In April, at an international conference in Palm Beach, I struck up a conversation with a senior adviser to ousted Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. It was barely six months after he was forced to resign in November 2011. “So what’s he doing now?” I asked politely. “Oh, he’s planning for his comeback,” the gentleman shot back with a broad grin. “And there’s no doubt he’ll be back.”

I didn’t think very much about this until June, when I was in Italy. The scene was the annual conference of the Consiglio per le Relazioni fra Italia e Stati Uniti (Council for the United States and Italy) in the dazzling Palazzo di San Clemente on an island off the Venetian mainland. The talk was all about the advances of Italy’s new Prime Minister, Mario Monti—a rather uncharismatic technocrat on whom Italians have...

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