."
Rosario A. Iaconis
The Italic Institute of America.