Corridors of Power in Milan, Italy: Bad Manners, Bad Intentions and More

Corridors of Power in Milan, Italy: Bad Manners, Bad Intentions and More

MILAN, Italy -- ZAPATERO'S DEJA VU: The Italian general commanding part of a multinational NATO peacekeeping force in Kosovo learned from a newspaper story last week that he was losing 620 of his troops. They were the Spanish forces under his command, which Spain's defense minister announced would be pulling out by the summer. The Italian press reported Madrid's handling of the withdrawal decision as a breach of good manners, but the general was in good company. Turns out Defense Minsiter Carme Chacon and Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero even failed to notify members of the Spanish government. The Spanish ambassador to Washington heard about it from the U.S. State Department.

State called the pullout "deeply disappointing," and the NATO secretary general publicly disputed Chacon's "mission accomplished" explanation that security was now assured in Kosovo, meaning the alliance's 1,600 troops could go home. In 2004, Zapatero alienated the Bush administration by withdrawing Spanish troops from Iraq. Has he started off on the wrong foot with the Obama administration? He seems to have made the calculated decision that a vague promise to send more troops to Afghanistan would divert White House attention from the Kosovo pullout.

Spain is one of the few European countries not to have recognized predominantly Albanian Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia. Why? With the Spanish Basques and other provinces seeking greater autonomy from Madrid at home, Zapatero could hardly support such action abroad. While that may be a factor, Italian military analysts worry that the Spanish decision was largely economic, and a warning that the economic meltdown is beginning to undermine European defense commitments.

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