Let’s look beyond the new ministerial decree on the easing of lockdown restrictions (which would require a separate analysis) and dwell for a short while on the figure of Super Mario; the neoliberal, Atlanticist, Europeanist, vaccinizing eminence who for some weeks now has, rather unexpectedly, been committing blunder after blunder. The renown of his profile has immediately elevated these to the status of Super Gaffes. But are they to be explained by ‘clumsiness, inexperience or simple carelessness’ – see the dictionary entry for ‘gaffe’ – or by some factor beyond the ken of the lexicographer? Acoustically the word gaffe evokes gawkiness, but given Draghi’s serious, decorous demeanour and deliberate, icy self-control, that we can exclude. Inexperience or distraction? Or something else? For an answer, let’s proceed case by case.
To begin with, foreign policy. In his first and only trip abroad as prime minister, Draghi extolled the ‘search and rescue’ efforts of the Libyan government in the Mediterranean. Lack of experience or inattention? Hardly. Draghi is neither an inhabitant of the moon nor a Martian landed by mischance in the courtyard of the Chigi Palace. From numerous reports in the press and on television, we all know – including Draghi – that far from ‘rescuing’ anyone, the Libyan government captures migrants who have eluded its coast guards and holds them in veritable prison camps rife with rape, torture and brutalities of every kind. So why his eulogy? It was not the product of inexperience or distraction, but – an open secret – of precise economic calculations of a familiar neo-colonial kind. Sale of arms and extraction of natural resources in Libya are too important for big business in Italy. To paraphrase the French: Tripoli vaut bien une messe.
Just days later on 8 April, at a news conference back in Rome, Draghi termed Erdoğan a ‘dictator’, then immediately added ‘but we need him’. It would be hard to know whether the initial gaffe, which provoked threats of reprisals and a near rupture of diplomatic relations with Turkey, was more serious than the cynical admission that accompanied it. In the first place, as Enrico Letta of the PD pointed out on TV, Erdoğan is ‘technically an autocrat, not a dictator, as he was elected by the people’. Draghi’s sally simply exposed him – absit iniuria verbis – as an amateur ignorant of the rudiments of political science. But why supplement his description with such a revealing mitigation of it? The answer is embarrassingly obvious: Erdoğan keeps a huge number of migrants by force in Turkey, away from Europe, which pays him billions of euros for doing so. Such is our brave defender of the EU from an ‘invasion’ of refugees in flight from wars and humanitarian disasters – for which we ourselves are among those responsible.
At the recent special session of the UN’s Human Rights Council, Draghi instructed the representatives of Italy to vote against lifting the US embargo on Cuba, which has now lasted for sixty-one years, and sanctions on Venezuela, Syria and Iran that are strangling countries devastated by the current pandemic. And what is an embargo but the covert, ‘cleaner’ face of an armed attack? In a spirited open letter to Draghi, the mayor of Crema – a small town in Lombardy where 52 Cuban doctors arrived to fight at our side against Covid during the darkest days of the pandemic – denounced his cynical decision as ‘a gross violation of the civilized values of gratitude, loyalty, memory and solidarity’. In his inaugural speech as premier, Draghi called himself an Atlanticist. What does that mean? Someone in Italy, and in Europe, aligned with the imperial interests of the United States.
What of internal affairs? Two gaffes stand out. The first came with a ministerial decree concerning (belated and partial) relief for those sectors and workers hit hardest by the pandemic, used by Draghi for extraneous ends in the form of a ‘concession’ to tax evasion between 2000 to 2010. Naiveté? Distraction? Far from it: rather the familiar banker’s creed, with its dogma of ‘less state, less taxation, more market, more profits’ (even if illicit).
The second faux pas came during another press conference in early April, when Draghi accused Italian psychologists of jumping the vaccine queue. ‘Vaccinating a 35-year old psychologist is absurd’, he admonished, asking, ‘With what conscience does a young person skip the line?’ Draghi thus appeared to forget that in Italy psychologists are legally classified as health workers, and as such prioritised under his own first Covid decree. Understandably, the profession hit back. ‘Perhaps the government should keep itself better informed about itself’, ironized David Lazzari, president of the National Council of Psychologists. Was vaccinizer Draghi unaware of what premier Draghi had signed? Amnesia, inexperience, distraction, improvisation? No. The more plausible explanation is that Draghi was looking for a scapegoat on whom to blame the failures of his vaccination campaign; a maladroit blow that backfired on him.
In each case, then, a political subtext is legible beneath Draghi’s apparent lapsus linguae. Yet, as the Italian premier’s reputation is eroded by these gaffes, one is left wondering: where exactly does Draghi’s alleged super-competence lie?
Translated by Francesco Anselmetti. An earlier version of this piece appeared in MicroMega.
Read on: Adam Tooze, ‘Just Another Panic?’, NLR 97.