Return to The Godfather Doctrine (review)

The Godfather Doctrine is an article on foreign policy, reworked into a very short book. It was written by John Hulsmas and A. Wess Mitchell, both foreign policy experts of the Council of Foreign Relations school, although only Hulsman is a member of that august body. The work is an extended analogy based on the book The Godfather, comparing the reactions of the Corleone Family to the attempted killing of Don Corleone to the reactions of different foreign policy schools to the events of 9/11 and such ongoing problems as Iran's nuclear program.

The article and book is short, and makes its point rather easily. The old fashioned lawyer, Tom Hagen, who wishes to reinforce the institutional alliance between New York's five crime families resembles the liberal institutionalists who wish to depend on the United Nations and multilateralism. Sonny Corleone, the impulsive son who wishes to revenge the hit through firepower, resembles neoconservatives. And Michael Corleone, the pragmatic son, resembles realist foreign policy. It is actually a quite handy and catchy analogy, although as with any analogy, it should not be carried too far (something that the authors admit.)

It is an easy analogy because in any human conflict, there is always a spectrum of reactions, from appeasement to aggression, and the authors happened to pick a well-known example from popular culture. (And perhaps showing a bit of their intellectual depth by referencing Francis Ford Coppola's film, and not the novel it was based on.) To me the shallowness of the work is not because it seems to leave the issue of morality to a bit in the afterwords, and skipping the question whether the United States has bigger obligations than a criminal organization does. To me, the shallowness of the book comes from while it addresses how organizations fight, it doesn't address why they fight. That there are different methods of getting your way is obvious, but the motivations of why different state actors , non-state actors, and groups within states should come into conflict is not addressed. My own feeling is that addressing those issues would be more meaningful, but the issues of global economic inequality, and people's embracing of violent and irrational leaders to overcome it, would be a much more fitting topic. It could even be tied into "The Godfather" if the authors wish---because the book does treat with how Don Corleone entered the criminal world after being somewhat lost in a new world that seemed unfair and hostile to him.

This work is the type of clever, catchy punditry that seems to explain a little bit, but will probably seem outdated once the news cycle resets to different conflicts.

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