Why Obama and Romney really do see the world differently

For some viewers, it was no surprise Mitt Romney toned down his bellicosity last night and chose to minimize his differences with Barack Obama’s on a number of foreign policy issues.  But Romney’s largely tactical decision obscured the real “choice” on foreign policy that his election presents. That choice doesn’t concern a specific issue but rather a broad philosophical view about America’s role in the world.For all their seeming consensus, the two candidates represent two distinct political and intellectual traditions that carved out during our post-World War II past.  Obama’s foreign policy touchstone is the work of the Cold War liberal Reinhold Niebuhr.  In The Irony of American History (1952), Niebuhr presented a vision of America’s role in the world tempered by his doctrine of sin and his deep sense of tragedy.  Niebuhr’s central paradox, as his biographer Richard Fox points out, was that “human beings bore responsibility for their actions despite the inevitability of the sins they would commit.”  Holding an ironic disposition could force Americans to battle the spread of communism while rejecting naive optimism in favor of a sense of humility and circumspection. It probably comes as no surprise that Niebuhr became an early critic of America’s entry into Vietnam.  Overextension of American power was just as dangerous to Niebuhr as denying that we had enemies in the world.  Such was the lesson of Niebuhr’s Christian realism.Continue Reading…

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Why Obama and Romney really do see the world differently

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