Among the postwar American ambassadors to the Italian Republic, Richard Gardner was certainly the most highly qualified. A professor of international law at Columbia, he was the author of a highly regarded study, Sterling-Dollar Diplomacy. He had already served as deputy assistant secretary of state in the Kennedy administration, and he had been an adviser on foreign policy to Jimmy Carter during his campaign for the presidency. He was also deeply involved personally with Italy; he was married to Danielle Luzzatto, whose Venetian Jewish parents had gone into exile after the Fascist Racial Laws of 1938. He had made a number of influential Italian friends, including Gianni Agnelli, the owner of Fiat, and two of Italy’s leading journalists, Ugo Stille and Arrigo Levi, who wrote for two main newspapers, the Corriere della Sera and La Stampa.
After the Nixon and Kissinger years, the election of Carter in 1976 aroused strong hopes on the left in Italy that the US would take a more flexible line toward the Italian Communist Party (PCI), whose possible participation in government had become a critical issue in Italian politics. The Communists had won a third of the vote in 1976, yet the US had remained inflexibly opposed to any such idea. Expectations that the US position might change were increased by Gardner’s reputation as an intellectual with a good knowledge of Italian politics and the Italian economy, and by support for a new opening to the Communist Party in American journals such as Foreign Policy. The debate intensified during Gardner’s first year in Rome, with the official launching of “Eurocommunism” in March 1977, when a conference of the Italian, French, and Spanish parties issued a statement saying that they were committed to pursuing European, not Soviet, interests, including human rights, in foreign and domestic policy.
These changes on the left were matched by the suspicion on the right, both in the US and in Italy, that the Carter administration was intent on relaxing demands that the PCI be kept out of Italian government. Shortly after Gardner’s arrival early in 1977, the columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, masters of calculated disinformation, accused Gardner of an “overly solicitous treatment of the Communists and the Italian left,” which had, according to them, deeply upset the ruling Christian Democrats. The Italian press seized on this article as proof that Gardner was a pro-Communist, at odds with Carter’s strongly anti-Communist national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski. But as Gardner explains in his book, the common perception that he was a “dove” while Brzezinski was a “hawk” was an “optical illusion.” In fact, they were old friends, and shared a “visceral anti-Communism”; Gardner had been invited to be a member of the Trilateral Commission when Brzezinski was its director, and Jimmy Carter joined the organization soon afterward. Although Gardner initially had good relations with Carter’s secretary of state, Cyrus Vance, whom…
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