WASHINGTON, May 1 (UPI) -- U.S. presidents are supposed to become lame ducks in their last year of office, especially if their policies and party have been repudiated at the previous midterm elections. Yet President Bush, after defying so many other conventional wisdoms for good and ill during the past seven years, is now confounding that one, too.
In April, he racked up not one but four major foreign policy triumphs in his drive to deploy an effective U.S. anti-ballistic missile interceptor bases in Central Europe to guard against a future threat from Iran.
First, as we have previously noted in these columns, Bush won big at the NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania, at the beginning of April over his plan to build ABM defense bases in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Second, Silvio Berlusconi won an unanticipated landslide victory to return as prime minister of Italy for the third time. The 71-year-old Berlusconi previously served a full five years as prime minister from 2001 to 2006. Unlike his left-of-center opponents, he is a strong advocate of BMD in general and can be expected to provide energetic support for Bush in his plans to build a base for 10 ground-based mid-course interceptors in Poland and an accompanying radar base to guide them in the neighboring Czech Republic.
Also, Berlusconi's victory means that the four largest countries, economies and most powerful nations in the 27–nation European Union are now all led by strongly pro-American leaders who firmly back missile defense.
Berlusconi now joins Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany in this powerful pro-BMD constellation. Only recently re-elected Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of Spain stands outside it, and given Spain's historic close associations with France and Italy, Berlusconi's victory completes Zapatero's diplomatic isolation on European security issues in NATO and the EU.
Third, on Wednesday, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek won a no-confidence motion in the Czech parliament by the skin of his teeth -- 101 votes in favor of the government to 98 against.
And fourth, on Monday, Topolanek said he would soon sign an agreement with the United States to build the BMD radar base.
Topolanek's ruling Civic Democratic Party remains strongly supportive of building the radar base. But his partner Greens fiercely oppose it and even the Christian Democrats -- the third partner in the governing coalition -- have been increasingly wobbly. Opinion polls show up to 70 percent of Czechs opposing building the base, and Russia has been using all its formidable economic clout and diplomatic influence in Prague to try and block the agreement -- so far unsuccessfully.
Bush's success in enlisting the support of Brown, Sarkozy, Merkel and now Berlusconi is of crucial importance in giving his ally Topolanek the diplomatic support he urgently needs to maintain his power in Prague. And as we noted in these columns after the Bucharest NATO summit, it is also crucial in keeping the wavering Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk in line to build the Polish ABM interceptor base.
Russian policymakers appear to have been taken by surprise by Bush's ongoing success on the Euro-BMD issue. But time is on the U.S. president's side: Whether it means propping up loyal but beleaguered allies like Topolanek in Prague or reining in potential waverers like Tusk in Warsaw, or even just keeping opposition Democrats on board to approve funding in the U.S. Congress, the more progress Bush makes on the Euro-BMD issue during his remaining months in office, the more he will be creating a momentum that his successor in the White House may go along with.
It is one thing to refuse funding for a supposedly hypothetical plan, but it is another thing entirely to pull the plug on a major strategic program to defend American cities that is being already being constructed.