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Things looking up for the Bush-Berlusconi relationship. Philippe Desmazes/AFP via Getty Images)

Silvio Berlusconi had a complex relationship with US presidents: Friend to one, shunned by another

When the administration of Geroge W. Bush needed an ally to help sell its proposed invasion of Iraq to a skeptical European audience, Silvio Berlusconi stepped forward.

It wasn’t that the Italian prime minister was particularly concerned over the threat of Saddam Hussein’s imagined weapons of mass destruction to his country, or the region – he wasn’t. But it was a chance for the former businessman to burnish his credentials as an international statesman and to draw the U.S. closer into Italy’s orbit.

Indeed, strengthening U.S.-Italian relations was the key driver of Berlusconi’s foreign policy, as I learned while interviewing Berlusconi government officials for my 2011 book “America’s Allies and War.” The fact that Berlusconi couldn’t repeat the trick some years later when Barack Obama came to power was in large part entirely of his own making – he reportedly never recovered in the eyes of Obama from comments widely seen as racist. Eventually, Berlusconi would again fall in line with Washington’s interventionist foreign policy – this time in Libya – but by then the damage had been done. Fair to say, the legacy in regards to U.S.-Italian relationship left by Berlusconi – who died on June 12, 2023, at 86 – is mixed, a tale of two halves.

A friend in need

Italy never had the “special relationship” that the U.K still claims to possess in regards to Washington. Nor did it have the clout of post-war France and Germany, whose economies were more central to the well-being of the European Union. Moreover, Italy’s political instab