How Romney Understands Foreign Policy: Like a Corporate Consultant


Aside from vague calls for strength, resolve, and ensuring America's permanent spot at the top of the global dog pile, Mitt Romney hasn't offered much insight into his foreign policy views. One way to understand his approach to foreign policy is that it's all political pandering: He's against bad people, and voting for Obama. This view makes some sense in the context of his ill-advised late night statement attacking President Obama following riots in Egypt and Libya. The Romney campaign's first instinct, it seems, was to repackage the event as a quick, simplistic political attack.  

It also suggests that Romney can be understood as something of a conventional GOP hawk. That's probably true to some extent. But I think it's a bit of a mistake to try to lump Romney wholly into any common foreign policy camp. Instead, I suspect the best way to describe how Romney understands foreign policy is that he thinks about it like a corporate consultant, with America, and its unique business model, competing with the rest of the world's nations for dominance in the global marketplace. He wants America to be number one just like a CEO wants his company to be number one. Indeed, he sees this leadership as a crucial part of America's brand. America has established itself as the market leader, and that's a valuable feature of its product line. 

This is exactly how Romney discusses America's place in the world in his 2010 book, No Apology: The Case for American Greatness. As I wrote in my March magazine feature on Romney:

No Apology can be "understood as a sort of corporate strategy document. Except instead of focusing on a particular business, it offers a strategic vision for all of America. 

No Apology opens with a survey of the marketplace for global power. Romney describes the "four strategies to achieve world power." There's the Chinese strategy based on free enterprise and authoritarian rule, the Russian strategy based on energy authoritarianism, the Iranian strategy of violent jihad, and the American strategy, which prizes economic and political freedom. The presentation-ready, four-part schema all but conjures up a drop-down projection screen and laser pointer.

Romney outlines these countries' operational strengths and weaknesses, their core missions and their potential as threats to the client's front-runner status. Jihadism is a "strategy based on conquest and compulsion"; the Chinese are "an enormously practical and intelligent people," but they lack the "rule of law and regulation that shapes free enterprise elsewhere"; Russia's power is based on "energy and commodities" as well as "the strength of its science and technology sectors." Later in the book, Romney widens his scope to examine industrial effectiveness in other countries, such as Japan, citing consultant's reports on international differences in productivity.

Seen through Romney's eyes, these are America's competitors, each with its own business model and product line, organizational theories and distribution channels. He seems to conceive of his job as proposing a strategic vision that will help America compete and retain its position as global market leader. 

In Romney's view, many of the world's nations are not our neighbors, but our competitors, fighting for the same market share that America is trying to win. That implies a certain level of aggressiveness. And to hear Romney tell it, President Obama hasn't been aggressive enough. As Michael Barbaro notes at The New York Times, Romney's book also made a point of criticizing President Obama for reaching out to America's "enemies," and expressing sympathy toward their plight. To Romney, that's a firing offense.

The idea seems to be: You don't coddle competitors, you beat them. And you certainly don't ever back down when they challenge you. Which may explain why Romney, despite facing widespread criticism from both Democrats and Republicans for his response last night, chose to double down on that criticism this morning by repeating attacks on Obama—who, after all, is currently Romney's chief competitor.