- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 20, 2004

On Wednesday, President Bush met with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a staunch ally in the war on terror who is under enormous pressure to change course. While Mr. Berlusconi used the first private meeting of the two leaders in nearly a year to call for a rapid turnover of sovereignty in Iraq, both leaders still understand what is at stake.

Mr. Berlusconi’s concerns are understandable. His decision to send 3,000 soldiers to Iraq went against the wishes of many Italians. His popularity has dropped to about 30 percent (from a September 2001 high of 45 percent), a consequence of the ongoing scandal at Abu Ghraib and Italy’s first combat fatality in Iraq earlier this week. Three Italians are still being held hostage, and the fourth, Fabrizio Quattrochi, was murdered. Regional elections will be held in Italy June 13, which will likely serve as a referendum on Mr. Berlusconi’s policies. European Commission President Romano Prodi, who has become a vocal opponent of the war, may challenge Mr. Berlusconi in 2006.

Despite that opposition, Mr. Berlusconi seems determined to stay the course. At the Oval Office, he said, “We’ve started the work which cannot be left halfway. We have to complete it.” Later, at a gathering of the Sons of Italy Foundation, Mr. Bush declared, “The resolve of the prime minister of Italy is firm. The resolve of the American people is firm.”

To counter the continuously knocking knees of European public opinion, Mr. Berlusconi must remind his citizens that they have no choice about whether or not to be at war with terror. The Islamo-fascists made that declaration at train stations in Madrid, at nightclubs in Bali and at the World Trade Center in New York. Concessions will not be met by forbearance, much less goodwill. The only choice is the type of engagement — either catastrophic surprise attacks against civilians or suicidal strikes against well-prepared soldiers. The latter, although perilous and bloody, is still preferable.

Democracies are notoriously impatient in wars — especially in protracted conflicts of the sort that this nation and its allies are now engaged in. Yet there is no safe harbor against terror. A great Italian and eventual American, Christopher Columbus, had the right idea. As poet Joaquin Miller wrote in “Columbus,” “He gave that world/Its grandest lesson: ‘On! sail on!’”

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