Richard N. Gardner
Richard N. Gardner; drawing by David Levine

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 he had helped recruit for the Carter campaign, he was seen as closer to Brzezinski. Where Italy and Eurocommunism were concerned, Gardner and Brzezinski were the dominant influence; Vance had little interest in either. In his memoirs Eurocommunism is not mentioned at all.

While still in Washington, Gardner with Brzezinski’s support had drawn up a strong statement to be issued before his arrival in Rome and which marked a break with the practices of previous American administrations. Written in March 1977, it said: “We will not interfere in Italy’s domestic affairs by such actions as dictating to Italians how they should vote, seeking to manipulate political events in Italy, or financing Italian political parties or personalities.” The statement, however, went on:

We prefer that our friends and allies be governed by political parties with strong democratic traditions, values, and practices. Naturally, we are concerned about the willingness and ability of Communist parties, which do not share these traditions, values, and practices, to cooperate with us and other members of the Western community on fundamental political, economic and security issues.

Much to Gardner’s annoyance, Vance had held up the statement, because the election of the mayor of Paris was imminent and he was concerned that it “would be resented as interference in French internal affairs.” When the statement was issued in April, it had been considerably watered down; Gardner objected particularly strongly to a passage that expressed concern about the United States’ ability to work with governments that were “dominated” by parties alien to the “fundamental democratic principles and common interests” of the West. The word “dominated” could be held to imply that Communist participation in a coalition government under Christian Democrat leadership would be acceptable if the Communists were not dominant. Gardner interpreted the revision as another concession to French susceptibilities. These incidents were highly revealing of the different way in which France and Italy were viewed in the United States, where a policy of “non-interference” in Italy would be construed as unacceptable interference in France.


But the responsibility for the different interpretations of “interference” lay mainly with Italian politicians. The Christian Democrats (DC) and other anti-Communist parties had successfully solicited financial assistance from the United States, while the PCI had received regular and substantial subsidies from the Soviet Union. Ironically, the US leaders were less worried about the future participation of the much more orthodox French Communist Party in government than they were about the PCI. François Mitterrand and the French Socialists could reliably be expected to keep the Communist Party under control, and in fact Mitterrand eventually succeeded in both bringing the Communists into the government and undermining their power. The weakness of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) meant that the Communists were unquestionably the dominant force on the Italian left.

The leader of the PCI, Enrico Berlinguer, however, was well aware that a left-wing coalition dominated by his party would not be acceptable either to Italy’s allies or to large parts of Italian society. The prospect of such a coalition gaining power, even in a fair election, would risk provoking a violent reaction, and very probably a “Chilean solution” in the form of a military coup. Recognizing this, Berlinguer as early as 1973 committed the PCI to the policy of a “historic compromise” with the Christian Democrats as the only basis on which the Communists could exercise a share of governing power. Why did this strategy fail to reassure American policymakers, even under the more tolerant Carter administration? One answer is that the Christian Democrats, though they were still Italy’s largest party, were faction-ridden, discredited by scandals and ineffective governance, and suffering from low political morale. They were seen as incapable of providing the strong leadership needed to contain the far more determined, united, and confident Communists.

In some ways, this view of the Christian Democrats underestimated their power. The most important leaders, the secretary of the party, Aldo Moro, and the prime minister, Giulio Andreotti, were both masters of the tactics of accommodation, attrition, and delay, even though their personalities and political styles were markedly different. Andreotti was an expert in secret political deals and maneuvers, and ready to adjust his political position according to the needs of the moment, while Moro pursued a more consistent policy behind a smokescreen of ambiguity. The ability of the Christian Democrats to wear down their political partners had already been made clear during the center-left coalitions of the 1960s. In the brief period before the cold war, when Italy was ruled by the “anti-Fascist coalition” containing both the PSI and the PCI, the Christian Democrats had been very successful in neutralizing Communist influence. In spite of all the economic and social upheavals of the decade starting in 1968, these well-tried tactics were once more to prove effective.

That this was so was certainly not owing just to the political skills of Moro and Andreotti. Much more fundamental was the deeply rooted conservatism of large parts of Italian society. The Communists had succeeded in making converts among the middle classes, who were fed up with corruption and clerical influence, and impressed by the PCI’s administrative competence. But in the crucial general elections of 1976 the Christian Democrats narrowly beat the PCI, when many voters who had previously abandoned them for the minor parties of the center and the right returned to the DC because they feared a Communist victory. Still, the large gains made by the PCI, and the refusal of the Socialists to enter a coalition if the Communists opposed their doing so, meant that the Christian Democrats could no longer form a government without the PCI’s acquiescence. The difficulty was solved for the moment by a characteristically subtle Italian political formula, probably invented by Aldo Moro. The PCI would declare that its position was that of “no non-confidence.” This avoided openly recognizing the Communists as participants in the majority. In practice, this meant that the PCI would abstain in the vote of confidence for the new Andreotti government.

The stirring title of Gardner’s memoir—Mission Italy: On the Front Lines of the Cold War—does not do justice to the book itself, although it does point to a tendency of the author to see his ambassadorship largely as part of a successful campaign against the Communist enemy. The conception of Italy as “on the front lines of the cold war” was not, by the time Gardner arrived as ambassador, shared by the leaders of the Soviet Union. They had perhaps entertained hopes that the oil shock of 1973 had opened the way to the long-awaited “crisis of capitalism,” and that, for a combination of economic and political reasons, Italy, the “weakest link” in the capitalist chain, at least among the larger European nations, might be vulnerable to some form of revolution. Moreover, major financial scandals involving leading members of the governing Christian Democrats, the constant feuding between the different factions of the party, and the disillusionment of the Socialist Party with the results of an earlier center-left coalition, all combined to make Italy’s political system seem uniquely ill-equipped to deal with the consequences of the post-1973 economic crisis. Following an earlier wave of terrorism from the neofascist extreme right, and rumors of intended military coups, the revolutionary Red Brigades had by the early 1970s begun to exploit the resulting climate of fear as well as the discontent of a minority of the student movement of 1968, who were disillusioned by their failure to achieve their radical objectives. From 1974 onward, the Red Brigades and other extremist groups launched what was to become an even more destructive campaign of terrorism from the left.


As Western Europe’s most powerful Communist Party, which was every day gaining in support, the PCI should, in the eyes of the Soviets, have been able to exploit this situation if its leaders had still been true to the cause of international revolution. But in 1973 Berlinguer had made it clear that he was firmly committed to a democratic and nonviolent road to power. By 1977, Soviet disapproval of the PCI had turned to disgust and openly expressed anger. The Eurocommunist heresy had taken root in Spain and France as well as Italy, and threatened to cause a new and damaging schism in the international Communist movement. The refusal of the major Western European Communist parties to obey the directives of Moscow, exemplified by Berlinguer’s acceptance of NATO, and his defense of the rights of Soviet dissenters, set a dangerous example for Communists in Eastern Europe. Any possible gain from Communist participation in the Italian government, thereby weakening the Western Alliance, seemed in Soviet eyes to have been outweighed during 1977 and 1978 by their fears that a success for Eurocommunism would have a far more destabilizing impact on the shaky foundations of their own satellite regimes.


The pro-NATO French political scientist Pierre Hassner acutely noted the paradox that while Eurocommunism was born of détente, it also threatened to destroy it by changing the political balance in both the Soviet bloc and the West. During 1977, Carter’s international campaign for human rights and Berlinguer’s criticism of the Soviet repression of dissent and his defense of pluralism appeared to the Brezhnev regime as associated threats. The end of détente, in turn, was fatal to the politics of the “historic compromise” in Italy itself.

Gardner certainly can be given credit for not sharing the widespread illusion that the US could determine the course of Italian politics. He became aware of the difficulty of exercising leverage over the Christian Democrats, the major beneficiary of American support, particularly when it came to making much-needed economic reforms, such as reducing the huge deficits of the bloated state economy, which was used as a source of money for political patronage. Gardner was, not surprisingly, an early and strong supporter of the Socialist Bettino Craxi, who eventually swung the party around to an anti-Communist and pro-American line; but this was to make economic reform no easier. Still, the United States was seen as having a decisive influence in Italian affairs, and this belief was in itself a political reality of great importance. Gardner concluded that

like it or not, I was regarded as a major player in the intricate and now delicate game of Italian domestic politics…. Every word, every move that I made was being deciphered for its possible meaning.

On the right, and in official circles, uncertainty about the attitude of the Carter administration combined with alarm about the crisis in the economy and fear of terrorist attacks to produce panicky reactions. The Italian ambassador to Washington, Roberto Gaja, in a conversation with Brzezinski at the end of March 1977, gave a picture of unrelieved gloom. If the United States were to give the impression of accepting Communist participation, “then you would have them in the government tomorrow.” He was impatiently slapped down by Brzezinski, who told him, “You cannot build a stable relationship on constant cries of ‘disaster’ and ‘crisis.'”1 This episode recalls the urgency with which American interference was solicited from within Italy, and it also shows the declining credibility of such appeals. The doctrine of “non-interference” at least gave Gardner more autonomy; he could resist appeals for direct US intervention in the form of open support for the Christian Democrats by citing the explicit policy against it.

Gardner gives some telling examples of the unrealistic expectations of both the right and the left. In November 1977 he met with Indro Montanelli, a famous and sharp-tongued journalist who had left the Corriere della Sera after accusing it of being too left-wing, and founded his own implacably conservative newspaper, Il Giornale. He wanted Gardner to make it clear that the ban on the PCI was permanent, and to rule out any possibility that it might eventually be transformed into a democratic party sometime in the future. He also demanded that Gardner tell Gianni Agnelli to cut off his financial support for Ugo La Malfa and his small, liberal-minded Republican Party, because the widely respected La Malfa had advocated Communist participation in government.

On the moderate left, Gardner had trouble with La Repubblica—the third major daily newspaper in Italy—and perhaps the most influential at the time. The April 1977 statement and a noncommittal communiqué after a summit meeting between Carter and Andreotti in July were interpreted by La Repubblica as signifying the removal of the US “veto” on Communist participation in government. It took until the following December for Gardner to convince the editor Eugenio Scalfari that this interpretation was wrong and that the Carter administration would express its opposition to the PCI’s entry in unflinching terms. He told Scalfari to “attack the United States if you absolutely must…. But at least describe correctly the attitude of our government toward the PCI.”

This “strange compact” bore fruit; in an article of December 16 Scalfari reported Gardner’s frank anti-communism, but also emphasized his renunciation of direct methods of interference. He concluded that Communist entry into the government could and should go ahead: “Nobody can take lightly the attitude of a great power ally, but nobody can pretend that the opinion of the Department of State makes law in Montecitorio and Palazzo Chigi” (respectively the seat of the Italian Parliament and of the prime minister’s office).

This background explains the disappointment and even shock of many Italians when, on January 12, 1978, in the middle of the government crisis that erupted when Berlinguer threatened to call a vote of no confidence, the State Department issued a statement that finally dissipated all doubts about the administration’s attitude toward the PCI. Gardner makes clear that the initiative came from him. On January 5 he had sent a telegram to Washington urging that what was needed was an immediate clear statement that “any step that brings the PCI further into the governing process would be unwelcome and would have a negative impact on our bilateral and multilateral relations with Italy.”

Gardner was recalled to Washington for consultations, and the final document took some account of the objection raised by the State Department’s Policy Planning Council that there should be no explicit reference to the damage that would be done to Italy’s relationship with its allies and NATO.2 However, the final document, on Gardner’s suggestion, stated not only that the administration was opposed to Communist participation in government, but that “we…would like to see Communist influence in any Western European country reduced.” He also personally drafted an uncompromising ideological justification of this position: “The United States and Italy share profound democratic values and interests, and we do not believe that the Communists share those values and interests.” This last sentence expressed Gardner’s deep conviction that the PCI’s evolution under Berlinguer had not fundamentally altered its character.

Did the American statement of January 12 have a decisive influence on the outcome of the Italian political crisis? The evidence suggests otherwise. In fact, the crucial decision to accept the Communists as formal partners in the parliamentary majority, but without conceding them a direct share in government, had already been made the day before in a meeting of Christian Democratic members of Parliament. Moro had some trouble putting across even this solution. But both Moro and Andreotti saw clearly enough that Italy’s social and economic crisis could not be dealt with without a measure of Communist help. Giorgio Napolitano, the leader of the moderate wing of the PCI, who later had good personal relations with Gardner, has criticized the January 12 statement as negative in its effects and unfair to the PCI. Not unreasonably, in view of its timing and emphasis, Napolitano believes that the American declaration crossed the “fine line” between “non-indifference” to Communist participation and the “non-interference” that Gardner had previously wished to preserve. But “in any case,” he said, “the conditions did not exist in the Christian Democratic party for a yes to the formation of a government with the PCI.”3 Gardner does not tell us that Andreotti, in private, reacted with some annoyance to the US statement, which he found “neither useful nor opportune.”4 It threatened to unbalance his carefully calibrated strategy.


It was already clear by the end of 1977 that the PCI was paying a high price for the strategy of the “historic compromise.” In practice it turned out to be impossible for them to combine a policy of serious economic reforms with an alliance with the DC. As a Socialist critic noted, the necessary changes in state ownership of industry would have struck at one of the foundations of the DC’s power.5 The PCI’s one serious and important contribution to economic policy was to persuade the large union federation that it controlled to adopt a policy of “austerity,” i.e., wage restraint. Naturally this did not increase the popularity of the party line. The PCI risked having the worst of all worlds: to be held responsible for the government’s decisions without having a real voice in them.

Berlinguer’s participation in the majority never really changed this situation. In part, this was because of a dramatic and unforeseeable event, the tragic kidnapping and murder of Aldo Moro, which removed the politician who guaranteed the Christian Democrats’ consent to the forming of the new majority. The defense of the state against terrorism now became the highest priority.

However, to some degree the mounting wave of terrorism and violent conflict, which reached its peak during 1977, had already made this evident. Rather like the German Social Democrats in the later years of the Weimar Republic, the PCI could not afford to withdraw support from the government without putting the democratic system at risk.

During the Moro kidnapping, the PCI hoped to consolidate its democratic legitimacy by endorsing a “strategy of firmness,” outdoing the Christian Democrats in their insistence on not negotiating with the Red Brigades.6 But this did not do them much good. On the one hand, Craxi and the Socialist Party actually gained popularity by their greater openness to attempts to save Moro by secret negotiations. Many Italians felt the Communist position was inhumane in its rigidity. At the same time, for all the PCI’s strenuous and sincere opposition to terrorism, the Red Brigades proclaimed themselves “Communists,” and this was enough to revive old fears. After all, as a saying of the time put it, the Red Brigades and the PCI shared the same “family album,” or heritage. Both claimed to be the heirs of the armed Resistance of the years between 1943 and 1945.

Frustrated with their lack of progress, the Communists pulled out of the majority in 1979, a year after they had entered it. In the ensuing elections, they lost votes for the first time since 1948. Most ominous for the PCI was the decline of party support among younger voters, which was in strong contrast to the trends of the earlier 1970s. It showed the beginnings of a shift in opinion that was to continue throughout the 1980s. After 1980, with the decline in terrorism and a marked improvement in the economic situation, the parties of the government coalition could afford once more to exclude the PCI. The Communist “threat” was over.

Undoubtedly this was the most satisfactory outcome for the Carter administration, and Gardner is happy to claim the credit for it. He is particularly proud of his part in bringing about the Italian decision to accept the stationing of Pershing and cruise missiles on their territory. He cites Gorbachev’s statement in his memoirs that NATO’s willingness to deploy Pershing and cruise missiles helped to convince him that Brezhnev’s policy of military buildup was disastrous and had to be replaced by a policy of disarmament and free political choice.

It would be unfair, however, to reduce Gardner’s mission to that of containing the PCI, although at times he comes close to giving this impression. In the first place, he was true to his promise of breaking with the long-established American practice of secretly financing Italian parties or politicians. He ended the traditional financial subsidies for the DC, and refused a direct request for money from the otherwise much-favored Bettino Craxi. He is rightly caustic about his predecessors, John Volpe and Graham Martin, who sought political advice from the ambitious and financially shady Cardinal Paul Marcinkus.7 Martin (between 1969 and 1973) had also cultivated relations with the notorious financier Michele Sindona, linked to the Mafia, and had given $800,000 to Vito Miceli, the head of the Italian military intelligence service (SID), and later a deputy for the neo-fascist MSI.

Gardner is somewhat reticent about such transfers of money. These were the years in which the Italian intelligence services manipulated right-wing terrorist groups to create “the strategy of tension,” and in which there were frequent rumors of coups. Gardner’s reticence, moreover, extends in general to the darker side of Italian politics, and of Italian-American relations. He does not, for example, mention the scandal in which Italian politicians accepted large bribes from Lockheed. In avoiding such matters, he does himself a disservice. He could have done more to underline the contrast between the transparency of his own approach and the secrecy both before and after his tenure.

He does, it is true, devote a caustic page to the activities of Michael Ledeen, an American employed by the Center for Strategic Studies in Georgetown who was later revealed to be a “consultant” for Italy’s chief of military intelligence. Gardner writes that Ledeen worked with Francesco Pazienza, an influential military intelligence adviser “who was subsequently charged in Italy with extortion by violence, possession of cocaine, leaking state secrets, and criminal associations of a Mafia type.”8 This pair managed to exploit the interregnum between Carter’s defeat and the arrival of a new ambassador appointed by Reagan to claim they were acting as mediators between Italian politicians and the incoming Reagan administration. Gardner does not say, however, that Pazienza, among his other distinctions, was a member of the notorious secret Masonic lodge, the P2, which succeeded, precisely during the years when Gardner was ambassador, in occupying many of the leading positions in the secret services and other branches of the state administration, as well as briefly taking over the Corriere della Sera. It would be interesting to know if Gardner received any information about the P2’s activities.

But it should be said that, to his credit, Gardner’s policies toward the PCI were as notable for their innovations as for their continuities. He overcame considerable resistance to remove both the ban on granting visas to members of the PCI who wished to visit the United States and the severe restrictions on embassy contacts with Communist leaders in Italy itself. These changes were not reversed by Gardner’s successor, Maxwell Rabb, in the far more unfavorable climate of the Reagan administration. Rabb would have had a hard time initiating such changes if they had not already been in place.

Gardner himself had a series of secret conversations with Napolitano, and with other leading figures of the party as well. If these talks did not change Gardner’s anti-Communist convictions, they certainly contributed to a greater appreciation by the US of the genuinely reform-minded elements within the PCI. Over the long term, the limited “détente” between the US and the PCI that Gardner set in motion made for a better mutual understanding, and encouraged the surprising enthusiasm for America subsequently shown by many of the younger PCI cadres, among them Rome’s present popular mayor, Walter Veltroni. This was in marked contrast to the pervasive anti-Americanism of the Communist Party during the 1970s. In assessing Berlinguer’s policies one must remember that he had to cope not only with the persistence of the myths of the Soviet Union among the older members of the party, but also with the widespread suspicion of American power (though not of American culture) among the young, in the years following the Vietnam War.

Two questions remain. Were the results of US policy under Carter good for Italy, and would any other result have been possible? Here again, Gardner, drawing on his training as an economist and lawyer, was prescient in seeing that the advance of the PCI was the symptom of a much deeper malaise in Italian politics and society. But the question of priorities remains. Some argued that it would have been more important to strengthen the Italian political system by internal reform than to keep the PCI out of power. The “government of national emergency” of 1978 remained an isolated episode without a sequel. The refusal to admit the legitimacy of the PCI as a coalition partner after 1979 allowed the governing parties a free hand to continue, and aggravate, their old practices of helping themselves to public money. These practices eventually led eventually to the scandal of tangentopoli (Bribeopoly) in 1992, and the meltdown of a political system in which the voters had lost all confidence. So it is understandable that some Italians claim that an opportunity was missed.

However, politics is more often a matter of avoiding the worst outcome than of achieving the best one. To the second question—would another outcome have been theoretically possible?—it is hard to give an affirmative answer. Too many forces were working against it. Apart from the indigenous strength of anticommunism in Italy, there was strong opposition from the many sectors of American opinion that accused the Carter administration of being “soft on communism,” including George Meany’s AFL-CIO and the Italian-American lobby. In 1976, the German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt issued a particularly blunt warning against giving the PCI a share in government. Internationally, the Soviet decision in 1977 to deploy theater nuclear forces targeted on Western Europe had already spelled the end of détente. In October 1977 Chancellor Schmidt delivered a famous lecture calling attention to the insecurity this Soviet threat was creating among America’s European allies.

The decision of the Italian government in October 1979 to accept the Pershing missile deployment presented an impossible dilemma for the PCI leaders. If they opposed it, they would confirm the opinion that they could not be relied upon to defend Western security. But to accept it was unthinkable. It would hurt the party’s strong commitment to a “peace policy,” which, if it no longer meant following the Soviet line, still implied the refusal of any actions that would mean a return to the deep antagonisms of the cold war. Berlinguer tried to resolve the contradiction by proposing an independent policy that called for a delay in Western deployment in return for negotiations with the Soviets to remove their own missiles. This was not a realistic assessment of Soviet aims and expectations.

Gardner, however, gives a one-sided picture of the PCI’s evolution between 1975 and 1979. While scrupulously noting all of Berlinguer’s statements of sympathy for the “Socialist camp,” and of continued “fraternal” PCI adherence to the principles of the Russian Revolution, he is often silent about Berlinguer’s more daring declarations in favor of democratic pluralism and his criticisms of the Soviet model. These statements were made not only in Italy but in Moscow, where they caused shock and anger.9 By voting in favor of the Andreotti government’s foreign policy on December 1, 1977, the PCI made clear that its support for NATO and the European community was official party policy.10 Berlinguer’s famous phrase, “I feel safer on this side [i.e. within NATO]” had been uttered in an interview during the 1976 election campaign.

Still, it is certainly true, as Gardner argues, that the PCI’s position remained ambiguous and contradictory. In large part this was because the leaders recognized the continued hold that the myths of the Soviet revolution had on its members and were reluctant to challenge them. Soviet attacks on the Italian party had the result of arousing a reaction of “party patriotism” that made it possible to pursue a policy of independence; but there was still great reluctance on the part of the Communists to acknowledge that the break could be permanent, or that the USSR’s “real socialism” was an inherently oppressive system that could not be reformed. The danger of a split in the party—backed by the Soviet Union—was very serious. And the mentality of the PCI leaders did not make for clarity. They were too often determined to assert “continuity” with the old party at all costs, even when their views had radically changed. By asserting that they were only following to a logical conclusion the policies of Palmiro Togliatti, who had run the party under Stalin, they cast doubt on their democratic credentials.

The PCI strategy of the “historic compromise” was in a strange way both overtimid and overambitious. Overtimid because it delayed reforms, for example in the state-owned industries, that might alienate the Christian Democrats, and overambitious because the “historic” vision looked forward to overcoming the polarization of Italian politics by a union of the communist and Catholic masses.11 Berlinguer was himself deeply influenced by the ideology of “Catholic communism” (cattocomunismo). One of his closest advisers was the former dissident Catholic Franco Rodano. This vision was hardly a liberal one. Independent intellectuals understandably felt some alarm when a leading Communist intellectual started to praise the popular character of the Counter-Reformation. The realistic perception that the left could not hope to govern alone led to a pursuit of national unanimity that was at odds with the party’s commitment to pluralism. Another fatal error of this perspective was that it condemned the Socialists to a subordinate role; the failure of the PCI to recognize the PSI as a serious independent force contributed to the success of Craxi, who reversed his alliances and made common cause with Christian Democrats (meanwhile allowing his friend Silvio Berlusconi to take over private television).

In a memorandum written while he was being held captive and interrogated by the Red Brigades, Aldo Moro paid Gardner a notable compliment. After praising him for being correct, cultured, and well informed, he concluded, “If I could permit myself a judgment, I would say that he is a person who avoids dramatizing events and who has never raised his tone [voice], even on questions of Italian politics.” It is true that this judgment is somewhat qualified by a wry comment that Gardner tended to see Italian politics only as a “detail” in a much wider picture. Few of Moro’s statements were exempt from ambiguity. But from someone of his temperament and political style, this judgment indicates sincere appreciation. Gardner had the true diplomatic ability to say even unpalatable things in a polite fashion. If he disappointed many hopes, he left Italian-American relations in a much healthier state than he found them, and that is no small praise for an ambassador.

This Issue

March 9, 2006