It is 5 February 1940. Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini sits in a finely crafted chair within the Palazzo Venezia and broods. He has just suffered the most serious setback of his life.
On the morning of 1 February, his armies invaded Ethiopia. On the afternoon of 2 February, he received a joint communique from Prime Minister Attlee of Great Britain and Premier Blum of France informing him that if he did not agree by noon today to withdraw his armies from Ethiopia, Italy would be placed under a total economic embargo, the Suez Canal would be closed to Italian commerce, and the Italian colonies of Eritrea and Italian Somaliland would be blockaded by the Royal Navy.
Half an hour ago, Mussolini agreed to withdraw from Ethiopia.
Just like that, Mussolini's dreams of a new Roman Empire dominating the Mediterranean have vanished like a soap bubble. Italy had suddenly been demoted back to the status of a secondary power. Mussolini himself was becoming worried, just a little, that his own grip on power might have just loosened, never to recover. It is unthinkable for him actually to be deposed, so he does not think that, but he does worry about the loss of some of his political power.
He wishes that events in Germany had not forced him to postpone the invasion for four and a half years. He wishes that the British and French had not become so unyielding since their victory over the Germans three years before. He even finds himself wishing for a few brief moments that he had never decided to invade Ethiopia in the first place.
However, Mussolini is not a man to let failure, even failure on such a grand scale, stand in the way of his ambition. Very well, so Italy will not achieve greatness through military conquest. If that road is closed to him, then he must find another.
Sitting within the Palazzo Venezia, Benito Mussolini begins to ponder his next move.