George W Bush undoubtedly had one of the worst weeks of his presidency
last week, with the withdrawal of his Supreme Court nominee and the
indictment of Dick Cheney’s chief of staff. Now one of his closest
allies, Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, has put the knife in
as well. The Agereports
that while Berlusconi is meeting Bush in Washington tonight, Italian
television will be broadcasting an interview in which he reveals that
he warned the US against the invasion of Iraq.

“I tried many times to convince the American president not to go to
war,” the TV network La7 quoted Berlusconi as saying. “I have never
been convinced that war was the best system to make a country
democratic and help it escape dictatorship, even a bloody one.”

As I reported earlier this month, Berlusconi is facing an uphill battle
in next April’s election, and his support for the Americans in Iraq has
been deeply unpopular. Opposition leader Romani Prodi has promised to
withdraw all Italian troops if elected. Berlusconi, however, is a wily
operator: unlike fellow centre-right leader Jose Maria Aznar of Spain,
he committed troops only after the invasion was complete.

Spain’s role was more important at the time; Aznar, rather than John
Howard, was the third member in the “Coalition of the Willing,” but he
paid the price for it and was defeated in last year’s Spanish election.
Berlusconi has taken his place as the most valued ally on the European
continent, but the latest development suggests that electoral survival
is much more important to him than trans-Atlantic solidarity.