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The Godfather and foreign policy

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By See-Dubya  •  May 7, 2008 12:51 PM

Hey, I love an absurdly-extended Godfather metaphor as much as any blogger out there (Peggy Noonan’s not a blogger), but Mitchell Hulsman in the LA Times has just stretched this one till it snaps.

This, of course, is the hinge of Francis Ford Coppola’s movie, “The Godfather.” It is also a startlingly useful metaphor for the strategic problems and global power structure of our time. The don, emblematic of Cold War American power, is struck by forces he did not expect and does not understand, as was America on 9/11. Intriguingly, his heirs embrace very different visions of family strategy that approximate the three schools of thought — liberal institutionalism, neoconservatism and realism — vying for control of U.S. foreign policy today.

His conceit is that Solozzo is Ahmedinejad, and the Corleone brothers represent these strands of thought: Tom Hagen is the institutionalist, working within existing structures like the UN:

….similar to the liberal institutionalism of today’s Democratic Party. The way to handle Sollozzo, Tom judges, is not through force but through negotiation. Tom thinks even a rogue power can be brought to terms, if the family accommodates his needs and accepts him as a normalized player in the Corleones’ rules-based community.

Maybe so. Then he goes on to compare the neoconservatives to trigger-happy Sonny, and Hulsman’s wise-and-sainted realists to the new don, Michael:

The strategy that ultimately saves the Corleone family from the Sollozzo threat and equips it to cope with the new world comes from Michael, the youngest and least experienced of the don’s sons. Unlike Tom or Sonny, Michael has no formulaic fixation on a particular policy instrument; his overriding goal is to protect the family’s interests by any and all means necessary. In today’s foreign policy terminology, Michael is a realist.

Relinquishing the mechanistic, one-trick-pony approaches of his brothers, Michael uses soft and hard power in flexible combinations to influence others. Can the Iran policies advocated by candidates in either party be said to proceed from these assumptions?

Yeah, um, actually Michael Corleone shot Solozzo in the face in a crowded restaurant and ran off to Italy. That’s making allies, all right. That’s restoring the underworld’s respect for the Corleones as a team player. And then there’s the whole account-settling at the end, too…maintaining Corleone hegemony by the underworld equivalent of a worldwide nuclear strike. I doubt even those trigger-happy neocons Hulsman cites are ready for that.

See, I think the point of the Godfather is a very Burkean one. (Machiavellian too, but that’s another post.) The wise old Don, after meeting with the other heads of the families, realizes that the Solozzo business and his apparent new enemy Don Tattaglia were small potatoes, and part of a much larger push to topple his family’s influence. It was, he realizes, Barzini all along.*

Don Corleone and Michael, because they are themselves evil men, understand the truth of Edmund Burke’s admonition:

There is no safety for honest men, but by believing all possible evil of evil men, and by acting with promptitude, decision, and steadiness on that belief.**

But here’s the big question: Where’s Corleone brother Fredo in this analogy? Fumbling his gun and crying impotently over the wounded Don in the first Godfather movie, living a dissipated life with Moe Greene in Vegas, and by Godfather II he’s taken up with Hyman Roth’s side against the Family and he’s hitting the sex shows in Havana with Johnny Ola. And constantly whining that he’s smaaaaaaht, he can run things! Sure, let Fredo take care of some mickey-mouse nightclub somewhere. He wants respect!

The analogy makes more sense if you look at it this way:

The “Realist” Republicans like James Baker and institutionalist Democrats like Lee Hamilton, who were behind the “let’s negotiate with Iran” Iraq Study Group report? Those guys are Tom Hagen.

The Obama/Pelosi/Jim Moran/Cynthia McKinney/Bob McDermott Democrats? Fredo.

You broke my heart!

* I’m not sure there’s a real-world analogue to Barzini out there; Russia and China certainly are itching to take us down a peg and they’re certainly not our allies, but I’m not convinced they’re driving events the way Barzini was.
**A Letter to a Member of the National Assembly, 1791. You never hear the second half of that quote; it’s always just the “believing” evil part. No, Burke says your safety depends on your actually doing something about it.

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MORE: If this is realism, sign me up. Here’s “realist” Michael Corleone, explaining his philosophy to Tom Hagen in Godfather II:

I don’t feel I have to wipe everybody out, Tom. Just my enemies.

Meanwhile, Ed has the latest Fredocrat bleat from Obama on video: Truman negotiated with Tojo, just like I’ll negotiate with Iran.

Yeah, Truman negotiated with his enemies; his emissaries were Fat Man and Little Boy.

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{Post by See-Dubya; H/T to Hot Air Headlines.}

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