Afghan war puts Berlusconi under pressure

This is a video of an anti Bush demonstration in Rome, Italy.

From Al Jazeera:

Italian PM calls for Afghan exit

Silvio Berlusconi: ‘We are all convinced that we have to get out of Afghanistan as soon as possible’

The Italian prime minister has called for international forces to withdraw from Afghanistan, after a suicide attack in the capital Kabul killed six Italian soldiers.

“We are keen to bring our boys home as soon as possible,” Silvio Berlusconi said on Thursday as he arrived for an EU summit in Brussels.

The Italian leader conceded that any decision would only be made with the country’s Nato allies, saying that Italy “is dealing with an international question that you can’t decide on your own because that would betray an accord”.

But he added: “We are all convinced that we have to get out of Afghanistan as soon as possible.”

Civilians killed

At least 10 Afghan civilians were also killed in Thursday’s blast on a road linking Kabul’s international airport to the US embassy.

Fifty people were injured, according to Afghan officials.

“This is an unhappy day for Italy,” Berlusconi told reporters.

The presence of Italian troops in Afghanistan has become increasingly controversial in Italy and has put pressure on Berlusconi’s governing right-wing coalition.

Berlusconi’s rhetoric now is different from his own minister of “defence”, Ignazio La Russa‘s, stay-the-course rhetoric on the death of these six Italian soldiers. So, there seem to be tensions within the right-wing government coalition itself. Mr La Russa used to be a bigwig in the neo-fascist Alleanza Nazionale. That party has fused recently with Berlusconi’s party, the PdL.

However, there are still tensions between Berlusconi’s old guard and the neo-fascist Johnny-come-latelies, including their leader Fini. Including, apparently, about the neo-fascists being more hardline on the Afghan war.

British politician Gladstone’s words about Afghanistan in the Midlothian by-election of 1879 bear thinking about. They were: “Remember that the sanctity of life in the hill village of Afghanistan (among the winter snows) is as inevitable in the eye of almighty God as can be your own”.

Afghanistan: Sham Elections; by Yohannan Chemarapally: here.

Manifestation for Italian press freedom, Amsterdam: here.

8 thoughts on “Afghan war puts Berlusconi under pressure

  1. One More Stupid War

    Wednesday 16 September 2009

    edited by John Rety

    by Dorothy M Stewart

    I have his letters —
    the youngest of the great-uncles,
    Danny, a boy-name for a beloved brother —
    wrapped in soft rough brown paper,
    pencil-written notes
    from a hand more used to sowing and planting,
    tending crops and animals,
    than writing to his mother.
    The censor’s pen has slashed through the place-names
    “Somewhere in France”
    and that’s where his body lies,
    in the mud and screaming carnage
    of one more stupid war.
    And thousands of miles away
    the bog cotton waves white pompons of peace
    over the deserted croft
    and the long northern sky looks down.
    And another boy dies screaming in a foreign land
    in an even more meaningless war,
    while the warlords,
    this time in business suits not khaki uniforms,
    count the value of their shares in oil.

    Dorothy M Stewart has been writing poetry for a while now and is published in a couple of anthologies by Suffolk Poetry Society. She is currently a Poet in Residence at the Sutton Hoo, the National Trust property in Suffolk.


  2. 2009-09-18 18:37

    Afghan pull- out ruled out
    Apparent govt rift sealed

    by Denis Greenan.

    (ANSA) – Rome, September 18 – Italian officials on Friday ruled out pulling troops out of Afghanistan in the face of public pressure and an apparent political rift because of the death of six Italian soldiers in a car bombing Thursday.

    Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi said a ”transition strategy” and not an exit one was needed to progressively shift more responsibility onto Afghan forces in the wake of the attack, in which two armoured cars carrying ten Italians were hit by a 150kg bomb.

    Foreign Minister Franco Frattini stressed it was time for the Afghans to shoulder more of the burden against the Taliban and come up with ”deadlines” for when they could do so.

    Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa weighed in, saying any talk of an exit strategy was dangerous for Italian troops.

    Italian President Giorgio Napolitano underscored that Italy’s part in the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan had always been ”balanced” between military and civilian objectives He said the last meeting of Italy’s Supreme Defence Council, which he chairs, had focused on the two aspects in the light of a wider debate opened by US Commander Stanley MChrystal on easing the impact of the anti-Taliban fight on civilians.

    The Italian president stressed the agreement between the government and military chiefs on Italy’s goals.

    ”I do not believe there is anything to revise in the orientation we have adopted,” Napolitano said a day after the car bomb slaying of six Italian soldiers in Kabul prompted a government partner, the Northern League, to demand a full troop pull-out by Christmas.

    But the president said he ”understood” the need for the United Nations to ”remotivate” the mission.

    At a cabinet meeting Friday, Berlusconi said Italy had never considered a unilateral withdrawal.

    The Northern League representative at the meeting, Legislative Simplification Minister Roberto Calderoli, did not repeat the demand aired Thursday by League leader Umberto Bossi and instead reiterated a proposal that Italian peacekeepers should return from duty in Lebanon and Kosovo.

    La Russa, among the most determined in arguing that an Afghan pull-out would represent a capitulation to terrorism, backed Calderoli and envisaged an ”almost-complete” withdrawal of troops from Kosovo, beginning shortly. A poll published Friday in the Corriere della Sera newspaper, taken a week before the Kabul bombing, indicated that 58% of Italians wanted the troops out of Afghanistan.

    Pollster Renato Mannheimer said the percentage in favour of withdrawal was ”bound to rise”.

    As the bombing claimed headlines abroad, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it would take ”at least five years” to see significant results from NATO’s efforts to stabilise Afghanistan.



    US braced for surge of protest over war in Afghanistan
    The conflict in Afghanistan used to be called the ‘forgotten war’. But with the number of soldiers dying there outstripping casualties in Iraq, support — for the fighting and for President Obama — is melting away
    * Paul Harris
    * The Observer, Sunday 27 September 2009

    “American history has shown repeatedly, especially with Vietnam, that political stripes at home often mean nothing abroad. After all, it was under the liberal Democrat presidents JFK and Lyndon Johnson that US involvement in Vietnam escalated.”

    Barack Obama with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Washington, DC, May 6, 2009

    Barack Obama after trilateral talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the White House, May 6, 2009 in Washington, DC. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

    At his home in Richmond, Virginia, Larry Syverson spends part of every day worrying there will be an unwanted knock on the door. Syverson’s son, Branden, is an American soldier serving in Afghanistan, conducting dangerous patrols in an area infested with Taliban.

    “I worry every day that I might hear someone come to the door unexpected. Just last week two of his best friends were killed over there,” he said.

    That’s why Syverson, 60, an environmental engineer, is trying to organise a protest in Richmond against the war in Afghanistan for the second weekend in October, almost eight years after the conflict began.

    He is a member of Military Families Speak Out, an anti-war group made up of relatives of military personnel that is preparing to turn its attentions from the conflict in Iraq to the one in Afghanistan. He has three sons in the military who together have served five tours in Iraq as well as Branden’s stint in Afghanistan.

    “I am extremely proud that they have chosen a military career. I just don’t like the way that they are being used to fight these unnecessary wars,” said Syverson.

    That is a growing sentiment in America. As Barack Obama appears likely to increase America’s already greatly enlarged troop commitment to the Afghan war, the war itself is becoming increasingly disliked.

    The conflict used to be called America’s “forgotten war”. No longer. As casualties have spiked, so has hatred for the war: a solid 57% of Americans now oppose it. That has seen the anti-war movement in America prepare to turn its attentions from Iraq to Afghanistan, gearing up for an autumn campaign of marches and civil disobedience.

    They hope to emulate the anti-Vietnam war protests, using highly visible public campaigns to force the hand of the White House to pull out of the country, not escalate the conflict.

    The first major protest will happen next weekend, when anti-war protesters plan to arrange more than 500 empty pairs of boots on a grassy lawn right outside the White House. Each pair will represent an American soldier killed in the war.

    Syverson knows that such a move is symbolic but he hopes its position so close to the centre of power will be effective, just like the old Vietnam war protesters who regularly thronged Washington’s Mall in the 1960s.

    “If Obama looks out of his window, he is going to see a symbol of over 500 soldiers who died in Afghanistan. He is going to know the public is waking up to this war. The honeymoon with Obama is over and the American people are not going to stand for it much longer.” Syverson said.

    One person who will be in Washington for the boots protest is Cindy Sheehan, perhaps the most famous single protester to emerge from the demonstrations against the Iraq war. Since her son, Casey, was killed in Iraq, Sheehan has become a bete noir to many conservatives and an outspoken rallying point for the anti-war movement. She was a one-woman force of nature who dominated the headlines when she camped outside the Texas ranch of President George W Bush.

    Now she too is concentrating on opposing the war in Afghanistan. She has already kept a vigil outside Obama’s summer holiday home on Martha’s Vineyard and will be going to Washington next weekend. “It’s unfortunate that it has taken eight years for the anti-war movement to focus on Afghanistan,” she told the Observer. “We have to start to put a human face on what is happening over there.”

    Sheehan said that she and her fellow organisers would be gearing up for next year, which will feature midterm elections to Congress. She sees this autumn’s events as being a preview of mass actions to come all the way through 2010.

    “It is year of the midterm elections. I can’t tell you what we are planning but it is going to be brilliant. There will be a lot of protests, a lot of civil disobedience,” she said.

    A broad coalition of anti-war groups is also already co-ordinating protests and demonstrations for the coming weeks, hoping to emulate the successes of the Vietnam protests in a way that the anti-Iraq war movement never pulled off. There will be vigils, memorials, teach-ins, demonstrations and marches. They will range in scale from a few individuals to events where thousands of people will be expected to turn up.

    Groups involved include Military Families Speak Out, Win Without War, Code Pink, United For Peace and Justice and Iraq Veterans Against the War.

    “There will be hundreds of events all across the US,” said Syverson. Some other groups, like US Labor Against the War, which represents 190 unions, which have been largely silent on Afghanistan compared to Iraq, have also announced they are now planning to start opposing the Afghan war too.

    The movement is certainly tapping into a growing public mood of anger and discontent. For years, Afghanistan was seen as the “good war” as opposed to Iraq’s “bad war”. It had supposedly been won with relatively little loss of life, deposed a reviled government and been justified by the Taliban’s open support of al-Qaida.

    But now, there are more US casualties each day in Afghanistan than in Iraq, and American troop numbers will have risen dramatically to 68,000 by the end of the year. Indeed, Washington and the White House are consumed by speculation over whether Obama will accept a request from General Stanley McChrystal for yet more troops to be sent to the combat zone.

    On American television screens, reports from Iraq have become rare. But news from Afghanistan — nearly all of it bad — has become common. Pictures of the carnage reach into every American living room and are frequently splashed across the front pages.

    Now public sentiment has shifted firmly towards wanting American troops to pull out, a reversal of the once common opinion that Afghanistan had been a conflict worth fighting. As recently as April, a majority of Americans supported the war. Now only 43% do.

    It has hit Obama’s personal ratings too. When it comes to Afghan policy, his approval score has dropped 18 points from 67% to 49%. A handful of soldiers are also refusing to serve in Afghanistan. In Fort Hood, Texas, Iraq war veteran Victor Agosto was sentenced last month to 30 days in jail and his rank reduced to private after refusing to deploy there. He was the second Fort Hood soldier to do so.

    But sustaining a meaningful opposition movement to the war in Afghanistan is not going to be easy. Much of the wind was taken out of the anti-war movement by the election of Obama, who, it is safe to say, the majority of protesters supported in the 2008 election.

    Even Sheehan admits that taking the anti-war fight to the White House under Obama is not going to be a walk in the park, despite the fact that he is presiding over a massive escalation of the war. “It was super-easy to hate George Bush. It was also easy to embrace Obama. But both emotions are irrational when the policies remain the same. We have to make it about the policy, not the person,” Sheehan said.

    Yet so far, the Obama administration does not appear to have much fear of the doveish wing of the broad liberal coalition that put Obama into the White House. In America’s two-party system of government, the Republican party offers an alternative on Afghanistan that is more hawkish, not less. Indeed Obama, who has championed the already massive increase in US troops there, has been criticised only for seeming to hesitate in agreeing to McChrystal’s latest request for yet more troops. The request was included in a confidential assessment of the situation that concluded the entire mission would most likely result in failure without more soldiers.

    “This is not the time for Hamlet in the White House,” said Mitt Romney, one of the likely candidates for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.

    Yet that criticism seems unfair. Though Obama is reportedly striving to reshape Afghan policy in the face of the worsening violence there and the fallout from an Afghan election widely regarded as deeply fraudulent, no one seriously expects America’s troop commitment to the country to be radically cut. That means the anti-war movement too is gearing up for a long struggle and a war of attrition aiming to chip away at Obama’s popularity.

    It might work. After only a year in office, Obama’s approval ratings have dipped across the board and the war in Afghanistan is increasingly seen as “Obama’s war”, not just the legacy of Bush and his neoconservative foreign policy. Indeed, Obama fought his election on a campaign promise of shifting the focus to Afghanistan away from Iraq.

    “If Obama’s decisions are seen as a continuation of Bush’s, then Obama will lose the effect of his honeymoon period. You can already see that happening,” said Mitch Hall, a history professor at Central Michigan University.

    The irony of left wing, anti-war protesters campaigning against Obama is not lost on many of them, including Syverson, who voted for Obama, went to his rallies and campaigned for him.

    “I feel really let down,” he said. He is unlikely to be alone. But American history has shown repeatedly, especially with Vietnam, that political stripes at home often mean nothing abroad. After all, it was under the liberal Democrat presidents JFK and Lyndon Johnson that US involvement in Vietnam escalated and under conservative Republican Richard Nixon that America finally got out. Some prominent commentators have drawn other parallels with Vietnam, comparing McChrystal’s troop increase request with those of General William Westmoreland, who demanded extra troops for the doomed fight in Vietnam. “In Vietnam and Afghanistan, as the situation worsened and public opinion began turning against the war, the commanding generals — Westmoreland and McChrystal — put in requests for thousands of extra troops,” wrote San Francisco Chronicle columnist Joel Brinkley. Given that history, it seems perfectly possible that the deepening quagmire in Afghanistan might last for every year of Obama’s time in office, even if he serves two terms.

    For Syverson, though, Obama’s policy on Afghanistan has already been enough to make him angrily tear off the Obama bumper sticker he had put on his car. “Hell, if I’d ever vote for him again,” he said. As the anti-war protests unfold, Obama’s presidency may end up being defined by how many Americans can be persuaded to take a similar view.


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