Silvio Berlusconi is, after Tony Blair, President Bush's second-favorite Western European leader. After Sept. 11, Berlusconi thrilled William Bennett when he uttered words that even the most hawkish "vulcans" in the Bush administration would never dare say out loud (and for which Berlusconi had to apologize later):
We must be aware of the superiority of our civilization, a system that has guaranteed well-being, respect for human rights and—in contrast with Islamic countries—respect for religious and political rights. ... [T]he West will continue to conquer peoples, like it conquered communism.
Italy didn't participate in the Iraqi invasion, but it did allow the United States to use its bases for the operation, and after Baghdad was taken it sent 3,000 troops to help with Iraqi reconstruction. Some suspect that Berlusconi's government played a significant role in forging documents that substantiated the Bush administration's claim that before the invasion, Saddam was attempting to buy yellowcake uranium. If this is true, Berlusconi in effect manufactured a casus belli for his American ally. Friends like that are hard to find.
Also easy to lose. With Berlusconi now trailing the former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi in the polls, all bets are off. Tracy Wilkinson reports in the Los Angeles Times that Berlusconi, who arrives in Washington today for a state visit, now says he did his damnedest to talk that hotheaded president of ours out of going to war in Iraq:
"I tried repeatedly to convince the American president not to go to war," Berlusconi told an interviewer with the La7 television channel. "I was never convinced that war was the best system to achieve democracy in a country that had to emerge from a bloody dictatorship. I maintained that military action should be avoided."
Presumably President Bush will give Berlusconi a dressing-down. Presumably Berlusconi doesn't care.