Mission Italy: On the Frontlines of the Cold War by Richard Gardner
Mission Italy: On the Frontlines of the Cold War by Richard Gardner

My Italian Mission: Ethical Dilemmas and Lessons for Today

Jan 19, 2006

Former U.S. Ambassador Richard N. Gardner discusses the delicate balancing act of diplomacy, politics and practicality in Cold War Italy.


JOANNE MYERS:I'm Joanne Myers, Director of Public Affairs Programs. On behalf of the Carnegie Council, I'd like to thank you for joining us this afternoon as we welcome Ambassador Gardner to our conversation.

He will be discussing "My Italian Mission: Ethical Dilemmas and Lessons for Today." It's based on his book, Mission Italy: On the Frontlines of the Cold War, which will be available for you to purchase at the end of the program today.

In many conversations throughout the United States, concerns about our foreign-policy priorities and how they are executed are issues that are being raised more and more frequently. Included in these discussions are questions about the extent of interference of one state in the affairs of another. Yet what is often missing in these dialogues is the analysis of the important and very necessary role that our ambassadors and embassies play in implementing our government's policies. For the most part, the mission of our overseas ambassadors is to properly represent the interest of our country and that of our citizens. Often, their assignments are likely to be critical to our national security and interest, the results of which can impact profoundly on both our own country and that of the host country.

In Mission Italy, our guest this afternoon recounts his years serving as U.S. ambassador to Italy. The years he was posted there, from 1977 to 1981, were a time that Italy faced some of the most serious crises since the end of World War II. It was a turning point not only in Italian history, but in the history of the Cold War as well. It was a period when the country's future as a successful Western-oriented democracy and market economy seemed to be in jeopardy.

Ambassador Gardner's insights are fascinating, especially as they are a window into the foreign-policy initiatives undertaken by the Carter Administration, as well as serving as a document into the ways certain aspects of our foreign policy were manifested in Italy. His story is one that conveys just how important the need for strong U.S. leadership is in the world, easily making the case for the need of effective ambassadors and embassies in support of that leadership.

Our guest this afternoon is no ordinary diplomat, nor was his time in Italy an ordinary time. What is evident from reading this memoir is that Ambassador Gardner approached his mission with uncommon energy and devotion. While posted in Rome, he set the perfect example for what a diplomatic mission should be—in other words, an essential part of the delivery system through which our country's policies are implemented in particular regions and countries.

Throughout his distinguished career, which you can read about in the bio that is attached to your guest list, he has exemplified all that is best in American public service. In Italy, especially, because of his experience in international economics and law, and his personal familiarity with the country, he was able to bring an unmatched clarity of thinking and interpretation to every action, which leads me to conclude that, if ever, for a moment, we lose faith in our ability to find capable leaders, we need only remember the name of Richard Gardner.

Please join me in giving a very warm welcome to our guest this afternoon. Ambassador Gardner, thank you for joining us.


RICHARD GARDNER:My goodness, after that introduction, I will just float into outer space. I'll live on that for years. Bless you for being so kind.

Joanne, in that beautiful introduction, you used a phrase that really rang a bell with me: "No ordinary time." Who do you associate that with? Eleanor Roosevelt, going to the Democratic National Convention in 1940, on behalf of Franklin [Delano Roosevelt]: "Delegates, this is no ordinary time."

I mention that because Eleanor Roosevelt, whom I was privileged to know as a very young man, who invited me for a weekend to her house, Val-Kill, in Hyde Park, was a role model. In the spirit of ethics in foreign policy, she understood and personified that in her leadership, both as an adviser to Franklin and as a delegate to the United Nations.

I'm delighted to be here, for several reasons. I have admired this organization. I don't know of any other organization that has as a major theme ethics in international affairs. We need that message. But also I can't think of a better place to talk about my book, because, in a certain sense, that's what my book is about: how to balance power and principle, ethics and expediency and practicality. It's not always easy. There are ethical dilemmas, and I try to describe what they are in this particular case of Italy.

The book is also a plea for a reexamination of Jimmy Carter. It makes the case that if you are looking for giving credit for winning the Cold War, there is a little room for Jimmy Carter, as well as for the people who are generally given the credit on Fox News, such as, of course, Ronald Reagan, who deserves credit, and the Polish pope, who deserved credit, certainly. But for reasons that the book explains, which I will explain, Jimmy Carter should get his share of the credit.

I had the privilege of getting to know Jimmy Carter in my service on what some people consider a highly subversive organization, the Trilateral Commission. He was chosen by David Rockefeller, as I explain in the book, and Zbigniew Brzezinski [henceforth "Zbig" or "Brzezinski"], my friend from Columbia University at the time. Zbig and I were so impressed by this unknown governor from Georgia that we signed up to be chairmen of his Foreign Policy Task Force at a time when he was "Jimmy Who?" In fact, at the Trilateral Commission, the first time he appeared, he went around shaking people's hands and saying, "Hi, ya'll. I'm Jimmy Carter. I'm running for president." Very unkindly, one Englishman said, "President of what?"

But Zbig and I were very impressed with Carter's intelligence. He is really a very intelligent man—I don't think most Americans realize how intelligent he is, and was—but also a profoundly ethical and moral person. During the course of his campaign, at a UN meeting, he uttered the following statement: "Balance-of-power politics must be supplemented by world-order politics if the foreign policies of nations are to be relevant to modern needs. The time has come for political leaders around the world to take a larger view of their obligations, showing a decent respect for posterity, for the needs of other peoples, and for the global biosphere."

In his inaugural address, he uttered a memorable sentence, which maybe should be remembered today: "We will not behave in foreign places so as to violate our rules and standards here at home, for we know that this trust which our nation earns is essential to our strength"—a very explicit linking of principle to power.

My dear friend Joseph Nye, known to all of you, of course, up at Harvard, has coined the term "soft power." What does soft power mean? The capacity to attract to the United States other countries, because we identify our interests with their interests. They see us as a force for good in the world. They follow our leadership because they have confidence and trust in us. That is just as important as hard power. If it isn't linked with hard power, we find ourselves increasingly isolated and in great difficulty.

But I'm not here to preach about today. I'm here to talk about what happened in my diplomatic experience.

People might say, "Gardner, why do you write a book about what happened in Italy twenty-five years ago. Who cares?" I hope some historians might find it interesting. I think this was a turning point in the Cold War. But it does make some of these points about the role of ethics in diplomacy.

When I was appointed ambassador to Italy, Brzezinski, who was then the national security adviser, wrote a memo to the president saying that Italy was the gravest political problem we faced in Europe. How could that be? You think of Italy today, and you think of a place where tourists go, you think of wonderful food and wine and beautiful countryside and a magnificent culture—half of the great artistic legacy of the world is in Italy. But in those days it was a very troubled country. It was in a civil war, with Red Brigades shooting people almost every week. The Communists had gained such strength that they were on the threshold of coming into power. The country had rampant inflation. It was economically going down the drain. It was uncertain that they would continue to be an ally of the United States.

I was warned by Henry Kissinger, "Maybe you shouldn't take this job, Dick. You'll be known as the man who lost Italy. You don't want that on your record, do you?" Henry was wrong about that, as he has been wrong about some other things—although we remain good friends, and I have enormous respect for him. But he didn't, I think, completely understand the Italian situation.

When I arrived in Italy in March of 1977, America's reputation in Italy was at an absolute low point. I didn't make that point too starkly in the book, because one doesn't like to criticize too much one's predecessors, but I'll say it to an audience like this. It was not just the result of the Vietnam War and Watergate, and the assassination of the two Kennedys and Martin Luther King. What the United States had been doing in Italy in the previous eight years under Nixon and Ford was unforgivable. Graham Martin, who was ambassador from 1969 to 1972, poured vast amounts of money into the pockets of right-wing politicians, including the head of the secret services of Italy, a well-known neo-fascist, who was later implicated in a plot to take over the country by force, by somebody named Prince Borghese, a real right-wing nut. The other major influence on Graham Martin was a man named Pier Talenti, a great friend of Nixon's, a Nixon fundraiser, who was an Italian-American who lived in Italy. He was brought to trial by the Italian government for implication in this subversive plot.

The Freedom of Information Act is a wonderful thing. All these things come out now. They brought out recently a document in which Pier Talenti came to see Alexander Haig and said, "The Communists are about to take over Italy. We've got to corrupt some more politicians." That was how they wanted to combat communism.

It was not just that, but under Graham Martin and his successor, John Volpe, who, I must say, to his credit, did not do any of those things. Both of them refused to have any dialogue with the Communists, and had virtually no contact with people who were considered left of center, the Socialists and the Republicans. Now, I admit, the Socialist Party, under Pietro Nenni and his successors, was not a very friendly party to the United States, but that was in part because we made no attempt to win them over.

My political counselor, when I arrived in Italy, described the Socialists as follows. He said, "You know, ambassador, the Socialist Party of Italy is a Marxist party. The problem is, it's more Groucho than Karl." My attitude was, they may be Groucho, but they're 10 percent of the electorate. The Communists, by the way, because of the brilliant strategy under Nixon and Ford, grew from 27 percent to 34 percent. So all these manipulations were totally counterproductive. They were made public and convinced the Italian people that we were interfering in their affairs in unfair, unreasonable ways, and working with the most disreputable extreme right-wing elements.

They also blamed us for not being pragmatic in our approach to Eurocommunism. Many Italians, rightly or wrongly, felt that something was changing under Enrico Berlinguer, that there was a chance that they might be moving toward a pro-Western social democratic position.

So, under Jimmy Carter, and with his wisdom—and he approved a memo that Zbig and I drafted on this subject—with his full approval, we decided that we would open a dialogue with the Communists, very carefully, secretly, to see to what extent they really were changing and to convey to the Italian people that we were not going to have an ideological block and say, "We'll never have anything to do with the Italian Communists because of their name." We planned to judge them by their actions. If they showed sincerely that they were becoming social democrats and breaking with hard-line Soviet leaders—Brezhnev was then in power—and taking a more pro-Western attitude in foreign policy, then our attitude toward them would change.

But we also indicated that, until that happened, it was our preference that they not be in the government. To that extent, our policy was the same as it had been under our predecessors, except that our methods were totally different.

One of the difficulties any ambassador faces is how to express these things. When I arrived in Italy in March of 1977, I had a problem, because just a few weeks before, François Mitterrand, who, of course, was a Socialist and in an alliance with a French Communist Party that was one-third the size of the Socialist Party in France (whereas in Italy, the Communists were three times the Socialists), Mitterrand appealed to then-Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, "Don't make any statements about Eurocommunism, please. We're on the verge of elections for the mayor of Paris, and anything you say will be regarded as prejudicing my chance, allied with the Communists, to come to power."

So I was under wraps. The president had signed off on this new policy—that we preferred not to see the Communists in the government; we would test them by the extent that they evolved—but we couldn't say anything, which was very difficult. When I arrived at the airport, at Fiumicino, because of the drama of the moment, everybody said, "Oh, there's a new ambassador coming from a new American administration." Some people said, "He's a Columbia professor. He must be a Communist, or at least far left." There were a lot of expectations about what I was going to do.

I was surrounded by a battery of journalists. They didn't let me pass. I came with my wife and my two children. They blocked my way. You know how these paparazzi are. They thrust a microphone in my face, and one of them said—asking the question?—"What is your attitude going to be toward the compromesso storico," which was the idea of bringing the Communists into the government alongside the Christian Democrats. I said to myself, "I knew this was going to happen." There was no escape. So I asked my dear wife, who, as some of you know, is from Venice and gave me a lot of wisdom about how to deal with Italians. She said, "What you must do when you're asked this question is to cite the famous Venetian proverb." In Venetian it is, "Prima di parlare, taci," which means, "Before you speak, be quiet."

Sure enough, I pulled that out of my head when I was confronted by these journalists and asked about the Communists. I said, "Prima di parlare, taci." I was delighted when, the next day, the headlines in several of the papers were, "The American Ambassador Arrives Speaking Venetian." If they said I was speaking Italian, it would already be very nice, but speaking Venetian was almost too much.

But my happiness was very short-lived, because that evening I turned on the evening news, and I saw my old friend Ruggiero Alanda [phonetic], who was the political commentator on the first channel. He said, "A very historic, important statement was made by Ambassador Gardner when he arrived at Fiumicino today." I said, "I did? What did I say?"

He said, 'Prima di parlare, taci.' What does that mean? We must analyze that. He is a professor at Columbia, of law. In the common law, silence means consent. He has told us he is going to consent to bring the Communists to power."

We had all kinds of difficulties of that sort. In the end, we had to reverse many of the policies of our predecessors:

  • First of all, no financing of anybody, right, left, or center. We didn't play that game.
  • Communicate with the Communists secretly and discreetly.
  • Work with the Socialists and left-wing parties for the first time, because without them there was no way of having a non-Communist government, combining the center-left people with the Christian Democrats.
  • Grant visas to the Communists. My predecessors refused to grant a visa to any Communist. They couldn't come to the United States. I can't think of anything more antithetical to the American political tradition than that. It was under the McCarran Act. We said a Communist could come to the United States, as long as he's not a terrorist. We even allowed them to open an office for their newspaper.

My predecessor, John Volpe, denied a visa to the leading flautist in Italy, Severino Gazzelloni, because he once played his flute at a Communist rally. Leading writers, artists, the great people who shaped Italian culture in those years—Federico Fellini, Lina Wertmüller, Leonardo Sciascia, Renato Guttuso, all the great names—most of them voted Communist, or certainly Socialist. They were never allowed in the American embassy.

Previously there were no programs to help in the modernization of Italy. We launched a strategy of cooperation, which I describe in the book, to show the Italians that we care about them, not just as a big aircraft carrier, a base for American troops, but because we care about their welfare. We doubled cultural and educational exchange. We started publishing books that were out of print in Italian, like The Federalist Papers, believe it or not. We encouraged private investment in the Mezzogiorno, the Italian South. We tried to help them with their energy policies, stressing solar and wind, and help them in their tax collections, which wasn't, perhaps, the most popular thing to do with the Italian people. But with the IRS giving them computers and other information about enforcement, we about doubled the degree of tax collections in four years.

So these were things that we could do. But we also made clear that we preferred, of course, not to see the Communists in the government until their attitude changed. Unfortunately, right-wing elements in Italy and in the United States either didn't understand what we were doing or pretended not to. You have heard the name Robert Novak? He conducted the most ridiculous campaign against me. When I arrived in Italy, after presenting my credentials, under Italian protocol, the first person I was required to see was the president of the Camera, their House of Representatives. He was equivalent to our Speaker of the House. That was protocol. I had a list of people that it was necessary to see. I couldn't meet with Prime Minister Andreotti until I had gone through that list.

I suppose that what Mr. Novak would've liked me to do was boycott the guy, which would have been appalling. The Italians would have taken that as an affront: "You're not going to see a Speaker of the House?"

So I went to see him. I saw him for twenty minutes. The column by Novak and Evans said something like: "Gardner: the first thing this naïve professor does, when sent to Italy by a naïve peanut farmer [i.e., Carter], is walk right in to see the Communists." This ricocheted all through the Italian press. You can't imagine how an ambassador is defenseless against this kind of attack. It was reported in the Italian press as, "The authoritative Washington Post denounces the American ambassador," because they didn't realize that Novak and Evans were columnists.

Anyway, we had our problems. We then made a statement on January 12, 1978, to try to clarify our position. I went back to Washington in a dramatic way—perhaps a too dramatic way. I was called back by the White House. Brzezinski and I met with the president. A statement was issued by the State Department, making it very clear that we didn't want to see the Communists in power in Italy. In fact, we hoped to see their influence reduced.

That set off a storm on the Left. I was denounced by people in the United States. Several professors of left-wing persuasion said that I was organizing a coup d'etat, that we were going to install an Italian Pinochet. In Italy, of course, the Communist press went absolutely wild. I remember one socialite of left-wing persuasion in Rome said, "Ambassador Gardner, you have lost today, with that statement, all the intellectuals." I said, "Madam, I think you and I may mean something else by intellectuals."

Aldo Moro, shortly after that, was kidnapped and murdered. A vicious campaign was launched by the Soviet Union, through its various agents, and picked up by the Italian Communist Party. They insinuated that Aldo Moro had been kidnapped by the United States, the CIA, for wanting to bring the Communists to power. I was appalled by the number of people who believed that. I was particularly appalled by Americans who gave credence to it.

Gore Vidal, who lives in Ravello and is very influential—every time he makes some Delphic remark, he's called "the great Gore Vidal"—two days after Aldo Moro was kidnapped, he was asked, "Do you think the Americans did it," and he said, and I quote, "Yes, Gardner is just stupid enough and Carter is just stupid enough to have done this." Helpful, right?

Can't the administration express a view about another country, an allied country with which there is an indivisible Western relationship—indivisible militarily, politically, and economically—without that statement being considered unreasonable interference?

One of my favorite quotes comes from a man I dearly loved and admired, Luigi Barzini, who wrote this wonderful book, The Italians. He wrote an open letter to The New York Times, to me. I was shocked to pick up The New York Times and see "Dear Richard" on the op-ed page. His letter was so full of wisdom that I'm going to read it to you.

He writes, with his characteristic wit, that I would find in Italy an impossible situation. He said, "The Communists are now on the threshold of an absolute majority. Theoretically, they could take power anytime they choose. They condition the central government. They control the administrations of all the big cities, many small ones, key regions. Through the trade unions, they more or less determine the course of the economy. Finally, they influence radio and television, the biggest newspapers, the movies, the universities, and publishing houses."

After painting this wonderful picture of what I was encountering, he then says this wonderful thing: "What should the United States ambassador do about all this? The answer is: nothing. He should make absolutely clear where his country stands, define its national interests, and let nature take its course. The Italians must decide their own future."

Then he adds this wonderful final paragraph: "The influence of the United States has been strongest, almost irresistible, when it was the unconscious irradiation of its national ideals, of its example, of its immense economic might. American attempts at Florentine undercover intrigues almost always ended in costly catastrophe, in Italy as elsewhere, as you well know."

I pondered that. I love that phrase, "irradiation of our national ideals." How can we irradiate our national ideals and influence the situation? So, we started this major effort of education, cultural exchange, brought over distinguished speakers, and, of course, I made a lot of speeches about Carter's human-rights policy.

Carter's human-rights policy put the Soviets on the defensive, put the Communists in Italy on the defensive, because they didn't know what to do when we were emphasizing human rights. Indeed, most of the Communist leaders attacked Carter for his human-rights policy, which I thought exposed what they really were all about.

To make a long story short, two years after I arrived, in June of 1979, the Communist Party, for the first time in a post-World War II election, lost votes. Because they lost votes, they were no longer in the governing majority. They became the opposition. A prime minister came into power, Francesco Cossiga, to form a government that was totally non-Communist and that was supported by the Socialists.

I had to go to him with a "mission impossible" from President Carter, asking Italy deploy cruise missiles, which became the absolutely necessary element in countervailing the Soviet SS-20sthat they had deployed in massive numbers, pointed at the West. The Germans had made it clear they wouldn't take the missiles unless another continental country did, and all the other countries said, "No." Except here were the Italians. I was asked to go in and talk to an Italian prime minister, in a country that had the largest Communist Party in the West, and ask him to take these missiles. Miraculously, they did. The Italian parliament voted it, with the approval of the Italian Socialists. Had Carter not had the wisdom of seeing the importance of working with the center-left elements, the Italians would never have taken those missiles. End of story.

Mikhail Gorbachev, in his memoirs, says something that many historians have missed. He became general secretary of the Soviet Union in 1986. He says that he saw the deployment of the Soviet SS-20s, which were these very powerful weapons targeted to intimidate Europe—holding Europe hostage was the purpose—as an unforgivable adventure embarked on in the naïve expectation that Western countermeasures would be impeded by the peace movement. He said that the deployment of these Pershingand cruise missiles was "a pistol held to our head" and forced him to rethink Soviet foreign policy, proposing the complete elimination of all Euro missiles, which was promptly accepted in Geneva and led, as he puts it, to a new security system based on comprehensive cooperation instead of the threat of mutual destruction. He added that it was the harbinger of new times and that he affirmed, as a result, the right of every nation to decide its own future. The Berlin Wall came down, Soviet satellites threw off Communist rule, and the right of free choice was soon claimed even by the oppressed nationalities of the Soviet Union, leading to its breakup in 1991.

What is my point? My point is that Mikhail Gorbachev credits the NATO decision to deploy these missiles, which could not have been made without Italy, or without Socialist support in Italy, as leading to the end of the Cold War. Even CIA director Robert Gates, a Republican CIA director under President George H. W. Bush, declared in an all-too-rare tribute to Jimmy Carter, "I believe historians and political observers alike have failed to appreciate the importance of Jimmy Carter's contributions to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War."

The moral of the story is—getting back to ethics in foreign policy—that idealism can be realism, that soft power can be joined with hard power, that Carter's legacy, which is the joining of power and principle, worked effectively in the Italian situation and needs to be respectfully remembered today.

Questions and Answers

QUESTION: You said, I believe, that the reputation of the United States was very low when you arrived in Italy. Then you mentioned some of the things that you initiated there to restore it. I wonder if, by extension, you feel that some of the things you did there are still fully applicable today, at a time when our reputation in Europe is undoubtedly the worst it has been since the end of World War II.

RICHARD GARDNER: I think I'm not too subtle about it. I'm trying to say that there is a message for today in this book and in what I'm trying to say. I think I'm saying the obvious, that this administration has not used soft power, has not been sufficiently careful. It has not, to say the least, lived up to Carter's admonition, which I quote again, because it's so perfect: "We will not behave in foreign places so as to violate our rules and standards here at home, for we know that this trust which our nation earns is essential to our strength."

Many recent events have tarnished our reputation: Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, the handling of detainees, the surveillance that is now being discussed, the way we went to war without UN authority. Hans Blix, a very dear friend of mine, the chief UN weapons inspector, was practically in tears on the eve of our attack on Iraq. He said, "If I can have two to three more months—and I've asked the administration for two to three more months—I can verify that there are no weapons there." But they wouldn't give him two to three more months.

Of course, the argument is made that without the war we would still have Saddam Hussein in power. My colleague at Columbia, Joseph Stiglitz, estimates that the price of this war will be $1 trillion by the time we add up all the indirect costs. He may be overestimating that figure, but, even if it's half a trillion, it's a high price to pay. And the cost in lives is more important—Iraqi and American lives. Plus there's the cost of the hatred and distrust that we have bred in the Muslim world and the weakening of our alliances.

But in Italy, specifically, we are coming to a test now. Italian elections are on April 9th. Berlusconi is so unpopular that it's quite possible?indeed, some would say probable?that the center-left will come to power. It will come to power under a very fine gentleman named Romano Prodi, who certainly is a friend and is well known. But among the parties that will comprise the main elements of his coalition is a group of people called Democrats of the Left, who are former Communists. They were all members of the Communist Party when I was there. I know them all. I got to know them when they were young leaders, in those days. Massimo D'Alema, for example, and Piero Fassino, and so on. There is no doubt that they are now Social Democrats and they are supporters of NATO. During the Clinton Administration, when they were in power, they supported us.

But it's going to be a real test for this administration. Will our current ambassador—a man who speaks Italian and knows the country—be permitted by this administration to have close relations with a group of center-left people who come out of a background that is totally different from the Republicans in Washington? Italy has been a staunch ally of the United States. They have 3,000 troops in Iraq, although I see today that, looking towards his election on April 9, Berlusconi said, "I'm going to take them all out by the end of the year," because he doesn't dare face his electorate without an exit strategy.

That's too long an answer to your question. Yes, to the point, I think that a lot of subtlety will be required in diplomacy in Italy itself this spring if the center-left wins.

QUESTION:Ambassador Gardner, I am a former CIA officer. I served in Italy in the 1960s.

RICHARD GARDNER:Then you are an authority on this.

QUESTIONER:I don't know about that.

RICHARD GARDNER:Did you serve with Graham Martin, by the way?

QUESTIONER:No, I didn't.

But I think we always saw the Communists, even with this large vote that they had, up to 34 percent, as basically a protest vote. I think most of us in the European branch didn't consider them to be quite the danger that certainly the French were, with their capacity to really disrupt things.

I'm glad you mentioned that the Italians were such staunch allies, because I think after the United Kingdom, they really have been the most consistent of our allies in Europe throughout the postwar period.


QUESTIONER:My question to you has to do with the tumultuous event, the shooting of the pope. Being in Washington in 1981 to 1984, with three prominent Catholics in the government, Bill Casey and Senators Moynihan and D'Amato, there was a lot of pressure put on us to find out who shot the pope. I wonder what your view was on who, if anybody, was behind Agca.

RICHARD GARDNER: Ali Agcashot the pope. Who was behind him is still a mystery. He has made, himself, so many contradictory statements. It was appalling. He was released from jail, wasn't he, just the other day? I just don't know the answer to your question.

But if I may comment on something you said earlier, that the CIA, at least in your view, at your time, understood that the Communists in Italy were not the same threat as the Communists in France, that they were softer. Everything in Italy is, of course, like spaghetti; it's softer. They were not the hardliners that the French were. But—and I should have said this in my opening statement—if you read my book, you will see that when it came to the deployment of these cruise missiles, which I argue—you don't necessarily have to agree with it—was a turning point in the Cold War, the Communist Party opposed it. Berlinguer said, had he been in power, or even in the parliamentary majority, in a position to influence policy, those missiles would never have been deployed.

So, what you had in the Italian Communist Party were not rabid terrorist types or violent people, but neutralists, I would say, really. They were trying to thread a middle way [between Russia and the more moderate members of their party].

By the way, Russian money was coming to the Italian Communist Party. You know this, as a CIA fellow. The Russians were financing the Italian Communist Party with substantial amounts of money, right up to the end of the 1980s. Some of the leaders in the directorate of the Italian Communist Party were true believers, like Cossutta, who, heaven help us, is still in parliament, and Ingrao, the man I had to meet my first day in office, who was head of the parliament. And then there were also more evolved social democratic types, like Napolitano, to whom I became, and remain, very close.

They were divided as a party, and not in a position, really, to support NATO and the measures needed to really stand up and contain the Soviet Union.

My point is not that they were such terrible people, but that they weren't in a position, because of the way they were financed, the way their group was composed, to be the kind of ally that we needed at that point, at the height of the Cold War.

QUESTION: I am going to digress from foreign policy, for one instant, although perhaps it's a part of foreign policy. I think you were there. There was a huge earthquake in Campania. There was a little village named Laviano. The reason I'm so aware of it is that I was involved with Save the Children at the time, and I chaired their overseas programs. Save the Children became the conduit for the contributions of all the Italian-American organizations and all the charities for money to go into Italy to reconstruct the village of Laviano. I went over there. I represented Mario Cuomo, actually. They were all very excited. They kept saying, "Oh, Cuomo. Presidente Cuomo." They wanted him to be president.

Anyhow, we had a big problem with the camorra, which is the mafia. It was called the camorra in Napoli. We really had to do a lot of diplomatic work and dance around these people, to be sure that our money was spent the way we wanted it to be spent, because the camorrawas a strong influence there. Did you have any dealings with them?

RICHARD GARDNER: Did I have dealings with the camorra?

QUESTIONER:You know what I mean. Did you have to deal with them while you were there?

RICHARD GARDNER:On page 298, I discuss the dramatic events of that earthquake. It was a terrible thing. The provinces of Salerno, Potenza, and Avellino were devastated: 3,000 dead, 2,000 missing, 8,000 injured, 200,000 homeless. I testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in hearings on a proposed $50 million appropriation for earthquake relief, which we got.

You mentioned Mario Cuomo. A delegation came over, at my request, to advise on how the $50 million should be spent. It was quite a delegation. Jimmy Carter appointed people to it rather wisely. Here was his delegation: Mario Cuomo, who became governor of New York—

QUESTIONER:He didn't show up, did he?

RICHARD GARDNER: Sure, he showed up, and how. He was already running for governor. He wanted to be there. He wanted the Italian-American vote. He came. Geraldine Ferraro came, who was unknown at the time, and Nancy Pelosi, who is now the leader in the House. So that was a pretty well-chosen delegation. We toured the region. It was very moving.

You are right that one of the plagues of Italy over the years—it is somewhat reduced now, but it certainly was bad in my time, and it got worse in the 1980s—has been the mafia, or the camorra,which is the name it goes by in the region around Naples.

Here again is an ethical dilemma: What can an American ambassador do about something like the mafia, or the camorra? We can't take on police functions in a foreign country.

QUESTIONER:Did they present a problem for you?

RICHARD GARDNER:Oh, certainly. They presented a problem to us because they presented a problem for a close ally. The first concern with the mafia was corruption. Would the $50 million reach the people or would it be siphoned off by these characters? Indeed, there were scandals later that indicated a lot of graft and corruption. So that was one reason we had to be concerned and tried to say, "You must use this money wisely, and not allow them to do that."

The mafia was also a problem to the extent that they represented a source of violence and civil unrest. They killed some important politicians and killed some important prosecutors. In the 1980s, there were two courageous prosecutors who were gunned down on the highway to Palermo by these terrible people.

I hope I'm not too indiscreet. We also had indications that the mafia was a major element in the Christian Democratic Party of Sicily, and that none other than Giulio Andreotti was involved with them. He was brought to trial for connections with the mafia and eventually acquitted, but some of his close associates certainly were involved with the mafia. We had to really walk on ice on that issue. It was very delicate.

It's such a good question—the whole question of how far an ambassador, an embassy, can go on issues of public order in a foreign country. We were asked, for example, "Why don't you do more to help Italy with the Red Brigades? They kidnapped Aldo Moro. Why doesn't the United States do something?"

The first thing I found was that Congress had passed something called the Hughes-Ryan Act in 1975, in reaction against what Nixon had done, and Kissinger, in allegedly—and I'm skirting over this rather carefully—organizing the coup that overthrew Salvador Allendein Chile. The Democrats were in control of the House of Representatives. They pushed through a bill declaring no American involvement in foreign internal revolutions or violence.

I kept saying to the State Department, "But this is different. This is the Red Brigades." They would reply, "But you can't do anything." I said, "Look, I have a request for secure walkie-talkies for the police—they're looking all over to find the hideout where Aldo Moro is being held—so the police can talk to one another without being overheard by the people holding Aldo Moro." They said, "You can't send them." How could I explain to the Italian government that I couldn't send the walkie-talkies?

I have a confession: This is the one time I ignored State Department orders. I just gave the Italians the equipment and didn't tell anybody. But sometimes we can tie ourselves up in knots, and then it's very hard to explain to the foreign public, who say, "Why can't you give us equipment of this kind?" Finally, thanks to Brzezinski, we turned the policy around, and my little transgression was legalized ex post facto.

QUESTION:I am not sure my question follows exactly on this previous question of your relationship with the mafia, but maybe it does. It has to do with your relationship with the State Department. Since the very earliest days of the republic?

RICHARD GARDNER:You're equating the State Department with the mafia.

QUESTION:No, I wouldn't do that. But since the earliest days, the question of our foreign policy and the relationship between the secretary of state and our overseas ambassadors has been controversial—centralization, decentralization; the creation of an elite professional service or the use of talented outsiders. You have served as an ambassador twice. You have advised the State Department on all of these issues. Talk to us a bit about your feelings on some of these key issues that you have dealt with.

RICHARD GARDNER:I love that question, too. A wonderful platform. I have to start with another anecdote. This is what anniversary of Benjamin Franklin that we're celebrating?

VOICE:The 300th.

RICHARD GARDNER: This is a true story, apparently. Ben Franklin was our great ambassador in France. At some point—I've forgotten which president, Jefferson or Adams, or the secretary of state, which would have been Jefferson—said, "We haven't heard from Ben Franklin in six months. Do you suppose we should write him a letter?"

I thought, "Oh, my God. Wouldn't that be nice?"

Now 300 telegrams come in every morning. Every morning when an ambassador goes into the office there are 300 telegrams. Some of them are telegrams of instruction. Some are copies of instructions going to other embassies. Some are more, of course, administrative matters. But you are micromanaged, really micromanaged.

It is said that there are three types of ambassadors. There are the career ambassadors. 70 to 80 percent of the ambassadors are career professionals. It should always be that way, at least, because this is the backbone. Then there are political ambassadors, who are appointed because they gave money or are friends of the president. I think they should not exist.

I have to tell you, a list was recently published in the Italian press—I didn't see it here—of how much money each of our ambassadors to a major European country today gave to the last Bush campaign. The highest amount was $600,000, and the least was about $100,000. The median was about $300,000. That is the price of an embassy. I think that's terrible, especially at a time when we need allies and have to have people who speak the local language, who know the country, and so on. Mind you, sometimes somebody rich can be a good ambassador.

That gets to my third point. There is a third type of ambassador: professional ambassadors. Whether I qualify or not is not for me to say. These are the people who are recruited from outside the government for a temporary period and posted to a country because they have special knowledge of that country or bring some certain expertise.

Jimmy Carter appointed Kingman Brewster as his ambassador in the United Kingdom. He appointed me to Italy. In the other major posts he appointed foreign-policy professionals: Arthur Hartman, Walter Stoessel, and others. Carter did not engage in the selling of ambassadors—maybe to a few small countries, but it wasn't anything on the scale it is now.

The other point about the role of the ambassador: It is sometimes felt that the American ambassador today is an irrelevance, because all he does is give cocktail parties; the big, important decisions are made in Washington, and if there's something important to say, the president gets on the telephone. We have fax machines and so on.

I think this is wrong. As I hope the book indicates, the American ambassador, as a continuing presence?as a continuing presence?is the continuing advocate of the country in public diplomacy, with the public, on television, radio, but also with key ministers and deputy ministers, on a whole range of issues every day. He is the eyes and ears of the U.S. government, to tell what's really happening and interpret what's happening, without which you don't have good policymaking in Washington. He has to manage a huge operation and worry about terrorism and all the other threats to his diplomatic group and to Americans generally. He has to service the American community abroad.

A good ambassador isn't just a passive receptacle of instructions. I really believe an ambassador is a policymaker. At key moments in my mission, I was called back to Washington and literally wrote my own instructions. It sounds very incestuous, and it is. I would be called back and the discussion would go like this:

"We're getting worried about the drift in Italian politics toward possibly bringing the Communists into power. You're going to be seeing Giulio Andreotti, the prime minister, next month. Let's sit down and draft a telegram, which will be approved by the State Department and the White House, as to what you, as the ambassador, are going to say to him."

I literally participated in the writing of the policy that would then be communicated by me. That's the way it ought to be. An ambassador should be co-responsible in the making of policy.

JOANNE MYERS:But what happens if your instructions are different from what you believe is necessary?

RICHARD GARDNER:That is always the ultimate problem of anyone who serves in government. If you're asked to do something and you think it's wrong, you have two choices: to swallow hard and do it, or resign. I think that if it were something that I considered just totally wrong—if I had been instructed by Jimmy Carter (which would never happen because he was Jimmy Carter) to engage in the kind of activities that took place under Graham Martin, to give money to neo-fascist politicians and meddle in their affairs and all that—I would have resigned.

But usually ambassadors are appointed because they are not only of the same political party, but also of the same culture and the same political ideas as the president. So that doesn't usually occur. But, yes, if you were asked to do something?

JOANNE MYERS:Like you did with the walkie-talkie.

RICHARD GARDNER:I distinguish between really central, big issues and this kind of nonsense. The walkie-talkie thing was an example of foolishness. Actually, Brzezinski agreed with me that it was an outrage. We were bound by Hughes-Ryan law, and it was a question of how the law was going to be interpreted. Some lawyers in the State Department said, "Oh, no. You can't give them walkie-talkies." We finally said, "This is different. The congressional intent did not cover this kind of thing."

I'm not saying that ambassadors should do illegal things, but sometimes you have to live with a lot of foolishness. The worst thing that happens to ambassadors is when you have people like Jesse Helms in charge of the Congress and they are cutting your budget by two-thirds and you are suddenly told, "We have no money for student exchange or international visitors, for young leaders' programs. We have to close all the American libraries." You tear your hair out. What could be more stupid than that kind of false economy, when you can't project America to the country because there's no money? We have suffered a lot from that in recent years, although Colin Powell, I will say, to his credit, and this administration have provided a lot more money to the State Department than at the end of the Clinton Administration.

VOICE:He should have resigned.

RICHARD GARDNER:It was said that Colin Powell should have resigned. That may be.

QUESTION: Secretary of State Ricehas just announced what is called a transformational policy for the State Department, in which hundreds of State Department officers are going to be assigned to various missions around the world. They intend at this point to reach out to many, many cities around the world where the United States has no representation. She's using as an example, for instance, Germany, where the State Department has almost as many people as it does in India. Given the differences in population, that's a terrible imbalance.

What effect do you think this will have on American foreign policy, now that they are going to be reaching out to so many different cities around the world where there has been no U.S. representation?

RICHARD GARDNER: It's a wonderful question. When I arrived in Italy, the United States had consulates in Trieste, Turin, Milan, Genoa, Florence, Palermo, and Naples. Because of budget cuts, all were closed, except Milan—no, Florence they kept, because of Bob Dole,who had been injured in the war in Florence and had a great affection for the Florentines. They kept a little mini-consulate there. But, basically, we wiped out our representation in key regions of Italy. If you know Italy, you know Italy has a city-state mentality. Florentines are Florentines first, Italians second. My wife is a Venetian, not an Italian. Local government is very important. So wiping out the consulates was terribly stupid.

Now, rightly, Condoleezza Rice, at a time when she sees that the United States is losing support even among our closest former allies, is reaching out to these cities. If we can't open a full consulate, there are other formulae, maybe, to designate people who will be resident there and do good things at low cost. I think that's very good.

Condoleezza Rice talks about advocacy diplomacy, which is another word for public diplomacy. That's what I tried to do. We have neglected that in recent years, and we're paying a high price for it. So I think, if it's done properly, it's a good idea.

JOANNE MYERS:The last question.

RICHARD GARDNER: He'll ask me a hard question. He'll get revenge on his old professor. He's italiano, and he's with the International Peace Academy.

QUESTION: I was one of those students in high school who actually was able to benefit from your republishing of The Federalist Papers, which was absolutely impossible to find.

RICHARD GARDNER: Can you imagine? Our leading book of America's political philosophical tradition, The Federalist Papers, was out of print when I arrived in Italy. I asked the head of the USIA, the U.S. Information Agency, and he was so embarrassed. I said, "The most important American book of American political philosophy is not available. How many books are there explaining Marxism and Leninism?" He came back and said, "Two hundred and fifty."

QUESTIONER:Those books were quite easy to find. Finally, in high school, I got the Italian version, when my English was even worse than now.

RICHARD GARDNER: It was published and the title was Il Federalista. One of the last things I did before leaving my post was to have a major conference in Florence with leading political scientists of Italy and the United States discussing America's political tradition.

So you, as a student, actually got that book.

QUESTIONER:Yes, I was one of the beneficiaries of this re-publication.

You mentioned a couple of major forces in Italy—domestic politics, the mafia. A third one is the Church. How does an American ambassador deal with the Church? Did you have to deal with the Church in some way? Any anecdotes about that?

RICHARD GARDNER: I love these questions. One thing that is not very well understood in the United States is that in Italy, in Rome, we have two ambassadors. We have an ambassador to the Holy See, who is responsible for relations with the pope and the Church, and an ambassador to the Republic of Italy. Believe me, if you mix those two things up, you are in deep political trouble, both in Italy and the United States.

I was told in no uncertain terms that the Vatican would not appreciate me getting involved. By the way, that didn't mean that I couldn't go and see the pope. I could go as a private citizen. I brought my family in. It was inspiring, but I went as a private citizen. We did not discuss policy. At the same time, the representative to the Vatican said, "Don't you get involved with Italian domestic politics. That's not for you to do."

When I arrived in Italy, the envoy—it was then called the envoy to the Holy See—was none other than Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. Then it was Robert Wagner, Jr., former mayor of New York. We worked very well together, and we kept things separate.

I will just tell you one anecdote, because I think we should conclude this very lugubrious, serious discussion with a little anecdote that, again, highlights the ethical dilemmas.

Jimmy Carter arrived in Italy in my last year as ambassador. It was his only trip there. He came to Rome and to Venice. We had two wonderful meetings with the Italian government. The last day, we had a meeting with the American embassy. This is a very nice thing that visiting presidents do. They shake hands with all the American diplomats. Then he startles me by saying, "Dick, you know, I'm going now to see the pope. I'm going to take a helicopter there. I want you to come with me. We're going to fly in a helicopter over Rome, and you're going to point out the sights."

I can't say to the president, "I'm not coming with you," but what am I going to do? So I get into this helicopter. It lands in the Vatican. Two very senior officials of the Vatican are there. The president gets out. I am terrified, so I don't get out of the helicopter. Luckily, my driver—we had communicated with him—he rescued me. He brought the ambassador limousine to the Vatican, and when no one was looking, I rushed out, because I didn't want anybody to say, "Hey, Gardner has violated the basic rules of coming to the Vatican without an official mission."

So we took the separation very seriously. But the Church continues to play a role, though as you know, not as significant a one as it did in the immediate postwar period. Under this pope, however, at this moment, the Church could be an element even in the election campaign that is coming up. There might be some issues.

VOICE:Just a short anecdote, if I may. I don't know exactly when it was. It was after the Berlin Wall came down and Germany had been unified. The Christian Democratic Party of Europe, primarily of Italy, convened a conference on the ethics and the religious elements in politics and foreign policy. I speak Italian, and I represented the Carnegie Council at the meeting, with a few other people. It was very religious. I was not aware of the deeply religious element in the Christian Democratic Party.

Anyhow, it lasted for about three or four days. I came back to New York. Three weeks later, they were all indicted on corruption charges. The Christian Democratic Party—they were all indicted for corruption. So much for—whatever, religion. I don't know what to say. I don't want to offend anybody.

RICHARD GARDNER:Let me balance that anecdote just a little bit. There were some corrupt Christian Democrats, but there were also some very, very solidly honest, good leaders. Without the Christian Democrats, I don't know what would have happened to Italy, and some of the small parties around them. They're very important.

JOANNE MYERS: You talked about violating the rules of the Vatican. We hope you won't violate our rules and will stay and have a drink and continue the conversation. Thank you for a wonderful presentation.

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