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In the world of foreign policy: reality vs. dreams

President Obama's favorite movie?

"The Godfather."

CBS anchor Katie Couric, on a roll, elicited that answer Sept. 23, six weeks before the election, no doubt to the delight of John C. Hulsman and A. Wess Mitchell. Fourteen weeks earlier, the two scholars had signed off on their introduction to "The Godfather Doctrine: A Foreign Policy Parable," a passportlike book to be published shortly after the Inauguration.

Their premise contains "a 'toolbox' in which soft and hard power are used in flexible combinations" to influence friend and foe alike. It's relatively simple, yet its execution is perilously intricate, as Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton know only too well.

An analogy between 9/1 1 and the shooting of Don Vito Corleone is drawn by the authors, and from it emerges three choices -- represented by the don's consigliere and two of his sons -- on how to deal with the epochal changes we confront:

Liberal institutionalism, a la Tom Hagen.

Neoconservatism, a la Sonny, the eldest son.

Realism, a la Michael, the youngest son.

No big surprise that the authors have chosen realism, although not to the extent of Kissingerian realpolitik. What's required of readers is to examine their consciences, to wit: Who are we, as Americans, in the dizzying 21st century? Just who are We the People really? What's our value system? And what, in the end, is our role on a world stage where we're eyeball-to-eyeball with both radical fundamentalism and an economic abyss?

British novelist Zadie Smith, expanding on a term made memorable by U.S. film critic Pauline Kael, recently wrote of Obama's inhabiting Dream City, where "the unified singular self is an illusion" and there is "no choice but to cross borders and speak in tongues" and where "the wise man says 'I' cautiously," preferring the collective "we." So you might call the Hulsman/Mitchell multipolar Reality City, where a citizen would aspire to JFK's self-definition as "an idealist without illusions."

If, as Emerson posited, events are "in the saddle" and riding humankind, how do Obama and the Americans who turn their lonely eyes to him sort it all out in the world of globalization? Together. Emphatically. Through the untinted prism of realism. That's what the authors argue. The "Pax Corleone" allegory, so imperfect and ironic, is their clever yet thought-provoking way of summoning us to become, pragmatically, our best selves.

Dream City, Reality City -- can they coexist, even ascend, in peace? For 10 recessionary bucks, "The Godfather Doctrine" forces us to think about how.

Gene Krzyzynski is a copy editor for The News.


The Godfather Doctrine: A Foreign Policy Parable

By John C. Hulsman and A. Wess Mitchell

Princeton University Press

96 pages, $9.95

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