It seems that, in the waning days of his presidency, George W. Bush has at least one friend left in the world, when it comes to Italiian prime minister Silvio Berlsconi.
The effusive and stubbornly loyal Berlusconi has stuck with Bush despite the American President’s abiding unpopularity in Italy. More than 80% of Italians were opposed to the war in Iraq, but their controversial Prime Minister helped spearhead the so-called “Letter of Eight” public declaration of support from some European leaders for Bush’s Iraq policy in the weeks before the invasion. Following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Berlusconi sent 3,000 Italian peacekeeping troops to southern Iraq. During Bush’s June 2004 visit to Rome, the two leaders were the target of a massive anti-war rally. But Berlusconi, who at the time was growing increasingly unpopular with Italian voters, did not play down his kinship with the President during an interview then with TIME. “We have the same roots. He was in business and sports, and so was I. We can speak to each other,” Berlusconi declared. The two always made a point of calling each other by their first names, regularly slapped each others’ backs, and Berlusconi earned repeat invitations to Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas.
…The one telling hiccup in the history of this personal and political alliance was a Berlusconi interview as he began his unsuccessful run for reelection in 2006, in the face of mounting criticism of Italy’s part in the Iraq conflict. “I tried repeatedly to convince the American president not to go to war,” Berlusconi told an Italian television station. “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.” That he’d provided Bush with key political cover to forge ahead with the war he supposedly opposed was somehow lost on Berlusconi.
They have something in common, I guess.