Bandwagoning isn’t Strategy – Italy and the Failure of the Bureaucratic Model

March 8, 2011 at 5:16 pm (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

These days the western media can’t help but give in to their magical feelings of wonder before a contemporary crumbling of a dictatorial bloc. Their darlings in the Middle East – the university educated youths – are a veritable intellectual vanguard for the overthrow of patriarchal royalty and the rise of a benign liberal democracy that will liberate the poor Arab masses…

The American right has caught on to the inherent problem that the West’s allies are falling and Iran is celebrating for a reason. This doesn’t make Fox’s pundits any less hypocritical but at least they are one step ahead of the liberal media which under the leadership of CNN has had nothing but kind words for the fall of loyal allies. In fact the western media in no way falls behind such outlets as Russia Today in the absolutely partial coverage of these events. The demonstrators always represent ‘the people of Egypt’, the regime is always tactical and never concerned for the national interest of the state in question.

The harsh reality is that much of the vulnerability of these regimes stems from liberalising reforms result of Western pressure. The reality is that many of these youths have no political platform whatsoever to replace the falling regimes. The reality is that corporatist domestic elites had a vested interest in ‘facilitating’ the exit of the economically liberal Mubarak clan. The reality is that the intellectual elite which is out in the streets may be secular but it also is leftist and will likely drive Egypt into a neo-Nasserite wave if elected. In fact the January 25th movement is not unlike the May of 68 one. A new order is envisioned based on lofty ideals, but just as the southern European democracies (5th Republic France, post-Franco Spain, 3rd Republic Portugal, 3rd Hellenic Republic) failed to emulate the civic and economic achievements of their social-democratic heroes of northern Europe, so too will Arabs fail to become liberal democratic republics – with the possible exception of Tunisia – even if so self-proclaimed in name.

Every regime distorts history in blaming its predecessor system for the economic faults of the state. In the case of Egypt and the Arab world, this will likely drive the new elites into a social endowment wave which will degrade even further the financial health of the different Arab societies. For all the hype that the corrupt regimes have left the Arab youth in poverty, Egypt was a notable case of fast economic growth in spite of a sluggish and over-centralised state apparatus. In fact Egypt’s credit ratings are still higher and healthier than Greece’s for example. All this will be endangered by any dramatic increase in social benefits. It is true that Egypt’s youth was driven to the streets by economic difficulties but it is also true that these are much more due to exaggerated demographic growth rather than economic mismanagement on the part of the government. Besides, there are protests against the effects of the global crisis all throughout the world and governments needn’t fall for that. No, the rhetoric of the youth of Egypt says nothing of one-child policies or birth-control, its platform is simply ‘more employment’ and this can only translate in more artificial government sponsored jobs. Any benefit in tackling corruption that freedom of speech might bring stands to be quickly squandered by more bureaucracy and true economic negligence stemming from demagogic policies.

If all this is true for many Arab states, Libya is a special case. Libya unlike Egypt, has never truly been an ally of the West. While the recent overture to American and European investment prevented further trouble for the Qadhafi regime – after all the country is located in NATO’s Mediterranean pond – Tripoli has persisted in remaining outside of the American sphere of influence. Its military purchases are made in Moscow, its diplomacy favours African and Arab fora and much of the investment that rivals with that of the West comes from Russia, China and Turkey. While Libya has apparently reversed its pro-terrorism pan-third-world stance, it is still rabidly and irrationally anti-Israel and anti-American.

For all these reasons, it isn’t as strange to find a lack of goodwill towards Libya in Western capitals, as it is towards Mubarak. Libya also demonstrates that the national interests of western states differ irrespective of the nature of their regimes (democracy) or constructivist arrangements (EU, NATO).

Not all capitals of the West would like to see Qadhafi gone. Rome stands out as the state with most to lose from an overthrow of Qadhafi. Half of Libya’s exports to the EU wind up in Italy and the Italian Republic provides for almost 40% of the Jamahiriya’s imports. This is mostly the result of a legitimate and natural pursuit by Italy of close relations with its former colony. The Berlusconi governments in particular have been avid pioneers in Libya’s opening to the West, also using in their favour the special relationship Italy has entertained with Russia for some decades now. Companies such as ENI, Finmeccanica, Ansaldo or UniCredit are to a great extent interdependent with the Libyan economy.

But Rome suffers from an original sin which is common in the West: lack of strategic posture. Scholars such as Patrick Porter have been keen on pointing out – a propos of Britain’s defence review – that “with no obvious major enemy to focus the mind, British strategy has been shaped by Washington’s agenda, and become overly concerned with ‘narrative’”. The same is true for much of Europe since naming likely enemies is politically incorrect and choosing interests over values, a media suicide.

Let us look at the foundations of modern Italy. Italy was born a kingdom for a reason yet the Allied Powers led by the US thought it best to turn it into a federal republic after its fascist experience during WWII. Usually the US despises the royals and with the exception of Japan, it is America’s model that serves as a stepping stone for the re-engineering of other countries (Germany, Italy, Iraq, Afghanistan). Consequently, without strong tradition in democracy, Italy becomes an expectedly fragile and unstable republic. Italian governments rarely fulfil their constitutional term and the country has become a ‘dictatorship of the Directors-General’. While some may see in this the technocratic ideal of governance, one of the problems is the inherent lack of strategic planning. It is all too well that Rome’s bureaucracy understands what Italy’s needs are and how to get them. Berlusconi’s opportunistic behaviour certainly brought a high degree of success. Ultimately though, Italy’s interests in Libya were not protected by any coherent strategy, as the diplomatic debacle of Berlusconi plainly demonstrates it now.

In simple terms: what’s the point of getting there first if you can’t hold your ground?

Strategy shouldn’t be too complicated but it should also be sustainable and coherent. Italy has in effect lost Libya (If the current regime falls, its replacement will seek ties with those who in the past aided the Benghazi rebellion. If the current regime survives it will become a pariah, probably under EU and UN sanctions, and giving preference to those who do not morally condemn it – Russia, China, Turkey) because it did not anchor its economic conquests with the necessary diplomacy to sustain dealings with radical regimes. At first the Italian government kept quiet and then it felt it had no other choice but to jump into the train of European and Western condemnation, thus risking forfeiting its business investments. Apart from incoherent positioning, Italy also found itself isolated. Couldn’t the Italians have reminded the French that they weren’t the only ones protecting a dictatorial regime? Couldn’t Rome have persuaded Germany that actively siding against Qadhafi might cost money in a near future? What about partnering with Turkey and others in demanding that the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) be put in charge of the response to the crisis – and in so doing prevent a consensus on intervention?

It is comprehensible that Paris and London are interested in removing Qadhafi, it is not that Rome doesn’t move a finger to salvage its assets.

This is also due in part to the pacifist indoctrination the country experienced to counter the legacy of Mussolini’s militarism. A great part of Italy’s elite, civil servants and diplomats abhors unilateral action. Italy embarks on every multilateral project without regard to the consequences. It doesn’t hold a permanent seat in the Security Council and indeed the ‘enemy state’ language is still in use, but Italy is one of the hardest proponents of UN backed legitimacy for intervention – hard to understand how it mustered the strength to prevent Germany from gaining a permanent seat in the UNSC. It is a central and founding member of the EU, yet it bows to the will of the Paris-Berlin axis. It adhered to the UfM, a structure under French leadership. It is a member of NATO and went along – even if reluctantly – with the campaign in Kosovo, even though it was for the benefit of Washington and Berlin.

The Italian MFA is a disgrace but so is Berlusconi for not having had the statesmanship to secure Italy’s national interest. Italy as a central country – in the Mediterranean, Europe – simply cannot afford to completely depend on others. It must engineer its own regional diplomatic framework to allow the prosecution of its interests. What good are its armed forces and financial power if only used for the sake of others? Libya is not a crucial territory for other European or Middle Eastern powers; if Italy can’t stand up for itself there, where can it do so?

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3 Comments

  1. fictional representation - chief executive officer - lyndon larouche - allied soldiers - allied powers - world war 3 - youtube - google - India - World said,

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  2. M. Silva said,

    Egypt [new] finance minister seeks $10 billion in funds

    http://news.egypt.com/en/2011041514339/news/-business/egypt-finance-minister-seeks-$10-billion-in-funds.html

    “Radwan said Egypt’s new government was under pressure to work quickly to meet “high and mounting” demands from street protesters for jobs and better wages”.

  3. M. Silva said,

    Why the Libya War?
    Did Italy press the U.S. to intervene — or vice versa?
    http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/273495/why-libya-war-john-rosenthal#

    Back in late March, shortly after the start of the NATO bombing campaign against Libya, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told Meet the Press that the U.S. had no “vital interest” in the country. The remark famously inspired Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to cut in and attempt to explain why, then, the United States was getting involved. Secretary Clinton’s explanation was that the Libyan campaign was in the vital interest of America’s NATO allies and that they had asked for U.S. support. “When it comes to Libya,” she said, “we started hearing from the U.K., France, Italy, other of our NATO allies. This was in their vital national interest.”

    Secretary Clinton’s inclusion of Italy in the list was dubious to begin with. In fact, from the start of the unrest in Libya, the Italian government warned about taking sides in the conflict and supporting the rebellion. For example, in an interview published on February 23 in the Italian daily Il Corriere della Sera, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini alluded to the creation of an “Islamic Emirate” in the eastern-Libyan heartland of the rebellion. “We do not know more [about it],” Frattini told Il Corriere. “But we know that they are dangerous. There are elements of al-Qaeda there.”
    The Italian government’s caution was hardly surprising, given that the February 17 protests that sparked the rebellion were called to commemorate protests five years earlier that had culminated in the storming of the Italian consulate in Benghazi by an angry mob. Several local residents were killed when Libyan security forces attempting to protect the consulate opened fire on the mob. The outrage of the protesters was tied to the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten and other European newspapers. (On the 2006 protests, see my article “Our Principles? The Libyan Insurrection and the Mohammed Cartoons.”)

    The Italian reluctance to support a military intervention also had to do with fears of seeing such an intervention provoke an exodus of tens of thousands of refugees from Libya, many of whom would inevitably end up in Italy. These fears have proven well founded.

    But now, according to a report in the Saturday edition of Il Corriere della Sera, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has confided to colleagues not only that he was opposed to the NATO intervention in Libya, but that he was pressured into making available Italian military capabilities by precisely the United States. According to the report, Berlusconi recalled that “at the time I had warned our international partners, and also at home I had explained that the operation would not be easy . . .” “But,” Berlusconi is reported to have continued, “in the face of the pressures exerted by the United States, the position of [Italian president Giorgio] Napolitano, and the vote [in favor of the intervention] by our parliament, what could I do?”

    In 2008, the Berlusconi government had concluded a “partnership and friendship” treaty with Qaddafi’s Libya. According to Il Corriere, the Italian prime minister now fears that the Libyan ruler wants to have him killed. “Now there is a risk that Qaddafi will stay [in power],” Berlusconi is supposed to have said, “and the person who was our best friend in the region has become our worst enemy. Italy has been harmed.”

    Berlusconi had already stated publicly, in early July, that he “was and is” opposed to the intervention in Libya but that he had been “forced” to provide Italian support. At the time, however, he emphasized that the principal promoter of the war was an unnamed European government, not the United States.

    Following the publication of the report in Il Corriere, the Italian government issued a statement dismissing press accounts of Berlusconi’s private remarks as “fantasy” and specifically denying “supposed revelations concerning Qaddafi.” In response, Il Corriere issued a statement explaining that the paper “understands the expediency” of the government’s denial, but noting that the sources for its report are “prominent members of the government and of the PDL [Berlusconi’s party] who met with the prime minister.”

    Whatever the truth of that, we may be sure that Secretary Clinton’s claim — that Italy pressed the United States to intervene — is fantasy indeed.

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