What about foreign policy? Here’s where the overseas component of the Secret Economic Plan comes in. Romney isn’t going to be interested in getting involved in any foreign entanglements that threaten the Plan. His China comments are nonsense that he obviously has no intention of implementing. He’s already said he’s fine with Obama’s timeline for winding down the war in Afghanistan — and that means cooperating with No. 1 Geopolitical Foe Russia on the logistically complicated exit. He walked back an aide’s comments suggesting he’d green-light an Israeli attack on Iran.
This is a common interpretation of Romney’s foreign policy views. It relies on the belief that Romney’s stated positions are so foolish that no one would ever follow through on them. This requires us to believe that Romney will suddenly cease pandering to national security hawks once he takes office despite being surrounded by them, and that he will start off his administration by backtracking on most or all of his foreign policy commitments. Romney doesn’t seem inclined to roil his hawkish supporters on purpose, and he has so far demonstrated no hint of independent thought on these issues. If Romney has campaigned for “omni-directional belligerence,” I don’t see how we can assume that he doesn’t intend at least to try to carry it out on a few issues.
The “secret economic plan” part of this argument is new. It holds that Romney wouldn’t want to jeopardize an economic agenda that may not exist by following through on a foreign policy agenda that does. So we not only have to believe that Romney has a “secret economic plan” for which there is no evidence, but we then have to conclude that this secret economic plan will dictate his equally secret foreign policy. Given the most recent Republican track record on foreign policy, one wouldn’t think that “assume the best” is the right way to make sense of what Romney would do once in office.
Many of the things Romney has said could fairly be described as “nonsense,” but that shouldn’t be taken as proof that these views aren’t going to shape Romney’s decision-making. Will Romney be constrained by realities of international politics? Of course. Does that mean that he won’t needlessly confront Russia and sour the relationship with Moscow? I don’t think so. Tom Friedman’s speculation that Romney’s Russia-bashing is aimed purely at winning “the Polish vote” reflects a determined effort to ignore the Republican position on Russia policy for the last three years. Most Republican hawks believe Bush-era Russia policy was fine, and they blame the deterioration of the relationship with Russia entirely on Putin and Medvedev. They maintain that the “reset” is appeasement, and also insist that it hasn’t “worked.” Romney has just served as the vehicle for these views. The fact that this view of Russia policy directly contradicts the evidence and potentially jeopardizes Russian cooperation is not a reason to dismiss the view as irrelevant. It should be taken as a reason to call Romney’s judgment into question.