Did Romney “Bain” the UK?By: hawkgrrrl
Last night I had a dream about my wallet. The external coin purse on my wallet has a zip closure, and in the dream, the zipper was broken in both directions, and I had no way to keep the coins inside. And there were so many coins. They were spilling everywhere, and I realized I was going to have to leave them behind because I had no way to carry them and use them in my broken wallet. This is a dream about lost opportunity. In dream language the coins represent opportunities. The wallet represents my own financial or professional identity. While this dream is relevant to myself and my own feelings at this time, as I watched the “Romneyshambles” news coming from the UK, I felt a twinge of empathy at his lost opportunity.
What went wrong?
For those who missed what happened, Romney made at least 3 missteps with the UK:
- Before he even went he talked about the importance of the Anglo-Saxon ties between our countries. What’s wrong with that? It sounded to some like he was pandering to racist sentiments in the multi-cultural UK.
- He openly mentioned a briefing he had with Sir John Sawers, the Secret Intelligence Service chief. What’s wrong with that? For him to imply he already has access (as a candidate, not POTUS) to MI6 intelligence briefings is either their misstep or his. Pointing out an ally’s indiscretion is itself indiscreet.
- He criticized the security of the Olympics. Specifically he said he saw “disconcerting” signs of security gaps, and said it was “hard to know just how well it will turn out” at the London games. What’s wrong with that? Hoo boy! What’s right with that?
What the heck was he thinking? Why would he lose this opportunity to shine with arguably one of the easiest global allies we have? In many ways, the UK views the US as its offspring; it is fond of us, proud of us, wishes us well, but Mother England certainly doesn’t need us to lecture it, criticize it, embarrass her with our boorish manners, or share table talk with strangers. Why then would Romney’s approach be to imply a connection based on something superficial, boast about his ties to bolster his credibility, criticize how things are done and point out threats that he, the expert, understands based on his own personal experience?
I just watched two episodes of a show called House of Lies, a show about a small consulting firm run by Don Cheadle who points out throughout each episode the tricks they use to win, influence, and retain clients. Additionally, in my own line of business, I have worked with consultants on many occasions, so I’ve seen many of these tactics. Typically, a consultant is brought in when an area of the business (or all of it sometimes) is failing in some aspect; they provide expert advice and oversee the proces of implementing changes to create solvency. But from the perspective of someone on the inside of the company, it’s also a vote of “no confidence” in the internal team on some level. It’s also not possible for the consulting team to provide valuable input without assistance from the internal team, so we often say a consultant is someone who asks you for your watch, tells you what time it is, then keeps your watch. One of the most effective tactics a consultant can use is to create fear by pointing out threats (even making them up or exaggerating them) and then coming in as the hero to eliminate those “threats.”
Was Romney applying his Bain skills in a diplomatic situation? Simply put, diplomats are not consultants.
In the situation Romney faced in London, there was no need to sell himself or pitch his “business” to them. Britons are not voters in our election. Unlike his trip to Israel which is likely to influence Jewish voters in the US, it’s unlikely that pleasing Londoners will result in a wave of Episcopal support for Romney. The value of Romney to the UK is purely if he’s elected as POTUS. If not, he will be footnoted and forgotten. In this situation, there was no need to oversell or even to sell at all. The UK is already our strongest ally. As Jerry Maguire would say: “You had me at hello.” Everything after the hello really only had the power to reduce his cachet, not increase it. Is Romney’s impulse to share his expertise too strong? If so, he needs to learn quickly to keep his mouth shut. It’s irritating and arrogant to give unsolicited advice to a foreign ally, especially since, as David Cameron rightly observed, Romney’s Olympic experience involved creating national security in the middle of nowhere, not in the heart of a major metropolis like London.
In the movie The Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger (as a cyborg) is standing over a sink removing his damaged ocular unit (eye) with an exacto knife when a custodian walks in on him and is alarmed by what he sees. The cyborg is presented with a list of 4 options of things to say to the intruder, and he selects a very quotable (if profane) response. In life, we all encounter situations and like the Terminator, we are presented with a set of options of what to say. We are predisposed to choose the option that feels right. Sometimes we choose the wrong option.
Sometimes we don’t even have the right option available. The options we consider occur to us based on our life experiences. We can’t say or do what never occurs to us. If the right things aren’t occurring to us, we need external input and more experience so that those “right” options come to us when we need them.
No candidate for any job is a slam dunk on every skill. While diplomacy is a pretty big miss for POTUS, so is the economy and ability to understand business and create jobs in a recession (skills that IMO Obama has failed to demonstrate). If Romney wants to be a successful president, he will need to choose a VP who is a rock star on diplomacy because Obama is perceived fairly well on the world stage.
As usual, we are facing an election with two deeply flawed candidates. While I’m ready for a change, I’m not thrilled about the trade-off implied between our nation’s economic recovery and our diplomatic relationships. Will Romney be worse on the foreign stage than Bush? Probably not. But I wouldn’t put that on a campaign poster.