April 8, 2009


Mr. Wilson, It's Only Business: THE GODFATHER ­DOCTRINE: A Foreign Policy ­Parable By John C. Hulsman and A. Wess Mitchell. (Robert Litwak, Spring 2009, Wilson Quarterly)

The parable unfolds with the attempted hit on Don Vito Corleone, head of New York City’s paramount ­organized-­crime family, by Virgil “the Turk” Sollozzo. The young Turk turns to violence after the ­old-­school Don rejects his proposal to expand the family’s business into the lucrative but dirty drug trade. With the wounded Don out of action, the Corleone sons respond to this catalytic event—a frontal assault on the existing order by a “rogue power”—with competing strategies, each emblematic of a major American foreign-policy ­approach.

Adopted son and consigliere Tom ­Hagen—­the liberal institutionalist—­does not recognize the magnitude of the threat posed by the Turk and urges the illusory course of dialogue and “institutionalized restraint” to preserve the Mafia’s existing order, “a kind of Sicilian Bretton Woods” that benefited all the families. ­Hot­headed Sonny ­Corleone—­the neoconservative—recognizes the Turk as an “existential threat” and overrules Tom to initiate military action against Sollozzo and his allies without the legitimizing imprimatur of the other crime families. Sonny’s recklessness, which the authors liken to the Bush administration’s heedless charge into Iraq, triggers counter­balancing moves by the other Mafia families to check the Corleones’ unrestrained power. After Sonny falls victim to his own “gangland free-for-all,” his younger brother ­Michael—­the ­realist—­takes up the reins of family power and, comprehending the forces of systemic change repre­sented by the Turk, skillfully adapts to the new reality through a strategy combining Tom’s carrots and Sonny’s ­sticks.

Through this inspired metaphor, Hulsman and Mitchell carry out a cold, intellectual hit on ­Wilsonianism—­the foreign-policy school whose core idea is that international peace can be achieved through the spread of democratic gov­ern­ments to states around the world. This motivating belief has spawned contending Democratic (liberal institutionalist) and Republican (neoconservative) versions. Few would chal­lenge the authors’ assertion that neoconserv­atism is bankrupt: Its champions have been mugged by reality in Iraq; the goal of “ending tyranny” set out in George W. Bush’s second inaugural address is widely derided as vacuous ­utopianism.

Nevermind that the point of the Godfather cycle is that Michael ends up so morally compromised that he destroys everything around him, the reality of Iraq -- and Liberia, southern Sudan, Palestine, etc.--is that W's liberal democratic crusading worked. Indeed, his failures--Syria, Venezuela, etc.--came in those states where we accepted the status quo, a la the Realists.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at April 8, 2009 6:04 AM
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