It might have been a switch in the Kremlin party line, so rapid and so massive has been the support of our government's new Italian policy. Within days, if not hours, of President Carter's declaration the United States does not want the Communists holding any ministries in the next Italian cabinet, the political penguins here were flapping their web feet in march-time support.
The mass media, heretofore drowsily insouciant about the composition of what will soon be the 40th Italian government in 35 years, awoke to caw its warnings. NBC even cleared its prime-time schedule of erotic girl detectives and nostalgic nighttime soaps to give the world a leaden propaganda piece starring David Brinkley quizzing Henry Kissinger on the dangers on Eurocommunism. As either entertainment or political philosphy it was as interesting as a lecture on the joy and significance of the daily routine in an Albanian agricultural collective. If you wonder how people on the other side of the Iron Curtain sit through hours of Communist ideological claptrap in apparent contentment, investigate the personality formation of those who lap up capitalist ideological claptrap.
A penguin is a penguin on either side of the curtain and for it and all other web-footed birds who have wings and yet cannot fly politics is a succession of unquestioned, abruptly contradictory acts of faith. Still many a nonpenguin in the aviary does get off the ground and they have been wondering how the Italian policy squares with the Carter administration's assertions about the sanctity of other nation's internal affairs.
The answer to such quibbles is that, regardless of all this talk about Eurocommunism, the Italian Reds have not changed their color. Do not believe, or so the argument goes, that the Italian Commies have divorced themselves from the Russian Commies to become parliamentary democrats.
That may be so. There are sensible people around who believe the Italian Communists are still getting money under the table from Moscow. One foreign intervention in Italian politics excuses another, they argue, and perhaps it does, although both Washington and Moscow should appreciate by now how the subsidized political struggles of their ideological surrogates in Third World countries can devolve into horrifying civil war.
On the other hand, the United States and Russia have been futzing nad finagling in Italian politics for 30 years so the Italians are used to it. But this time they may even have come to look on it as a species of normal.
So far, during all that time, they have done mostly what we've said, elected whom we wanted elected, followed policies we have approved of. That may or may not be the reason they are currently bankrupt, out of work and too poor to be a stable society.
It doesn't follow from this that the Communists will be able to generate the prosperity the capitalists failed to create. It does follow, though, that if we are going to continue to kibitz in their affairs, we take on some sort of responsibility for making it come out right at the dinner table. The price of selecting ministers in Rome is providing food and shelter in Calabria.
Or we can look at it another way. We can say that three decades of picking Italian leaders for Italians hasn't worked out too well. It seldom does, as the Israelis are finding out with the Palestinian Arabs and as we learned in the 1960s when the whites kept insisting they were for civil rights but they couldn't negotiate with the more irresponsible sort of black leader. It's not enough to pick the next prime minister of Italy; we must pick an effective one.
Crawling around in the Italian miasma is also justified on the grounds that if the Reds come to power in Rome the Italians will have to be kicked out of NATO as unreliable allies. But how reliable are they now? In the event of a Russian ground attack in Western Europe does there live and breathe any general in the Pentagon so lightheadedly optimistic as to count on the Italian army playing a significant part in the ensuing battle? In the entire course of the 20th century the Italian army has been defeated by every enemy it has faced, including the Austrians, whose most dangerous troops were the violin section from the Salzburg Mozart Festival. True, in the 1930s the Italians did whip the Ethiopians, whose army's most lethal weapon was the iron-tripped spear.
Long, long ago, a French general remarked that it didn't matter which side the Italians fought on because either way it would take 10 divisions to defeat them or protect them. We might remember that and let them go their own way.