Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Italy's Feckless Relationship With Libya

Napoleon famously observed that no Italian state had ever finished a war on the same side as that on which it had started, except when it had changed twice, and no European nation has had a closer if sometimes ambivalent relationship with Libya than NATO partner Italy.

Libya became an Italian colony in 1910 and remained so until 1947 when the Italian empire, such as it was, was dissolved. But economic and political ties between Tripoli and Rome have continued if not always flourished through the 63 (count 'em) Italian governments since World War II, and it can be argued that Moammar "Madman" el-Qaddafi is merely repeating what fascist dictator Benito Mussolini's henchmen did in crushing the Libyan resistance in the late 1930s.

Recent relations between the two nations have verged on the warm and fuzzy with Qaddafi and Italian Premier Silvio "Bunga Bunga" Berlusconi inking a friendship treaty in 2008.

The treaty's ostensible purpose was to help normalize the West's relations with Libya, while its real purpose was to grease the skids for big commercial contracts between Libya and Italian firms, including armaments deals ranging from helicopters and patrol boats to torpedoes and small arms.

Libya, meanwhile, provides one quarter of Italy's petroleum needs and Libyan investors have made many an Italian firm fat and happy. But now all those arms are aimed at Libyan rebels and Italy is facing a tidal wave of accident tourists -- all Libyans -- that threaten to interrupt the flow of the real tourists that are vital to the country's sagging economy.

The feckless Italians, as history has proven time and again, of course have no one to blame but themselves.

Photograph by Giorgio Cosulich/Getty Images

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