It wasn’t that the Italian prime minister was notably involved over the specter of Saddam Hussein’s imagined weapons of mass destruction to his nation, or the area – he wasn’t. However it was an opportunity for the previous businessman to burnish his credentials as a world statesman and to attract the U.S. nearer into Italy’s orbit.
Certainly, strengthening U.S.-Italian relations was the important thing driver of Berlusconi’s international coverage, as I discovered whereas interviewing Berlusconi authorities officers for my 2011 e book “America’s Allies and Battle.” The truth that Berlusconi couldn’t repeat the trick some years later when Barack Obama got here to energy was largely fully of his personal making – he reportedly by no means recovered within the eyes of Obama from feedback broadly seen as racist. Finally, Berlusconi would once more fall consistent with Washington’s interventionist international coverage – this time in Libya – however by then the harm had been carried out. Honest to say, the legacy with reference to U.S.-Italian relationship left by Berlusconi – who died on June 12, 2023, at 86 – is combined, a story of two halves.
A good friend in want
Italy by no means had the “particular relationship” that the U.Ok nonetheless claims to own with reference to Washington. Nor did it have the clout of post-war France and Germany, whose economies had been extra central to the well-being of the European Union. Furthermore, Italy’s political instability – it’s presently on its 69th goverment since 1945 at a price of 1 each 13 months or so – makes it harder to ascertain lasting bilateral political relationships.
Nonetheless, by the point Berlusconi got here to energy for a second time in 2001 – following a one-year stint as prime minister between 1994 and 1995 – Italy had gone some solution to ingratiating itself with successive U.S. administrations. In 1990, Italy supported President George H.W. Bush’s army operation within the Persian Gulf, becoming a member of a coalition of 39 nations opposing Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and sending fighter jets to help the next aerial bombing marketing campaign.
Then in 1999, Italian jets participated in airstrikes and Italian bases served as the principle launching website for U.S. and NATO jets in the course of the alliance’s army operations in Kosovo.
However the battle in Iraq was completely different. By fall of 2002, George W. Bush had made it clear that he supposed to invade. However by then, the U.S. had misplaced a few of the near-unanimous worldwide help that it was afforded after the 9/11 terrorist assaults.
Europe was divided. The general public was very a lot in opposition to invasion. However governments needed to weigh political penalties at dwelling, with the advantages of supporting the world’s largest financial system.
Exterior of the U.Ok, Berlusconi was Bush’s largest European ally. Shrugging off large avenue protests in Italian cities, the opposition of many throughout the Italian parliament and public opinion that put help for the invasion as little as 22%, Berlusconi went to bat for Bush’s battle.
Not like the U.Ok. – and to a lesser extent Australia and Poland – Italy didn’t immediately take part within the invasion itself. However by April of 2003, Italy agreed to ship a contingent of three,000 troops to assist stabilize Iraq. Explaining his rationale to the New York Instances in 2003, Berlusconi mentioned it was “completely unthinkable” to say no Bush’s request for an Italian army presence given how the U.S. had come to Europe’s assist after World Battle II.
Even sending that peace mission was controversial in Italy, particularly after 17 Italian troopers had been killed in a November 2003 assault. in Iraq. Certainly, with elections across the nook, in 2005 Berlosconi introduced Italian troops would withdraw from the war-torn nation.
Surplus to US necessities
Sticking his neck out for Bush’s battle gained Berlusconi buddies in Washington. In the course of the Bush’s administration, the Italian prime minister visited the U.S. on 11 events and was invited to deal with each homes of Congress – a rarity for abroad leaders.
The deployment of Italian troops each in Iraq and in addition Afghanistan – the place some 4,000 Italians had been despatched and 48 died – helped stabilize the U.S.-Italian ties.
It wasn’t a one-way relationship. In return for army help, Berlusconi benefited from his elevated position in trans-Atlantic relations, having the ability to promote himself as a serious worldwide participant at dwelling. And remaining pleasant with the world’s largest financial system can be prudent for a rustic liable to financial instability.
So whereas he was ejected from workplace in Italy in 2006, he departed with a legacy of increase Italy’s standing with leaders within the U.S.
After which got here the Obama years. Berlusconi returned to energy in 2008, the identical yr that Obama was elected to his first time period in workplace. However even earlier than Obama could possibly be sworn in, the Italian prime minister had soured the connection, referring to the U.S. president elect as “younger, good-looking and tanned.”
It might have been meant as a praise, nevertheless it definitely got here throughout as at finest off-key, at worst racist.
Such eyebrow-raising remarks had been, in fact, not unusual for Berlusconi, who gained a popularity for saying at occasions outrageous issues. However the incident didn’t bode nicely for bilateral relations.
Conversations I’ve had with officers in Obama’s White Home and State Division and others in Washington counsel that it wasn’t primarily about Berlusconi’s feedback; there was a sense that by the late 2000s he wasn’t dependable and had little to supply.
There was, nevertheless, one final U.S.-led international intervention that the growing old Italian prime minister may play a task in. In 2011 a coalition of NATO nations had been entrusted to implement a U.N.-sanctioned no-fly zone over Libya, amid claims of civilian assaults by Moammar Gaddafi’s regime. Berlusconi – conscious of Italy receiving a quarter of its oil from Libya and reliant on the nation to implement a deal aimed toward stopping African immigrants arriving on Italian shores – resisted.
However after Obama threw his wholesale help behind NATO’s intervention, Berlusconi acquiesced and joined Italy’s allies within the army coalition. To Berlusconi, not being aligned with the U.S. was one factor; opposing Washington’s needs fully was a step too far.
A precursor of the populist premier
A lot remark has been remodeled the similarities between Berlusconi and one other U.S. president: Donald J. Trump. Little question, the pair share commonalities – businessmen whose forays into politics had been marked by right-wing populism and lots of, many scandals.
However Berlusconi’s legacy as an Italian chief on trans-Atlantic relations is finest seen via the lens of Trump’s two predecessors. And it’s a very combined legacy.