Prime Minister Richard Cheney may be glancing around with more nervousness and menace than usual after recent news reports, not just from the Libby trial, but also from Italy, where the peace movement has just thrown out a prime minister.
In 1987-88 and various times since, I lived in northern Italy near a town called Vicenza. This is not Venezia, otherwise known as Venice. This is Vicenza. It's inland from Venice. It's a medium-sized and absolutely beautiful town at the edge of the flat plain of the Po River, surrounded by hills and loaded with the Palladian architecture of… Andrea Palladio.
Back then, identifying yourself as an American was enough to make you a rock star – at least in high school. Nowadays, it's often tempting to pretend not to be an American. But Vicenza has a heavy presence of Americans and did in the 80s as well, because of the military base there. The Italians never found the presence of that base entirely to their liking, and now their opinion of America, and its military, and its president has sunk dramatically.
So, wouldn't you know it, America has proposed to build an additional gargantuan military base in Vicenza, effectively turning the place into a military town. And Italians have taken to the streets in massive protests. A remarkable account of a recent march through Vicenza by American peace activist Medea Benjamin, together with photos, can be found here.
Now comes the news that Prime Minister Romano Prodi has resigned.
The New York Times describes the vote that led to the resignation:
"Two far-left members of his coalition abstained amid tensions over whether Italy should continue to provide troops to Afghanistan and Mr. Prodi's support of an expansion of an American military base in Vicenza, in northern Italy….The government's far-left members, however, have strongly resisted the presence of nearly 2,000 Italian troops in Afghanistan. And last weekend, tens of thousands of people rallied against the expansion of the American-staffed NATO base in Vicenza, which Mr. Prodi's government reluctantly supported."
The Guardian tells it a little differently, of course:
"The dispute this week concerned two issues: Operation Enduring Freedom - the satirical self-description of the NATO/UN occupation of Afghanistan - and the expansion of the US military base in Vicenza in Northern Italy. Two leftwing senators voted against the government in the Italian senate after Prodi and his foreign minister D'Alema had made the vote an issue of confidence, arguing that Afghanistan was a legal war because it was supported by the United Nations. He meant, of course, the Security Council with its iron-fisted monopoly of power still firmly under the control of five countries who were victorious in the second world war. His arguments failed to sway two dissenting senators from the left. As a result, a weakened Romano Prodi, the prudent spokesman of an immoderate bourgeoisie, has resigned. His popularity was on the wane (36% as against 44% who backed the coalition)….Only a week earlier, Prodi had explicitly forbidden any member of the cabinet from participation in the mass demonstration (100,000 people according to La Repubblica) protesting the extension of the base. Now the crisis within the left is out in the open: 62% of Italians and 73% of the government's supporters want to withdraw all Italian troops from Afghanistan."
Now, Prodi may end up right back in power, or he may be replaced by someone worse. And that government may collapse within a year, as most Italian governments do. But Italy will never be right back in its same place in the American empire, not after this week, not after the people marched against the U.S. military.
The trick is for us in the United States to transform our own government into one that similarly pays attention to and can be influenced by public pressure. The only way I can conceive of doing that begins with impeaching Dick Cheney and removing him from office.
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