Berlusconi Understood America

Our Michael Ledeen has done it again. In an article just published at PJ Media, he defended the indefensible: Silvio Berlusconi, the new political piñata of Europe's left.

Berlusconi did indeed commit inexcusable crimes in the eyes of the leftists. He broke the bureaucratic monopoly of Italy's state-owned TV by creating vivid private stations -- which, as Ledeen correctly put it, are full of anti-Berlusconi journalists as well. The conservative Berlusconi has also been cherished by a majority of Italians, who made him the longest serving post-WWII prime minister. To top it all, Berlusconi spared no effort to publicize his gratitude to the United States for freeing Italy from Mussolini's clutches, and for transforming that fascist-run, dilapidated country into a prosperous democracy. Berlusconi stated during a 2003 visit to Washington D.C.:

We will never forget that we owe our freedom -- our freedom -- and our wealth to the United States of America. And our democracy. And we also will never forget there have been many American young lives that were lost and sacrificed themselves for us. So, for us the United States is not only our friend, but they are the guarantee of our democracy and our freedom. … Every time I see the U.S. flag, I don’t see the flag only as representative of a country, but I see it as a symbol of democracy and of freedom.

I spent fifty years of my life in Europe, and I know that many people in that Old Continent are, like Berlusconi, deeply grateful to the United States because in 1945, when the war ended, it did not abandon Europe -- as we are now abandoning Iraq. The United States spent seven more years democratizing Western Europe, and opening an unprecedented technological explosion there. That has made Western Europe the true measure of what separates the men from the boys among the nations of the world.

In the 1950s, when I was deputy chief of Romania's Mission in West Germany, I often heard people there say that the “Amis” (the West German nickname for American GIs) made the difference between day and night for them. “Night” meant East Germany, of course, where their former fellow citizens were scraping along under economic privation and Stasi brutality.

A couple of days after September 11, 2001, my wife and I landed in Berlin. We were having lunch with friends at the enormous KaDeWe department store, and I wandered off to get some food for dinner. The manager, noticing the American flag on my lapel, came up to me and asked if I was an American. “Champagne for everyone,” he ordered, when I told him I had just flown over from the U.S. “Without America and the Airlift, we would be speaking Russian now,” he explained.

I paid with two death sentences for the privilege of calling the American flag my own, and I am determined to wear that flag pin proudly until the end of my life.

“I decided I won’t wear that [flag] pin on my chest,” announced Senator Barack Obama, at that time a young Democratic contender for the White House, on October 3, 2007. “Instead, I’m going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great, and hopefully that will be a testament to my patriotism.” The next day, his campaign explained what being a patriot meant: “Speaking honestly with the American people about this disastrous war [in Iraq].” Senator Obama labeled that war an apocalyptic mistake and called for the unconditional withdrawal of our troops. After also asking for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, the late Democratic Congressman John Murtha, at that time chairman of the House Apropriations Defense Subcommittee, solemnly told the Washington Times: “All of Iraq must know Iraq is free -- free from United States’ occupation.”

Competition is, indeed, the engine of progress, and our presidential elections are one of the best expressions of free competition. But the war in Iraq was not the president’s war. It was America’s war, authorized by 296 House members and 76 senators. Americans are patriotic. Millions of them have started their lives from scratch -- as I did -- for the privilege of becoming citizens of this great country, and no one wants to see America lose again. The Vietnam War was one humiliation too many.

Berlusconi fully understood that. In 2005, when our own Democratic Party focused almost exclusively on condemning the U.S. for its war in Iraq, Berlusconi published an 800-word letter in the highbrow conservative daily newspaper Il Foglio calling for Italy to remain a "loyal and respectful ally" of the United States. Italy agreed.

Michael Ledeen is now teaching us another lesson: Respect those who respect the United States and honor its flag. Do not abandon your allies. Ledeen is once again right on the money. During the decades I spent scrutinizing the U.S. from Europe, I learned that international respect for America is directly proportional to America’s respect for itself and for its allies.