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Friday, June 10, 2011

The Godfather Doctrine

I sometimes teach "Global Politics Thru Film" and was hopeful that The Godfather Doctrine: A Foreign Policy Parable (Princeton University Press, 2009) by John C. Hulsman and A. Wess Mitchell might make a useful companion to that class. After all, The Godfather is a terrific film and my class already considers (and reads about) mafia "protection rackets" as a metaphor for basic state practices.

However, as the title suggests, this little book is very much an exercise in the application of some basic plot elements of The Godfather films to American foreign policy rather than IR theory. One of the three foreign policy "schools" discussed in the very short book is neoconservatism, which is not ordinarily viewed as an international relations theory per se. It has been influential on policy, of course.

Moreover, the authors' view of liberal institutionalism is very narrow, stressing the potential ability of negotiations and carrots to achieve American goals. It does not really address the potential of international institutions to solve global problems jointly or to achieve broader cosmopolitan ends. Cooperative institutions can be an important means for assuring legitimacy in global politics.

In the conclusion, the authors embrace a view of realism that does not much match standard academic conceptions of the theory. They describe the "carrot of capitalism" (p. 79) as a realist incentive for managing rising powers. Likewise, Hulsman and Mitchell refer to "the stick of commonly dealing with an al-Qaeda that rejects all states as well as the current system" as a "good place to start to look for broader agreements" (pp. 79-80). Those arguments may well have merit, but most IR theorists would likely regard them as neoliberal, not realist.

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