The Godfather Doctrine: A Foreign Policy Parable
Reviewer: Mitchell A. Belfer
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CEJISS EDITOR'S REVIEW
The Godfather Doctrine: A Foreign Policy Parable, while academically innovative and thoughtful, is reflective of general, and in some ways frightening, trends in American international relations scholarship (and the political reality they purportedly examine); it is entertaining, but replete with delusions and empirical and theoretical confusions. There is little doubt that Hulsman and Mitchell's attempt to construct a political interpretation of Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather was meant as a more popular approach to international political life, one which undoubtedly peaked the interest of an otherwise ill-informed public.
If this was the full intent of Hulsman and Mitchell, they fare well and should be recognised in their attempt at public intellectualism. However, attracting a wide audience to IR is a mere footnote produced by this disturbingly brief (85 pp) synopsis and their hope that "our Republic will foresee the coming earthquake, and prosper in spite of it (pp. 18-19)" bespeaks the true intention of their work: to reinforce the view that the US is able to retain its political-ideological and military supremacy despite the sober introduction which argued the opposite. Indeed, while the bulk of the introduction sought to demonstrate that the "age of American dominance is drawing to a rapid and definitive close (p. 1);" that "America in 2009 is economically palsied, diplomatically isolated and militarily exhausted (p. 2);" and goes on to suggest that the US must adjust itself to great-power status in an increasingly multipolar international environment, the conclusion of the Doctrine rhetorically invokes the "City on the Hill" imagery and suggests that the US may regain and maintain itself as "an inspiration to the rest of the world because of what it stands for as much as for what it does (p. 81)."
In other words, Hulsman and Mitchell produce a work which begins by suggesting that the US is in decline and must rapidly readjust itself to the political realities of multipolarity, where it is no longer the sole superpower, but conclude by lauding the US as filling a special international role, that "(t)here is so much in America worth preserving, both for ourselves, our future, and for the world (p. 81)." While there is no doubt that the US should work towards preserving itself and its future and is able to contribute to international peace and prosperity, it must also wake up to the realisation that its hollow promises of a world repaired have unintentionally contributed to a world undone, and American scholars, such as Hulsman and Mitchell, sensitive to the changed international arena, need to abandon their rhetorical insistence that the US behaves as it does for the greater good.
Despite the entertainment value of deploying such a parable to capture how the US should adjust its international relations approach, the Godfather Doctrine is largely incomplete since it does not address the wide variety of unfolding challenges but rather is directed at presenting antiquated solutions for antiquated problems. While the book is clearly geopolitical in nature, it does not address issues of the really new geopolitical dynamics in international relations today. Hulsman and Mitchell suggest that Brazil and China are new to the ‘chess board' (pp. 4-5), but neglect to point out that these states were always there, only neglected in their importance by naive US decision makers who subscribed them (among others) to the sidelines of international relations.
The emergence of such states should come as no surprise as the US faces its decline and now must view the world through horizontal lenses rather than its birds-eye view. That said, Hulsman and Mitchell fully neglect the geopolitics of energy and its offspring; the geopolitics of environmental degradation, both of which are doing more to mobilise international relationships than nuanced political and ideological orientations and require urgent, truly international responses lest the entire international community be imperilled.
In all, while The Godfather Doctrine is an entertaining read, its contribution to international relations and understanding the new role of the US within the emergent multipolar international system is dubious. Instead, the authors would be wise to watch (or read) the Lord of the Flies, which better reflects human nature in a world defined by realist anarchy. In that book, only shared fears produced cooperation and now, in the 21st century, there is plenty more to fear than the US's role in multipolarity. Examining how Michael Corleone's prudent leadership might serve as blueprints for the US fills the reader with anxiety since the US has long been perceived as governing international relations as Goliath with a David complex and to allay such anxiety, the US and its scholars certainly need to break with their Hollywood fixation and wake-up from the make-believe world of heroics, destruction and the black and white of ‘good' versus ‘evil.'