A testimony to the genius of their military in Mesopotamia:

Rory Stewart, once a deputy governor in the provinces of Maysan and Dhi Qar, urged a swift exit from Iraq. ‘Embarrassment rather than good policy is now leading our engagement.’ His sincerity and his charm came across very powerfully and he told us a salutary tale.

In 2004 his compound had been under constant attack, receiving 100 incoming mortars a day. The nearby Italian force, 20 minutes away, usually took at least seven hours to arrive with reinforcements. After a year’s absence he returned and found everything transformed. The area was completely pacified thanks to the Italians. But it wasn’t their ‘good intentions’ that had done the trick but ‘their cowardice and incompetence’. This had forced the Iraqis to assume control. His funny, modest and disarming speech attracted grateful waves of applause. Andrew Neil responded by pointing towards the back of the hall. ‘The Italian ambassador and his bodyguards are waiting for you there. And they’re experts in special rendition.’

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