Monday, May 12, 2008

The Godfather and Foreign Policy

Lots of buzz out there about this article comparing various foreign policy stances with characters in the Godfather. Sonny is the neo-con with his willingness to go to the mattresses for any perceived threat. Tom Hagen is the liberal internationalist who relies on negotiation to achieve his goals. And Michael is the realist who blends compromise and conflict:

Michael relinquishes the mechanistic, one-trick-pony policy approaches of his brothers in favor of a “toolbox,” in which soft and hard power are used in flexible combinations and as circumstances dictate. While at various times he sides with Tom (favoring negotiation) or Sonny (favoring force), Michael sees their positions as about tactics and not about ultimate strategy, which for him is solely to ensure the survival and prosperity of the family. Thus, he is able to use Sonny’s “button men” to knock out those competitors he cannot co-opt, while negotiating with the rest as Tom would like. This blending of sticks and carrots ensures that Michael is ultimately a more effective diplomat than Tom and a more successful warrior than Sonny: when he enters negotiations, it is always in the wake of a fresh battlefield victory and therefore from a position of strength; when he embarks on a new military campaign, it is always in pursuit of a specific goal that can be consolidated afterwards diplomatically.

I'm not so sure about this. Isn't Michael the ultimate neo-con, utterly unrestrained by norms or institutions? He's the one that hatches the scheme to kill Sollozzo and his police captain bodyguard, a step that even the hot-headed Sonny initially thinks is beyond the pale. And then at the end of the movie, Michael organizes the ultimate military operation to "settle all family business" by eliminating the heads of the other five families and establishing a Pax Corleone in which the family's power is even more unassailable. This scene brings to mind the reports that in the aftermath of 9/11, Donald Rumsfeld assembled a list of six or seven countries to invade, a settling of U.S. "family business" as it were.


Anonymous said...

The analogy fails, I think, because Michael succeeds--though arguably, at the end of Part Two, his success may be said to be hollow, since he's had Fredo killed and rejected Kay--whereas the salient characteistic oif US foreign plicy in the past, what, forty years? is failure. The only success was the collapse of the Soviet bloc, which the US had very little to do with; it's like a team whose only win was by forfeit. Instead of Sonny, Tom, and Michael, better models might be Mr. Blonde, Mr. White, and Nice Guy Eddie.

jjv said...

American foreign policy of the last 40 years-1968-2008-; has been the most succesful of any great power. The idea America had "little to do" with the peaceful collapse of the Soviet Union is the sole provence of people who did not much like opposing the Soviet Union when it existed. The extension of free trade, the dissapearance or humbling of almost every nation overtly hostile to America, and bringing nations formerly estranged from either international trade, or international norms, or both within that world is a triumph. From Nixon to Bush the foreign policy successes of this country far exceed those of any other power, and even, the non-entity Jimmy Carter had a hand in removing Egypt from the coalition against Israel and thus making a general Mid-Eastern war unprosecutable.

Analogizing the U.S. to a criminal gang is not very useful. And if there is one thing the U.S. policy making apparatus can not succeed in it is Omerta.

Anonymous said...

Michael failed in the most important way, he destroyed his own family