Most Americans did not know there was an Italian military unit operating in southern Iraq, both because the press rarely provides information having to do with allies supporting the Bush administration, and also because it doesn’t fit the stereotype we have–and which Italians themselves share, by the way–of non-threatening, charming people who shy away from military conflict and armed violence. The Italians came to believe that they were welcome wherever they go, because they always charm the locals in ways that Americans, Germans, Russians, and the others just can’t match. The evidence seemed to support the conclusion: zero casualties in the Gulf War, zero in Kosovo, and so forth.
The Nasiriyah suicide bombing put an end to that happy thought, and many of the country’s political analysts foresaw a strong national reaction against the deployment in Iraq. But it did not develop; on the contrary, Italy’s commitment to Iraqi reconstruction is manifestly stronger today than it was before the suicide attack, and, quite unexpectedly, there has been a resurgence of patriotism, especially among young people. One now sees the Italian flags draped from windows, and every so often accompanied by the Stars and Stripes.
Just a few months ago tens of thousands of Italians marched against the liberation of Iraq.
Meanwhile, the old guard is struggling to catch up with reality. Italy’s ceremonial president, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, was in Washington to meet with President Bush right after the massacre, and used the occasion to nudge Bush to make Iraqi reconstruction a more multilateral undertaking. This is of course the European party line, which conveniently ignores the fact that two of the most important (or at least self-important) countries–France and Germany–don’t want to play that game, and therefore Ciampi’s sermon is more appropriately directed at Chirac and Schroeder, not at an American president who has actually been excessively multilateral, having lost precious months to wasted efforts with allies and the United Nations.
The next day Ciampi flew up to New York to talk to Kofi Annan, and without apparent grasp of the irony of it all, urged him to bring back the U N, which had fled after the bombing of its Baghdad HQ.
Ciampi and others have constantly repeated the mantra that Italian forces were on a peace mission, were only engaged in rebuilding the country after the war, and thus should not be combatants. “A mission of peace, not war,” as Ciampi intoned to the press in Washington. But the Nasiriyah massacre has showed the emptiness of that pious conceit, for Italy is at war, perhaps not of its choosing, but because it is part of the West.
On Friday, coalition troops in Baghdad found rocket launchers aimed at the Italian Embassy. And an Islamist Imam by the name of Fall Mamour, recently expelled from Italy, gave an interview in Senegal, proclaiming that roughly one hundred killers had recently left Italy for Iraq for combat against us, and that the Italian Defense Minister, Antonio Martino, had been targeted for assassination.
So Nasiriyah was not a single stroke; it was part of an extended strategy that will continue, both in Iraq and in Italy itself.
Unlike the old political class, the Italian people understand both the situation and the stakes. Most of the professional politicians expected that public opinion would turn against the Iraq mission at the first Italian death on the ground, but the opposite happened. In large part that was due to the forthright behavior of the families of the murdered carabinieri, who said from the first minutes that their men knew what they were getting into, approved of the mission, and would be shamed if Italy withdrew.
The same public reaction swept Turkey, prompting the usual chatterers to wonder out loud how the terror masters had so badly misjudged the public-relations aspects of this terror campaign. Instead of winning support, the terrorists had galvanized public opinion against them. But this misses the essence of the terror masters’ campaign against us. It is not our policies that inflame the hatred of the mullahs and the wahhabis, the Shiites and the Sunnis, the Osamas and the Mughniyahs. It’s not what we do, but what we are–a free and successful society–that threatens them. The tyrannical terror masters know that our existence undermines their own authority and their own legitimacy in the eyes of their own people. So long as we exist and flourish, they are threatened by their own people. To have freedom and success arrive on their very doorstep is even worse. Therefore, all those in Iraq working to make it a free and successful country are treated as enemies.
All of which brings us back to the vexing question of American policy. It is all well and good for the president to give brilliant speeches, as he did last week at Whitehall. But it isn’t good enough. We need action, not words. How many reports of Osama operating on the Iran-Iraq border, how many stories of Saddam on one of the islands between Iraq and Iran, how many thousands of terrorists pouring in from Iran and Syria, how many hundreds of dead Americans, Turks, Italians, Brits, and Iraqis, before we take the war to the men who are driving it?
As things stand today, we are back in the “phony war,” we are playing defense, which is a sucker’s game, we are worrying about U.N. resolutions and IAEA findings, instead of bringing down the regimes that, for a quarter century, have waged the terror war against us. We are waiting for another 9/11, and unless we act, it will arrive.
Never again. Faster, please.