Richard Gardner, Cold War envoy to warring Italy, dies at 91

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Richard Gardner, who in the late 1970s served as US Ambassador to Italy amidst a period of political violence there and concern in Washington over the growing strength of the Italian Communist Party, died on February 16 at his home in Manhattan. He was 91 years old.

Her daughter, Nina Gardner, said the cause was congestive heart failure.

While his profile was arguably the highest when he was posted to Rome, Dr Gardner has also served as an adviser to Democratic presidential candidates and a prominent law professor at Columbia University.

One candidate he advised was Jimmy Carter, who, on becoming president in 1977, appointed Dr Gardner to the post of Rome.

Until then, US officials had long supported the Italian Christian Democrats, who dominated politics there and kept the door closed to left-wing parties. It was the height of the Cold War, and Washington worried about Communist influence in Western Europe, especially France and Italy.

The administration softened its stance on Eurocommunism when it sent Dr Gardner to Italy, but instructed him not to be the first to articulate this new policy.

When asked by reporters on his arrival about his policy towards the Italian Communist Party, Dr Gardner responded with something more creative than “no comment.”

As he recalled in his 2005 memoir, “Mission Italy: On the Front Lines of the Cold War”, he responded, diplomatically, with an old Venetian proverb, “Prima de parlar, tasi” – “Before talk, shut up ”.

At the time, the Communist Party had become Italy’s second largest political force, a NATO member, and was about to enter government. A mission of the American Embassy in Rome was to better understand the Italian Communists and their intentions.

These were the so-called years of lead in Italy, when left-wing extremists, mainly the Red Brigades, terrorized the country with bombings and murders of politicians, businessmen and other personalities. public, while right-wing extremists murdered citizens in attacks on banks. , stations and public gatherings.

In 1978, amid intense political maneuvering in Italy to allow Communists and other opposition parties to enter government, Dr. Gardner was recalled to Washington for consultations.

The Carter administration then issued a statement highlighting opposition to Communist participation in governments in Western Europe.

Yet alongside such calls, the Carter administration eased visa restrictions on Italian Communist Party officials, including Giorgio Napolitano, who later served as President of Italy. In 1977, the Italian government authorized the party newspaper, L’Unità, to open an office in New York.

And he invited prominent Italian leftists, including filmmaker Federico Fellini, writer Alberto Moravia and painter Renato Guttuso, to embassy functions.

In 1979, in a diplomatic accomplishment that many attributed to Dr. Gardner, the United States obtained the agreement of Italy to agree to place new American missiles there as part of the NATO program to modernize the nuclear forces.

Italy was the first European country to do so, despite having the largest Communist Party in the West, and Germany followed suit. The leader of the Italian Socialist Party, with whom Dr Gardner was on good terms, also supported the decision, although the party once rejected NATO.

After leaving Rome in 1981, Dr Gardner advised Al Gore on foreign policy during his presidential campaign in 1988 and Bill Clinton on his campaign in 1992. Under President Clinton, Dr Gardner served as Ambassador to Spain from 1993 to 1997 .

Richard Newton Gardner was born in Manhattan on July 9, 1927, son of Samuel and Ethel (Alias) Gardner. Her father was a lawyer, her mother a housewife.

After his military service with the Army News Service in New Jersey, he studied international economics at Harvard College and received a law degree from Yale in 1951. Rhodes scholar, he earned a doctorate. in Economics from Oxford University in 1954. His doctoral thesis became a book, “Sterling-Dollar Diplomacy: The Origins and the Prospects of Our International Economic Order” (1969).

In 1956, he married Danielle Luzzatto, who was born to a Jewish family in Venice and fled Italy – to Switzerland, France and later the United States – under Benito Mussolini’s racial laws of 1938. She died in 2008.

Besides his daughter, a lecturer in international law at Johns Hopkins University and director of a consulting firm, he is survived by his son Anthony, United States Ambassador to the European Union under the Obama administration. ; and three grandchildren.

Mr. Gardner began teaching international law at Columbia University in 1954. In the early 1960s, he was Assistant Under Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs under President John F. Kennedy. He returned to college between his diplomatic assignments.

At Columbia, he taught a popular seminar, “Legal Aspects of United States Foreign Economic Policy”. On the first day of the seminar, his students were asked to write down their mid- to long-term career aspirations, notes Dr Gardner kept and used later when politicians or government officials asked him for advice on a new hire. . The seminar lasted from 1955 to 2012, when Dr. Gardner retired.

Dr Gardner was a firm believer in the study of foreign cultures and languages, which he called “public diplomacy”.

“We deny our foreign policy one of our greatest sources of strength as a nation – our higher education system and our rich pluralistic culture,” he wrote in a New York Times commentary in 1983. “We have also shamefully neglected the education of our young people in foreign languages ​​and in studies of foreign spaces. All this strikes me as the height of madness.


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