By next Christmas, 40 percent of the British presence in Iraq is expected home. Those 3000 soldiers represent approximately 15 percent of the number that George W. Bush wants to send to join the 150,000 US military personnel already there.
A few days before Prime Minister Tony Blair’s move to get his people out of Baghdad’s bloody streets, the BBC reported that between 40,000 and 100,000 demonstrated in Italy’s northern city of Vicenza against a planned expansion of an American military base there.
The current US presence in Vicenza provides around 1000 jobs for locals and pumps millions into that city’s economy. Tens of thousands of Italy’s taxpayers nonetheless felt obliged to travel, to march, and to protest the planned arrival of 2000 more GIs.
These two events, concerning traditionally faithful US allies, reflect the depth of global disdain for America in 2007. Those of us familiar with the deep-seated admiration and gratitude held by most Italians for the US and its military perceived this as the end of a love affair.
Italy became a respected power in the ’90s, thanks to growing economic strength and its presence in the European Union. At that time, some Italians — especially north of Rome, where independent feelings run strongest — liked to say, “America e’ arrivata in Italia!” (“America has come to Italy.”) These Italians underscored the glory of Italy’s enviable standard of living and the end of the need for American protection, guidance, or interference.
From the once-liberated Rome southward, however, the memories of American forces riding in on Jeeps and tanks to set Italy free from the grip of fascist and Nazi terror remained strong. Ostia, Monte Cassino, Salerno, and Catania still remembered stories of assorted kindnesses, and images of salvation starring an American who had helped their grandparents to break the grip of cruel oppressors.
Today, all over the boot, younger, more educated Italians, connected to the world by diffuse cell phones and Web sites, feel less open to the myth of America as global liberator. They are unwilling to risk terrorism and the prostituting of their beloved Italia for Uncle Sam.
Who can blame them? The throngs in Vicenza, after all, express the same frustrations and fears now felt by many US residents in their war-weary daze. They, as we, want the military top-heaviness of the US position in the world community reined in. Like so many US taxpayers, they want to say, “No!” to wasting revenues on a war machine, “No!” to more death and destruction.
One sign waving above the crowd said it best: not “America Go Home!” but, simply and sweetly, “America, No Thanks.”
Hopefully, America can hear this message from a friend, before it hears differently from its growing list of enemies.
: This Just In
, George W. Bush, Armed Forces, U.S. Armed Forces, More