Mission Italy tells in great detail the story of the four years of Gardner's service as ambassador to Rome during the Carter administration. It provides vignettes of "the almost Machiavellian Italian political context," many of which point to the considerable role played by the U.S. embassy in Italian political life during the Cold War. U.S. policy at the time was driven by one imperative: Italy, a crucial member of NATO, could not let the Communist Party enter into the government until it had disavowed its anti-American positions. Gardner describes the warnings he delivered, the Washington policy texts he helped draft, tensions with the State Department's less rigid line, and the times he read the riot act to Italian leaders. He succeeded in keeping the Italian Communists out of power, thanks largely to the revulsion caused by the Red Brigades' terrorism and to the divisions between social democrats and hard-line Leninists within the Communist Party itself. Still, Gardner considers the decision by the Italian government to accept theater nuclear forces for NATO in 1979 "a major factor in the unraveling of Communism and the ending of the Cold War." Italy's political system accounts for the incredible influence of the U.S. embassy; a similar attempt at using a form of power that was not really very soft would have been inconceivable not only in Paris or London but also in Bonn.
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