In 1954, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff even discussed an invasion of Italy if the Italians were so foolish as to elect a Communist government. The former allied commander Dwight D. Eisenhower, then the president, thought that little plan was in itself foolish. In any case, the Christian Democrats won.
Neither Italy’s right, nor the 5-Stars, can govern alone. So they are talking, intensively.
Discussions between them presently point in the direction of an accord to coalesce. If successful, they would together have a vote approaching three-quarters of the electorate, which would give them a base apparently as strong as any Italian government has had for decades. They will be divided on much, but not, on present evidence, on the suitability of Russia as a partner.
Italy is a founding member of the European Union, a member of NATO and of the G7. But its government, once formed, is likely to be the most philo-Russian democracy in the world.
It could be the most powerful element in a group of other pro-Russian European politicians – such as Viktor Orban, Prime Minister of Hungary, Alexis Tsipras, Prime Minister of Greece, Marine Le Pen of the French National Front (now seeking to rename itself the Rassemblement National, or National Rally) and the leadership of the German Alternative for Germany.
These politicians are largely immune to charges that Russian meddling in elections is damaging to their countries’ polity and to democratic governments everywhere – since most of them have benefitted from Russian support, both overt and (probably) covert.
The strong democratic ideology, both political and moral, which guided the Western democracies’ view of the Soviet Union until the late 1980s, shattered in step with the collapse of the Soviet Union and Soviet communism. But Putin’s construction of an illiberal state in Russia, most actively in the six years of his last presidential term, is to their liking.
These governments can draw support, too, from the fact that Russia is, in some moods, also to the liking of U.S. President Donald Trump who, defying the strongest advice from his closest aides, warmly congratulated Putin on his re-election.
Those who believe that Russia is an increasingly malign power must also confront “whataboutism”: the argument that, when it comes to meddling in elections, the West, led by the United States, has been at the fore.
Aside from the 1948 intervention in Italy, Washington has also acknowledged its substantial support for the right-wing Chilean opposition to the left wing presidency of Salvador Allende in the early 1970s. Why, this view asks, should the West posture as a victim, when it too has been a perpetrator of covert persuasion.
There are two responses to that objection.
First, Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace points out that the hyperactivity of the United States in fixing electoral outcomes has greatly diminished. “The United States does have a past record of electoral meddling, particularly during the Cold War,” he writes. “Yet… although the domain of U.S. democracy promotion is hardly free of flaws and serious past mistakes, it is not the dark twin of the illicit, covert election meddling that Russia seems intent on making one of its defining signatures abroad.”
If democracy is not to be fatally compromised, then the fundamental things – democratic governance, a vigorous and combative civil society, free speech and press and the rule of law – apply. They’re the guarantors of freedom; if held to and believed in, they cannot be destroyed either by black bags of money, or by populists who honor the powers who destroy these values.
(John Lloyd co-founded the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, where he is senior research fellow. Lloyd has written several books, including “What the Media Are Doing to Our Politics” and “Journalism in an Age of Terror”. He is also a contributing editor at the Financial Times and the founder of FT Magazine. – Reuters)